How to Become an


The complete career guide to be an Illustrator: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $54,170
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 3%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Creativity Focused
    Career Attribute

Illustrators work to bring concepts to life by creating visual interpretations of concepts. They may illustrate books, create the illustrations for comics or graphic novels, or provide illustrations for advertisements and other media. They use hand-drawing and computer programs to create illustrations.

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What is an Illustrator?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in illustrator roles:

  • Create illustrations for mixed-media projects such as children’s books, comics, or video stories
  • Use a variety of tools and techniques to create illustrations, such as hand-drawing, watercolor, and computer-design software
  • Create illustrations that aid other forms of media without overshadowing them
  • Revise illustrations as needed or requested by a client or employer
  • Market services, find clients, and perform billing and administrative responsibilities

A Day in the Life

In many ways, artists of all types—graphic designers, animators, and illustrators—have blended responsibilities, so it can be difficult to isolate each role and pinpoint the different responsibilities. However, the primary difference between an illustrator and other forms of artists is that illustrators create art for mixed-media projects, and the artwork is designed to work alongside other media without overshadowing it. They often provide illustrations for children’s books, graphic novels, or comic strips.

In a children’s book, graphic novel, or comic, there are two forms of media—written words and images. Often, these types of works begin with the written component, and then an illustrator is brought on to bring the words to life with illustrations. The illustrations aren’t meant to be viewed in isolation like a painting or logo. Instead, the illustrations provide more context for the written words, bringing them to life, or adding additional context for the reader without eliminating the need for the written component.

In some cases, illustrators may provide both the written and visual components, working as video storytellers, graphic novelists, or comic book/strip writers. While some illustrators hold full-time positions, many offer their services on a freelance basis to a variety of clients. Those who work as freelancers have responsibilities outside of illustrating. They have to market their services, find new clients, and perform billing and paperwork responsibilities to collect and report funds for their job.

Typical Work Schedule

Illustrators who are employed full-time generally work 40 hours a week during normal business hours, though overtime may be required on occasion to meet deadlines. Those who work on as freelance illustrators have the flexibility to choose their own schedules and work as often or infrequently as desired.

Typical Employers

Many illustrators are self-employed and offer their illustration services on a freelance basis. Those who work for employers are commonly hired to work for companies that specialize in publishing; book publishers, media outlets, and motion picture production companies are common employers for illustrators.

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How To Become an Illustrator

The first thing that aspiring illustrators need to do is decide on what medium they want to illustrate in. Illustrators may specialize in a variety of art forms, such as hand-drawing, watercolors, comic book illustrations, anime or manga illustration, and many more. The medium you want to work in should be one of the first decisions you make because it will guide the education you’ll need to find success in that medium. Once you’ve chosen your specialization, it’s time to begin your education in that medium.

If you intend to work as a freelance illustrator or to create your own works for publishing or sale, a high school diploma may be a sufficient level of education. However, illustrators who pursue the role with only a high school diploma must engage in a significant amount of self-study to refine their skills. Taking art classes can be helpful, as can watching videos online or reading illustration technique books. Practice is also important, and it helps to have someone who can provide feedback on your progress as you go.

To work as an illustrator for an employer—or to receive a guided education in your medium—a bachelor’s degree from an art school is advised. You can find a school that offers a degree in illustration, and it’s best if you also look for one that offers a specialization in the specific medium you’re interested in. If you’re unable to find an illustration program, a degree in fine arts, graphic design, or animation may also be sufficient. Focus your studies in any program on illustration techniques, and learn to use popular illustration software. This will help tremendously in finding work after graduation.

Illustrator Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Illustrator salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Illustrator's can make an average annual salary of $54,170, or $26 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $29,250 or $14 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #337 Nationally for All Careers

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming an Illustrator. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Illustrators

  • 1.9%   Doctorate
  • 12%   Masters
  • 45%   Bachelors
  • 9%   Associates
  • 18.4%   College
  • 10.7%   High School
  • 3%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Illustrator job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 800 jobs for a total of 27,100 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 3% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #519 Nationally for All Careers

What Companies Employ The Most Illustrators

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Self-employed workers 14,300 100 0%
Independent artists, writers, and performers 3,400 200 0%
Other miscellaneous store retailers 600 --- ---

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