Illustration Degree Program Overviews

Illustration degree programs teach students to create art that supports written text. Students interested in pursuing illustration can earn an Associate of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Master of Fine Arts degree.

Essential Information

Illustrations are used in books, newspapers, posters and advertisements as well as in many other print media. Illustration programs include a combination of classroom and hands-on studio sessions. Specializations or minors may include children's book illustration scientific illustration, cartoon illustration, advertising, and publishing. Bachelor's and master's programs often culminate in a final project or portfolio. The former requires 50 credit hours of core course,work, with the ladder needing 62. Master's students mkay also need to complete a thesis or project.

Prospective undergraduate students should have a GED or high school diploma. Most master's degree programs in illustration require students to have earned a bachelor's degree in illustration or a related graphic arts field. In addition, bachelor's and master's students are typically required to submit a portfolio that showcases their best work with their applications.

Associate Degree in Illustration

Associate degree programs in illustration help students to develop the foundational skills of both traditional methods and new technologies in illustration. Students also develop skills in drawing and painting, and gain a greater understanding of areas of specialization, such as children's book illustration, advertising and publishing. Students may earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Occupational Studies (A.O.S.) degree in illustration. Courses usually found in associate degree programs include:

  • Figure drawing
  • Illustration
  • Light/Color design
  • Digital illustration
  • Art history

Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration

Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in Illustration programs introduce students to topics in traditional and digital art, including composition, color theory and computer art applications. Students pursuing an illustration degree study in both classroom and studio settings, learning concepts such as manual illustration, digital illustration and photographic illustration. They also work to create a professional portfolio that showcases the best of their work. Some illustration degree programs offer a minor in scientific or medical illustration, which can increase marketability in these niche fields. Illustration majors are required to complete around 50 hours of coursework, in addition to their general education requirements. Typical courses found in illustration programs include:

  • Contemporary art
  • Drawing
  • 2-D and 3-D design
  • Figure drawing
  • Photography
  • Illustration methods

Master's Degrees in Illustration

Students wishing to pursue graduate studies in illustration may enroll in a Master of Fine Arts or a Master of Arts in Illustration program. In many programs, around half of those hours are dedicated to studio courses, allowing for practical development of artistic skills. These programs emphasize the mastery of such skills as illustration techniques, illustration drawing and digital illustration. Students are strongly encouraged in finding their own voice. Because many illustration jobs are freelance, several programs develop students' skills in self-marketing efforts, such as the creation of a portfolio website, basic accounting and business management. Typical courses in an illustration master's degree program include:

  • Illustration techniques
  • Computer illustration
  • Illustration markets
  • Poster illustrations
  • Illustration for publications

Popular Career Options

Students who have earned an associate's degree in illustration may go on to become illustrators for a variety of industries. Graduates of illustration bachelor's degree programs work in a variety of industries. Graduates can find careers with advertising, trade books, greeting cards, animation, and children's book publishing companies. Popular career options for illustrators include:

  • Cartoonist
  • Book cover illustrator
  • Commercial illustrator
  • Character designer
  • Digital illustrator

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, jobs for fine artists, which include illustrators, are expected to increase by about 7% between 2014 and 2024. Competition for jobs is extremely high in this industry, with illustrators who have computer and digital illustration experience the most likely to see employment opportunities in the future. In 2015, salaried fine artists and illustrators earned an average of $46,460 a year, while freelance illustrators' earnings varied widely depending on experience (

Continuing Education Information

Earning a bachelor's degree can help students increase their marketability when job hunting, developing professional contacts, and improving their professional portfolios. Students interested in furthering their studies in illustration may choose to complete a master's program in illustration. These programs often allow for further exploration of illustration specializations, such as medical illustrations, cartoon illustrations or book illustrations.

Students interested in illustration can pursue degrees at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels. These programs can prepare students to become cartoonists as well as illustrators within a variety of mediums.

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