How to Become a Graphic Illustrator: Career Roadmap

Graphic illustrators produce visual images for promotional or advertising purposes. Some illustrators draw by hand, but most use computer programs for the creation of designs. View article »

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  • 0:03 Should I Be A Graphic…
  • 0:33 Career Requirements
  • 1:22 Steps To Be A Graphic…
  • 1:26 Step 1: Earn A…
  • 3:04 Step 2: Gain Experience
  • 3:43 Step 3: Stay Current

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Graphic Illustrator?

Graphic illustrators create artwork for publication in all types of media. Many graphic illustrators are self-employed. As freelancers, they're on a continual quest for assignments, and they may have to work night and weekend hours and meet tight deadlines.

A bachelor's degree is the minimum level of education needed to find employment as a graphic illustrator. Skill with computer design programs and a well-developed portfolio are also essential.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Degree in graphic design is common, degrees in related fields include illustration, digital media or fine arts
Experience Need one to three years for entry-level, up to five years for senior positions
Key Skills Artistic and creative skills, good at time-management, communication and teamwork, proficient with Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, some employers seek graphic illustrators with advanced knowledge of Maya, Cinema 4d or 3ds Max, knowledgeable about cameras, scanners and laser printers
Salary (2015) $46,900 per year (Median salary for all graphic designers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and job postings (September 2012), O*Net OnLine

Graphic illustrators typically have bachelor's degrees in graphic design or in related fields, such as illustration, digital media or fine arts. They have artistic and creative skills, as well as good time management, communication, and teamwork abilities. They are expected to be knowledgeable about cameras, scanners, and laser printers, and proficient with Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

Some employers seek graphic illustrators with advanced knowledge of Maya, Cinema 4D, or 3ds Max. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for graphic designers, which includes graphic illustrators, was $46,900 in 2015.

What steps do I need to take to be a graphic illustrator?

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Steps to Be a Graphic Illustrator

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most employers prefer applicants with a bachelor's degree in graphic design, illustration, art or another related area, according to the BLS. Students may choose to enroll in a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program where they learn about a variety of art-related topics. Some BFA programs allow students to specialize in a specific area like graphic design. Bachelor's degree programs in illustration are also available and teach students the skills needed to work as graphic illustrators. Coursework in these programs include figure drawing, digital imaging, digital illustration, color studies, computer graphics and 3-D concepts.

Success Tips

It's a good idea to:

  • Complete an internship. Undergraduate degree programs may offer internship opportunities for hands-on experience in the field. Internships can sometimes satisfy experience requirements when students are seeking employment after graduation. They may also provide students with networking opportunities.

You will also want to:

  • Develop a portfolio. Employers often require a portfolio as proof of an applicant's skill and ability. A portfolio is a collection of completed work that displays a person's talent and range. The Art Directors Club offers national student portfolio reviews. These reviews allow students to get opinions about their portfolios from professionals in the industry. To qualify for a review, a student must be nominated.

Step 2: Gain Experience

A graphic illustrator can work for a publishing company, advertising company or design firm, or in a company's art department. Graphic illustrators are hired as salaried employees, or they can work on a freelance basis. Job duties consist of creating designs, designing marketing materials, and using a variety of computer software programs. Generally, graphic illustrators work for 3-5 years in entry-level jobs before becoming eligible for a higher position as a senior graphic illustrator or art director.

Step 3: Stay Current

Creative industries are constantly changing based on consumer tastes and emerging software or technology. Illustrators can attend industry events, social gatherings, and seminars to stay current about new trends and developments. An illustrator may also wish to enroll in software training programs to learn about new technology being developed and used in the field.

Graphic illustrators create artwork for publication. They have college degrees, artistic and creative talents, and expertise with computer graphics technology. They earn a median annual salary of $46,900.

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