Commercial Artist: Job Description & Career Information

Mar 06, 2019

Career Definition for a Commercial Artist

Commercial artists use visual images to communicate a message - often an obviously commercial one. These artists hold a variety of job titles in a wide range of industries, including publishing, broadcasting, film, digital design, advertising and marketing. Commercial designers work in manufacturing, for large corporations and for independent studios.

Education Bachelor's degree in art
Job Skills Artistic ability, communication, creative, detail oriented, people skills
Median Salary (2017)* $48,700 (all graphic designers)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 4% (all graphic designers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A commercial artist's education may be tailored to fit one of the many job classifications within the field, such as art director, medical and scientific textbook illustrator, police sketch artist or multi-media designer. Students in 4-year university programs take art history and studio art as well as core subjects such as English and natural sciences. Or, they may study at independent design institutes, which may provide more studio and less classroom time. Computer training is widely available in both types of programs.

Skills Needed

Commercial artists need to develop a portfolio - handmade or digital samples of the candidate's best work. The samples show the essential qualities needed for the job - innate talent, highly developed skill and inventiveness.

Commercial designers need imagination, inventiveness and artistry, but they also need to be highly organized with excellent people skills. Students of interior design also need a photographic record of their projects to develop their portfolios.

Career and Economic Outlook

The BLS states that art director employment may have an average job growth of 5% for 2014-2024. They earned $92,500 in median annual wages for 2017. According to the BLS, graphic designers, as of May 2017, earned median annual wages of $48,700. Jobs opportunities for graphic designers will grow at a slower than average rate of 4%, and they will also face stiff competition. Commercial designers may work regular hours in a comfortable, corporate setting, but those who freelance or work for small design firms may have to work a flexible schedule to meet the demands of clients.

Alternate Career Options

Individuals pursuing degrees in commercial design may be interested in similar occupation fields, including desktop publishing and drafting.

Desktop Publisher

A desktop publisher creates visually pleasing layouts of art and text using computer software; a desktop publisher may acquire and format art and content for books, brochures and related printed material. Many desktop publishers have an associate's degree or greater in fields like graphic design or graphic communications. On-the-job training is also common.

The BLS reports that desktop publishing jobs are expected to decline 14% from 2016-2026, since many of the tasks performed by desktop publishers have also become part of other, related jobs, like web designer and editors. The propensity for businesses and organizations to put materials online instead of having them printed is also expected to affect job growth. The BLS reports that desktop publishers earned a median of $42,350 in 2017.


Once engineers and architects have drawn up their designs, it's the job of a drafter to use computer-aided design and drafting software to turn those designs into usable technical drawings. Drafters can specialize; for example, an electrical drafter works on wiring plans, a civil drafter makes topographical maps, and mechanical drafters draw up assembly plans.

Drafting usually requires an associate's degree in drafting, although depending on the area of specialization, a bachelor's degree is sometimes required. Professional certification is available. The BLS predicts that jobs for all drafters will increase 7% from 2016-2026. The BLS also reports that pay for drafters can vary by area of specialty; in 2017, architectural and civil drafters earned median pay of $52,870, electrical drafters earned median pay of $59,690, and mechanical drafters earned median pay of $55,130.

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