The Best Illustration Styles for Children’s Books in 2023

As any children’s book author knows, the illustrations are just as important as the story itself. The right illustrations can capture young readers’ imaginations, bringing the story to life and adding depth to the words on the page. But with so many illustration styles to choose from, how do you know which one is right for your book?

In this post, we’ll explore the best illustration styles for children’s books, sorted by age group. From watercolor to digital art, we’ll cover the techniques, approaches, and artists that have proven successful with young readers. Whether you’re just getting started or looking to take your illustrations to the next level, our guide can provide you with the inspiration and guidance you need to create a book that young readers will love.

Based on bestselling children’s books, these are the types of illustrations are popular with readers and publishers. While styles and trends may change over time, the following are some of the most well-received illustration styles:


Soft, delicate watercolor illustrations create a timeless, classic feel that appeals to readers of all ages. Examples include Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” series and “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney.

Watercolor illustrations have a soft, delicate feel and often feature subtle color gradients and washes. This style can create a gentle, soothing atmosphere, making it ideal for picture books and stories with emotional themes.

“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak – Sendak’s soft watercolor illustrations create a rich, fantastical world that has captivated generations of readers.

Digital Art 

Digital illustrations are versatile and offer a wide range of possibilities in terms of style, texture, and color. The vibrant, detailed illustrations in “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers are a popular example of digital art.

Vector Art

Vector art illustrations are created using digital software and consist of clean lines, flat colors, and geometric shapes. This style is versatile, scalable, and can range from simple and minimalistic to intricate and detailed, making it suitable for various types of children’s books.

“Press Here” by Hervé Tullet – This interactive picture book uses simple, geometric vector illustrations to engage young readers in a delightful, hands-on experience.


Collage illustrations, using various materials such as cut paper, fabric, or photographs, create a unique and visually engaging style. Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is a well-known example of collage illustrations.

Pencil or Pen and Ink

Simple pencil or pen and ink drawings can be highly effective, especially when used to convey humor or emotion. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein are popular examples of books with pencil or pen and ink illustrations.

Cartoon or Comic Style

Bold, colorful cartoon or comic-style illustrations appeal to young readers and can add a fun, lively element to stories. Examples include “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey and “Dog Man” by Dav Pilkey.


Airbrush illustrations create a soft, smooth, and often dreamy effect by using controlled sprays of paint. This style can add depth and realism to images, making it suitable for both fantasy and realistic scenes.

“The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg – This beloved holiday tale features airbrush illustrations that evoke a dreamy, magical atmosphere.


Crayon illustrations have a childlike, playful quality that appeals to young readers. The bold, textured lines and vibrant colors can add warmth and charm to a story, making it ideal for picture books and early readers.

“Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson – The simple, playful crayon drawings in this classic book perfectly complement the story of a young boy’s imaginative adventure.

Comic Book

Comic book-style illustrations use bold lines, vivid colors, and dynamic compositions to create a sense of energy and action. This style is perfect for adventure stories, graphic novels, and books with a humorous tone.

“Smile” by Raina Telgemeier – This graphic novel uses a comic book-style to tell a relatable and engaging story about the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

Traditional Storybook

Traditional storybook illustrations often feature hand-drawn, detailed images that evoke a nostalgic, timeless feel. They can include techniques such as pen and ink, pencil, or watercolor, and often have a whimsical, fairy tale-like quality.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel – Tenniel’s detailed, hand-drawn illustrations capture the whimsical nature of this classic tale.


Photorealistic illustrations strive to create highly detailed, lifelike images that resemble photographs. This style can be achieved using various mediums, including digital art or traditional painting techniques, and is suitable for stories that require a realistic visual representation.

“The Arrival” by Shaun Tan – This wordless graphic novel features intricate, photorealistic illustrations that tell a powerful story of immigration and displacement.


Portrait illustrations focus on accurately depicting the appearance and personality of characters, often using techniques such as pencil, charcoal, or digital painting. This style can add depth to character-driven stories and help young readers connect with the characters on a personal level.

“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, illustrated by various artists – Many editions of this classic novel include portrait-style illustrations that bring the characters to life.

Mixed Media

Combining different art techniques and materials, mixed media illustrations can create a unique, captivating style. “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick is an example of a book that features mixed media illustrations.

Ultimately, the best illustration style for a children’s book depends on the story, the target audience, and the personal preferences of the author and illustrator. The key is to create illustrations that visually engage readers and enhance the storytelling experience.

For the best results, be sure to choose the illustrator that fits your needs. Make sure to read this post for tips for working with an illustrator.

Alternatively, if you are on a budget, you can use AI to illustrate your book.

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