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Illustrator Career Guide

Do you love using your fine-tuned artistic skills to make something wonderful? A position as a full-time illustrator might be the creative, fulfilling role perfect for you.

Illustrators use their fine art and technical skills to draw still images that tell a story or convey important information to the viewer. Illustrators’ work can be found in magazines, on product packaging, in print and digital ads, on out-of-home signage, in textbooks, and more.

Professional illustrators work closely with creative teams and clients to produce engaging content together. They are great communicators, listening to the clients’ needs, and incorporating feedback during the revision process. An illustrator may have his or her own visual style. Still, a great illustrator is versatile enough to meet the aesthetic needs and business objectives outlined in the project’s creative brief.

Above all, illustrators must be imaginative and innovative artists, experts in using traditional and digital tools of the trade to bring ideas to life.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is in search of an illustrator with a passion for the art of bringing ideas to life. An outstanding illustrator has the ability to work closely with our clients and marketing team to create artwork for our digital and print media publications. Experience with drawing, painting, and digital artwork across a variety of styles is a plus. If you are easily inspired to create from written words, models, sketches, and your own imagination even under set deadlines, you are the kind of person we are looking for.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Collaborate with fellow creatives to brainstorm image packages
  • Prepare budgets and production schedules
  • Design rough drafts for client approval
  • Create illustrations using hand-drawn and digital tools
  • Edit and refine designs using illustration programs and platforms
  • Format and share final files with the creative team for review
  • Deliver final files to the client for review

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma, a GED, or an associate degree from a college or university; a bachelor’s degree is preferred.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Proficiency using computer-aided design programs
  • Excellent drawing, painting, and digital design skills
  • Proficiency using image editing and design tools like Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Ability to follow a creative brief and incorporate client feedback
  • Strong creative and conceptual skills
  • Ability to work under tight deadlines

Preferred qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in Illustration or related field, or equivalent experience
  • Exceptional proficiency with Adobe Creative Suite

Typical work environment

Illustrators commonly work in well-lit design studios at a drawing desk or on a computer. Freelance illustrators are more likely to work at home with their own space and equipment.

Typical hours

The work hours for a full-time illustrator are typically from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in an office setting. However, longer or different hours may, at times, be necessary.

Available certifications

Certification or degrees from an arts program will increase your chances of being hired as an illustrator. Here are a couple of illustrator specific certification programs:

  • Adobe Certified Professional. Adobe is the biggest name in artistic software in the world. By gaining certification as an expert in one or more of their programs shows that you know what you’re doing in your field. To become an Adobe Certified Professional, you have to take a test for your software of choice that includes both questions and practical tasks. For illustrators, the best programs to become certified in are Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • Specialized Illustration Certification. Depending on the field you want to work in, there are certifications available for specific types of illustration. For example, a Certificate of Completion in Natural Science Illustration, Certificate of Completion in Children’s Book Illustration, or Associate of Arts in Fashion Illustration. These certificates all have their own requirements and allow you to deepen your skills in a form of illustration that suits you best.

Career path

Becoming a full-time illustrator can take many different paths, but each direction is dependent on building a solid, proven skillset.

Your creative portfolio is key to getting hired as a professional Illustrator. Many candidates do pursue a bachelor’s degree in fine art or visual media to expand their skillsets and grow their expertise. Still, a substantial body of work will offset a lack of formal education. Between full-time positions, illustrators often market themselves as freelancers to continue building their portfolios and experience. Many employers look for candidates who have earned an Adobe Certified Associate certification in Graphic Design and Illustration or its equivalent.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 27-1013

2020 Employment25,900
Projected Employment in 203030,400
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 17% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift4,500 increase

Despite the rise of the internet and digital media, traditional trades like printmaking are seeing a comeback. As interactive video continues to dominate SEO strategy, Illustrators are also creating content that combines still drawings with animation. Illustrative lettering has emerged as an excellent tool for increasing brand engagement on social media. Staying on top of new (and resurgent) trends will keep illustrators versatile in an ever-evolving industry.