Illustration Editor John Shelley revisits how to plan images and layout for illustrators starting out in picture books.

All books (indeed all illustrators!) are different and the variety of style, composition and design is much too big a subject to summarise here. However, here are a few commonly accepted pointers: 

Boxed, Vignette, Spot and Full Bleed

This may sound somewhat obvious, but it's worth clarifying!

In classically constructed books, a "boxed" illustration has straight defined edges, possibly with a border or frame, and sits within the confines of the page, so there is a gap between the image and the trim (i.e. the edge of the page). The illustration might be cropped from a loose-edged original, or painted to a ruled edge. As the border encloses the scene these are particularly suited to images with a considered, balanced composition.
Boxed in illustration from Levi Pinfold's Greenaway-award-winning Black Dog. Notice how the dog's paw breaks the straight line to bring the illustration out of the page. Pinfold also includes a small Spot by the text. (© Templar Publishing)

Vignettes are illustrations with faded or loosely defined edges. The loose edges incorporate the white of the surrounding page to give the image space, lightness and draw the viewer into the scene.
Quentin Blake is a master of vignettes. The background is minimal, but loose borders encourage the reader to mentally fill in the rest. (© Quentin Blake)
A spot illustration is a small free-floating motif, usually with no background. In picture books spots are particularly useful as visual addenda to the main narrative.
Bleed refers to part of an illustration that runs off the page edges, 'full bleed' means an image that entirely fills the page and is cropped by the trim. Nowadays very many picture books are full bleed throughout, however it's particularly effective when suddenly brought into play for the most dramatic and panoramic images.

Axel Scheffler double page showing a full bleed illustration and two vignettes (© Alison Green Books)

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at sizing and how a picture book layout works as a whole. 

All images © John Shelley

John Shelley is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures and the illustrator of over 50 books for children, most recently A Purse Full of Tales, a book of Korean Folk stories, for Hesperus Press. He's twice been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, first in 2018, and again in 2019.


Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to

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