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An illustration is an image or decoration created to enhance the appearance of written material or to clarify its meaning. Illustrators create images for books, magazines, reports, CD cases, greeting cards, and advertisements. Many collected and exhibited artworks were created as illustrations. Examples include the Limbourg brothers' exquisite scenes from the Les Tres Riches Heures and many artists' intricate imaginings of religious episodes.

Some of the most elaborate and sumptuous illustrations ever made were hand painted, however, modern illustration has evolved in conjunction with the development of printing processes. Nineteenth century illustration usually required the insertion of a plate into the block of raised type (letters) that served as text. The plate, prepared by lithography, engraving, or etching, was inked and printed. The resulting page was then bound with the other pages of the text. Recent photomechanical reproduction processes have enabled illustrators to employ drawing, painting, and photographic techniques--with computers further extending the capabilities of illustrators. Although most illustration is now done with photography, some areas--notably children's books, fashion illustration, and greeting cards--continue to rely on drawn or painted images.

The distinction between illustrations and art displayed in galleries and museums has to do with the purpose the work is intended to serve, rather than the medium in which the work is made, since both illustrations and gallery art can be drawings, paintings, or photographs.

The tight deadlines and throwaway nature of daily newspapers provide a different kind of environment for illustrators. To labor over a time-consuming oil painting is out of the question, but a resourceful and imaginative artist can create an eye-catching image through less labor-intensive means. Some illustrators use collage to create a lighthearted and witty accompaniment to a newspaper article.

Furthermore, a poster can attract attention and convey its message; it is a concise visual announcement that provides information through the integrated design of typographic and pictorial imagery. The creativity of a poster designer/illustrator is directed toward a specific purpose, which may be to advise or to persuade. While they now play a lesser role than they once did, well-designed posters still provide powerful means of instant communication. Posters of all sorts have become so popular as inexpensive images to be framed and hung on walls that printing and selling posters have become big business. Poster design has influenced and been influenced by contemporary fine art; the work of well known poster designers, demonstrates the close link that often exists between graphic design and current developments in art.

Designers in recent years often use an offhand, low-key approach that does not seem very 'designed' at all, many are wary of too-elaborate design ideas. Surprisingly, many well known illustrators believe that illustrations should be secondary to the text. However, when illustration is at its finest, images and text become inseparable.

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