How to Become an Illustrator

Illustrator Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $43,700
Avg. Pay / hour $21.01
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 1%

An Illustrator is a type of artist who is experienced in creating drawings for a variety of mediums including digital media, commercial products, and printed materials.

Illustrators may specialize in creating different types of drawings in addition to the medium they use to create images.

Individuals who want to become illustrators have the option to specialize in creating specific types of drawings including Technical Illustrations, Medical Illustrations, and Scientific Illustrations.

Education Requirements to Become an Illustrator

There are no minimum requirements in order to become an Illustrator.

However, individuals who pursue formal education and attend an undergraduate program will have the best job prospects.

In addition, individuals who pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts will also learn a variety of skills that will make them more competitive in the field.

Individuals pursuing an advanced formal education to become an Illustrator have the option to secure a degree in Fine Arts.

During these undergraduate programs, individuals may take a variety of classes in arts that will help fine-tune their natural skills and abilities.

Some typical courses provided under a Fine Arts degree may include the following list:

  • Art History
  • Drawing
  • Advanced Drawing
  • Illustration
  • Graphic Design
  • Courses incorporating computer technology and Artistic ability

An individual who wants to become an Illustrator may also specialize in creating certain forms of artistic drawings.

Some specializations include Medical Illustrators, Scientific Illustrators, and Technical Illustrators.

In addition to securing a degree in fine arts, these individuals will need to study a scientific branch to understand the mechanisms behind these specialties.

Illustrator Job Description

Illustrators are responsible for creating a variety of images for a variety of publications including print, advertisements, logos, or websites.

Individuals may be self-employed, or work for a company and the specific tasks will vary.

However, the main tasks will include being able to take direction and create a variety of images for clients.

Some Illustrators may also specialize in the following images:

  • Medical Illustrators: Using their knowledge of biology, these illustrators will create images of the human body and may create them as 3D images, recreate surgical procedures and animations.
  • Scientific Illustrators: Focus on creating a variety of images related to science including illustrations of atomic structures, planets, and plant and animal life.
  • Technical Illustrators: These professionals focus on creating a variety of mechanical images. They will draw images representing mechanical machinery and devices as well as showing the assembling of mechanical products.

Illustrator Salary and Career Path

In 2012, the median salary for Craft and Fine Artists, which includes Illustrators, was approximately $44,850 per year.

Exact wages will depend on a variety of factors including whether an individual is self-employed or whether they work full time as an illustrator.

Many self-employed individuals end up earning more than an individual who is salaried, but the amount of work can vary depending on an Illustrator’s workload and amount of clientele.

Many Illustrators who are self-employed start by charging a nominal fee while they build their portfolio and gain experience and may also have to secure a part-time job in order to fill in some income gaps.

Individuals who work part-time or who have a flexible schedule may also have to supplement their income depending on their workload and how much they charge.

Job opportunities for Craft and Fine Artists as a whole are expected to increase by 3 percent through the year 2022.

This job outlook is considered slower than average when compared to other professions.

Although this rate includes Illustrators, the exact number of job opportunities for this profession will actually be higher because of the fact that these professionals can adapt their work to create illustrations using computers.

Job opportunities created by the internet will also reflect upon illustrators who create images using computer software.

Illustrators have a variety of opportunities whether they are self-employed or work for an organization such as an advertising agency.

In addition to the type of company they work for, they also have a variety of opportunities in the industry they work in whether it be the medical, technological, or scientific industry.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Idaho- NA -
Kansas- NA -
Michigan- NA -
New Hampshire$42,580
New Jersey$81,830
New Mexico$45,250
New York$120,510
North Carolina$45,330
Pennsylvania- NA -
South Carolina- NA -

The top earning state in the field is New York, where the average salary is $120,510.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

New York - $120,510
Connecticut - $107,140
New Jersey - $81,830
Minnesota - $72,820
Oregon - $69,470
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators, OCC Code 27-1013, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an illustrator do?

Illustrators are artists who use their skills, knowledge, and creativity to depict the client’s concept.

Ideally, professional illustrators should be able to use both, traditional materials (pens, ink, watercolor…) and software.

There are different types of work that an illustrator can specialize in.

However, the main aim, in most of the cases, will be to try and explain a story through illustrations.

Medical illustrators, for example, would have to make drawing for journals, books, and videos that represent the way the human body looks or works.

Technical illustrators depict machinery and equipment.

While books’ illustrators would have to create drawings that accompany the text and help even those who cannot read yet (like children) understand the story.

How much do illustrators make?

Of course, the salary of an illustrator would depend on the industry that he works in and on the workload.

Another important thing that determines how much an illustrator makes is his experience and the number of works that have already been published.

In occupational employment, illustrators fall under the category ‘fine artists’.

Their annual salary can range from $50.000 to $70.000.

Independent illustrators would usually earn less than the average salary.

The most well-paid industries are typically scientific research and development and the motion picture and video industry.

Illustrators earn around $80.000 annually in these fields.

How much does it cost to become an illustrator?

The truth is that there is no single career path for an illustrator.

You can become a well-paid professional without a degree.

However, it is more of an exception.

Illustrators are able to apply for entry-level positions with a high-school diploma.

Depending on the industry that you want to work in, you would need a degree or a certificate of completion of various courses.

Online art education can sometimes qualify as well.

An average annual cost for a bachelor program in illustration will cost you around $45.000.

Bear in mind that you would have to spend a lot of time, effort and money on creating the perfect portfolio for your future clients.

What is the demand for illustrators?

Illustrators will always be in high demand.

However, there will be a further decline of printed matter.

Specialists do recommend beginning your illustrator’s career in a digital form of some sort.

Try not to go for the industry that is too popular.

Find alternatives that are more specific.

A particular industry might require you to learn some terminology, so be prepared for that.

The illustration field is a highly competitive market.

Be ready to invest in your portfolio and take some time to establish the right connections.

How long does it take to become an illustrator?

If you have decided to earn a degree, it will take you four years.

Some certificates will require two years of your time.

Make sure to begin developing your portfolio at the beginning of your education.

The majority of employers require 3 or 4 years of industry experience.

Seek for any internship opportunities while you are still acquiring your certificate or degree.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.