Illustrator Career Information, Job Duties and Training

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an illustrator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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Illustrators generally work as artists-for-hire, creating drawings and diagrams to accompany and support both print and digital media products. Training to become an illustrator varies widely and can range from self-taught to an undergraduate or graduate degree, but the most important requirement for job seekers is a great portfolio of work that showcases their talents and abilities.

Essential Information

Illustrators are artists who create technical and nontechnical drawings for printed materials, commercial products and digital media. Illustrators can find career opportunities in a variety of industries, including print media, advertising, government and fashion. While education requirements vary, prospective illustrators generally gain technical knowledge and experience through undergraduate or graduate degree programs.

Required Education High school diploma, with optional associate's, bachelor's or master's degree in fine arts
Other Requirements Portfolio to demonstrate artist's skills and special talents
Projected Job Growth 3% from 2014-2024 for broad category of fine artists*
Median Salary $ 46,460 annually for all fine artists as of May 2015*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Information for Illustrators

Illustrators create drawings that visually represent ideas, concepts or stories. These illustrations are often used for printed materials, such as magazines, books and other publications. Illustrators may also design graphics for commercial products, such as stationary, greeting cards, wrapping paper, calendars and packaging, or digital illustrations for animated objects and scenery. Traditionally, pen and pencil drawings or watercolors were the most common illustration mediums; however, many illustrators are converting to digital illustration applications.

Employment Opportunities and Salary Outlook

Illustrators can find employment with advertising firms, commercial print businesses, publishing houses, media electronics companies and the fashion industry, as well as with medical and government organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected all fine artists to see slower-than-average job growth of 3% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The demand for illustrators was forecast to be greater for those with knowledge of digital illustration software. Median wages for all fine artists in May 2015 were $46,460, according to the BLS. Illustrators are typically self-employed.

Job Duties

Illustrators visualize and produce artwork and line drawings based on concepts dictated by clients or employers. They typically determine the medium and technique needed to produce the desired artwork and then employ orthographic, isometric and schematic techniques, as well as perspective, to do so. Illustrators communicate with clients during all stages of the illustration process and make necessary changes. They may be required to work on several projects at once, as well as meet strict deadlines.


Training programs for illustrators can be found on the associate to master's levels. These degree programs offer training in drawing, perspective, design and layout, as well as other visual arts. Illustrators gain advanced knowledge of traditional methods and digital illustration technology. Students also build a varied portfolio of illustrations to demonstrate skills to prospective clients or employers.

As an illustrator, you can find work in a wide range of sectors including fashion, commercial products, animation, advertising and book publishing. This work is mainly client-driven and many illustrators work as freelancers, so salaries are not extremely high, and opportunities are limited for the foreseeable future. Formal training and a stellar portfolio of work can help open doors, and skill in computer-generated art is a major asset.

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