Cartoon Artists: Career Information and Education Requirements

Sep 11, 2019

Pursuing a career as a cartoon artist will require the applicant to have a solid portfolio of work samples in addition to various art classes. Understanding digital animation and computer technology may be an added benefit in this career field.

Essential Information

Newspapers, magazines, greeting card businesses, comic book companies and book publishers are the biggest buyers of cartoon art, but the number of cartoon artists competing for work far outstrips the demand. Salaried positions are on the decline, and most cartoonists work independently, finding their own markets for their material. There are no firm education requirements, but courses in art, drawing and business are useful. A cartoonist will need a solid portfolio to get a foot in the door.

Required Education Art classes recommended
Other Requirements Portfolio of work samples
Projected Job Growth* 4% between 2018 and 2028* (all multimedia artists and animators)
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $72,520* (all multimedia artists and animators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information for Cartoon Artists

Cartoon artists, also known as cartoonists, have a variety of career options. The print media industry relies upon them for illustrations, editorial cartoons, comic strips and cover art. Some media, like comics books and graphic novels, are predominantly cartoon-based.

Career Opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of salaried editorial cartoonists on newspaper staffs is decreasing. In part, this is because newspapers are increasingly relying upon freelance artists for material. Competition for these jobs, as well as salaried positions at greeting card companies and comic book publishers, is keen.

Publishing syndicates help circulate the works of a small number of independent cartoon artists to worldwide audiences, but they are extremely selective. King Features, one of the largest comic strip syndicators, receives more than 5,000 submissions every year and accepts only three.


The majority of cartoon artists, like most illustrators and designers, are self-employed entrepreneurs who create their own works of art and market them to various outlets. Design studios, book publishers, game companies and advertising agencies are among the companies that typically use cartoons and illustrations supplied by outside artists. Local or regional newspapers and magazines may be the best option for a new cartoon artist to break into the business.

Many of the country's greeting card companies pay independent contractors for artwork, a considerable portion of which is cartoon art. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the greeting card industry is growing, due in part to an increased variety of offerings. The e-card industry is another expanding market for cartoon art.

Animation Jobs

Traditional work on animated television shows, short subjects and feature films often involved specialized forms of cartoon art, including storyboards, model sheets, key frames and 'inbetweened' cells between the keys. Hundreds of man-hours of work can be required to produce a single second of hand-drawn animation.

The animation industry has experienced a recent renaissance, but much of the new work being done relies heavily on computer animation, which may be based on cartooning concepts but requires additional training in advanced technologies. Much of the traditional hand-drawn animation currently in production is subcontracted to overseas companies.

Education Requirements

No formal education is required of cartoon artists, although successful cartoonists from the National Cartoonists Society recommend classes in art, sketching and life drawing to help develop a personal graphic style and amass a portfolio. Self-employed cartoonists would benefit from courses on business practices and techniques to market their own products.

Other suggested studies rely upon whatever career options a cartoon artist may wish to keep open. Budding editorial cartoonists should study history, politics and current events. Comic strips and greeting card gigs require a sense of humor, something more likely to develop by exposure to humorists than by any course of study.

Cartoon Techniques

Traditional cartooning is a black-and-white, pen-and-ink art form. Cartoon artists rough out sketches in pencil, finishing them in ink; some cartoonists specialize in either pencil or pen, and some work in both. Shading by pen can be achieved by cross-hatching, stippling or the use of special paper that releases two kinds of shading when liquid solutions are brushed on.

Daily newspaper comic strips are increasingly printed in color, and syndicates offer color versions of their strips on websites. Cartoon artists creating illustrations for children's books, publishers, cards and other purposes are often expected to work in color. Competence in these techniques can only be achieved by study and practice in the arts.

Computer Training

Computer technology offers radically different techniques. Pen and pencil can still be used to create paper artwork, which is then scanned into computer files for electronic embellishment. Work can also be created completely in digital form, using a variety of software tools and hardware inputs, like a tablet, mouse or touch-screen. Most outlets offering art and drawing classes also provide training in computer software and technology commonly used by artists.

The computer offers cartoon artists the ability to modify sections of their work without affecting the rest, dramatically reducing the time needed to produce finished copy or increasing the level of detail, range of colors and pre-press options possible. Some cartoon artists create computer fonts based upon their own handwriting, to simplify the process of adding text to their work.

Cartoonists have no specified educational requirements; however because there are more artists than work, being equipped with extra skills can be highly advantageous. Computer skills are vital as the industry changes. Most cartoonists are self-employed or work as freelance contractors and will need a portfolio to establish a solid client base.

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