What does an Illustrator do?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: December 1, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Creative
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If you’re interested in becoming an illustrator, you want to make sure you know what an illustrator does. It’s important to understand any type of career you’re considering. Since you will likely work in your career for many years, you want to make sure it’s a good fit.

Illustrators have a unique career. You can pursue this path by going into art or design. However, illustrators are not designers. Let’s look at what an illustrator does and the difference between illustrators and designers.

What does an Illustrator do?

What is an Illustrator?

If you become an illustrator, you will be an artist that works with two-dimensional images. You might work with children’s books, websites, advertising, fashion design, magazines, medical manuals, or even technical designs.

Illustrators use artistic techniques to create the right effects. They will bring a simple image to life with color or by using shadows and light.

It’s common for illustrators to specialize in a specific area. They may work as a freelancer and take on multiple clients. For example, if you become an illustrator and you’re talented at sketching clothing, you will likely become a fashion illustrator. Those good at drawing animals and plants will likely become scientific illustrators.

What does an Illustrator do?

Before you enter into this type of career, you want to make sure you know want an illustrator does. Illustration offers a rather incredible communication tool. A picture truly is worth a thousand words, which is part of why illustrations are so powerful.

Illustrators will communicate a message through a drawing. This drawing will convey a feeling, provide meaning, and often communicate better than text can.

Common Types of Illustrators

You can become one of many different types of illustrators. Some of the most common types include:

Many illustrators also become animators, concept artists, or tattoo artists. However, if you want to become an illustrator, these are some of the most common career options.

Differences Between Illustrators and Designers

While both illustrators and designers are creative professionals with similar job duties, they are not the same type of career. There is some overlap. Both will work with clients and have specific design skills. It’s also important to have good communication skills for either career.

Illustrators help to bring a story to life, while designers tend to create graphics for a specific reason. While you might become an illustrator in the advertising industry, designers may also work in this industry. It’s common for designers to become web designers, video game designers, interior designers, and graphic designers.

As an illustrator, you will need to have good drawing and creative skills. You will also need to understand color theory and art principles for this type of career. Designers, on the other hand, usually work with design software and need good visual design skills.

Frequently Asked Questions About Illustrators

How much can I earn as an illustrator?

The average salary for an illustrator is about $52K per year. Some employers pay a much higher salary including the Army National Guard and the U.S. Air Force. You can also enjoy a higher salary in some locations compared to others.

California is one of the states that pays a higher salary for illustrators. It’s also common to enjoy a higher salary in Nashville and in Chicago.

What type of benefits can I get as an illustrator?

It’s common for illustrators to enjoy benefits, such as paid time off and a flexible schedule. Some employers might provide paid housing, tuition reimbursement, relocation assistance, and an employee discount. Your actual benefits will depend on who you work for.

Do I need a degree to become an illustrator?

No. While a degree might be helpful, it’s not necessary to become an illustrator. About 46% of illustrators have a high school diploma or GED. Another 36% of illustrators hold a bachelor’s degree with 9% holding an associate’s degree. You can get a master’s degree and about 8% of illustrators have one. Even 1% have a doctoral degree.

Many illustrators are self-taught. You don’t have to get a degree, but you will likely need to take some art courses. Gaining an understanding of different artistic concepts and techniques can help you become a better illustrator.

What is the average cost to become an illustrator?

You don’t need a degree, so you don’t necessarily need to spend much money to become an illustrator. However, you will still need the materials to create a portfolio.

If you decide to get a degree, you will spend, on average, $45K to get a bachelor’s degree in illustration. Those going on to get a more advanced degree can expect to spend more.

Is the demand for illustrators high?

Yes, there has always been a high demand for good illustrators. Even as print media declines, illustrators are still needed for websites, blogs, and many other types of advertising.

It’s recommended to start in the digital form with illustration today. This can help you get the necessary experience to remain in a high-demand industry.

How long will it take me to become an illustrator?

The amount of time it will take you depends on the career path you take. After graduating high school, if you can build a portfolio, you can become an illustrator. Some will go to college and spend two or four years getting a degree.

For most illustrators, it will take three to five years to become an illustrator. This may include education, an internship, or simply working an entry-level job.

What do I need to become an illustrator without a degree?

Before you can become an illustrator, you will need the right skills. Those skills will need to be honed through online classes, art books, and practice. It can also be helpful to land a job working for an illustrator or in a design department.

The most important factors for those wanting to become illustrators are skills and experience. You need to build a portfolio of incredible illustrations. It’s also helpful to gain experience, practice often, and take online courses to develop your skills.

Is it too late to become an illustrator?

No. It might seem like this isn’t a field for someone older to go into, but it’s never too late. You can be any age and become an illustrator with the right training and skills. There is still a huge need for illustrators and age doesn’t matter. If you’re skilled, you can still become an illustrator.

If you want to become an illustrator, you would know what an illustrator does. There are many great options within this general career. You can work in several industries as an illustrator. Use the information in this article and do your own research.

Those wanting to become illustrators might want to get a degree, but it’s not necessary. You can become an illustrator and earn a nice salary with or without a degree.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!