5 Reasons Why the Food Industry Needs Illustrations

Imagine a Lucky Charms cereal box without the iconic leprechaun. Certainly, the playful cereal brand might be colorful enough to attract a young audience with enticing photography alone, but would the brand itself be as recognizable?

Understandably, products geared towards children use cartoonish illustrations to create emotional connections, but illustrations that depict food can be effective for even the most upscale or serious brands.

Illustrations have long been used for food packaging, advertising, and in books – especially cookbooks. While photography might be the most common medium to capture beautiful dishes, illustrations add a whimsical and creative factor; something that helps to capture the uniqueness of a brand more than a high-res photo alone.

Food illustrations are commonly used for a variety of purposes. Here are five areas where creative illustrations are often chosen as the most compelling form of artwork.


Cookbooks have been around for centuries. In fact, we have evidence of recipe books dating back to ancient Mesopotamia! Cookbooks using illustrations as we know them, however, have been around since the 17th century.

Illustration/Marta Antelo

Illustrations are a popular choice for cookbooks as they effectively portray concepts and ideas, rather than depicting something litteral, such as a Micheline-star chef’s Beef Wellington. Chefs that espouse intuition and creativity rather than extreme precision might choose beautifully hand drawn illustrations in order to convey a sense of culinary imagination. Further, illustrations may be less intimidating than other, more realistic visuals of immaculate kitchens and stylized food. For these reasons and more, illustrations work beautifully for cookbooks and will continue to be loved by chefs and food authors.


It’s a marketer’s job to set a brand apart from the competition. Packaging is an extremely important part of food marketing, as consumers look at visuals first, text second. In order to reinforce visual identity, packaging visuals are key, which is why marketers so often use illustrations – they’re completely customized and nearly impossible for other brands to replicate. The cartoons on cereal boxes are an obvious example, but elegant illustrations can elevate and strengthen brand identity for high-end and gourmet brands as well.

Illustration/ Martin Tognola 

Diet and healthcare marketing

Imagine a printed booklet or poster created to educate society about the dangers of obesity; steering children away from calorie-dense processed foods, and in the right direction by choosing healthful options. Depicting healthy bodies is sensitive territory, and non-offensive images can be created with illustrations. A thoughtful illustrator can depict race and gender neutral people for educational purposes. Moreover, illustrators can create beautiful images of food that are both attractive and approachable for marketing collateral such as infographics, pamphlets, websites, and more.

Illustration/Guille Rubio

Social media 

Scroll along on Instagram and you’ll be bombarded with photos and videos. There are countless food bloggers and restaurants that use social media to promote themselves, but after hundreds of high-res images of cacio e pepe, glimpsing an interesting illustration can provide some much-needed visual variety. In a sea of smartphone snapshots, illustrations are often able to cut through all the noise.

Joyful vegetables, by Agathe BB

Ad campaigns

Illustrations can sometimes make an idea more accessible to a wide audience. As previously mentioned, an illustrator can depict people that are ageless, raceless, genderless, and so on. They can portray animals as people, or even objects as people – it allows the product to attract a target audience without excluding anyone else.

Illustrations also give the advertiser as much artistic freedom as they desire to create something totally fantastical. Food companies have the option to advertise wacky adventures, serene eating experiences or utopian societies with illustrations alone; possibilities are endless.

Illustration/Nathalie Dion

Imaginary worlds can be brought to life by illustrators, and what better world to create than one filled with irresistible, mouth-watering edible works of art? They can even be taken a step further with motion graphics, whereby the hand-drawn illustrations are brought to life as animated art. Ads using motion graphics elicit a kind of trans-like state – think caramel poured slowly over vanilla ice cream, or a swirl of cream in lobster bisque. They allow the viewer to access something deep inside; that primal craving for sugar, salt and fat. What better way to sell product than to have us drooling the moment we set eyes on it?