How to Start an Illustration Career?

Graphic Designing

7 minute read

Illustration is your best tool for setting the mood or effectively telling a story. You can clearly communicate the message irrespective of the industry vertical for which you are illustrating.

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Guide to Illustration Career

In your illustration career, you will have opportunities to

  • Design video game characters and atmospherics
  • Create visual storyboards for movies or shows
  • Develop illustrations for textbooks, blogs, magazines, e-zines, publications
  • Sketch profiles for helping criminal investigation agencies
  • Draw for children’s books
  • Design greeting cards, invitations, or paper for gifting
  • Sketch images for commercial products
  • Illustrate molecular, anatomical or other medical drawings in 2D or 3D

The scope for expressing your creative ideas is limitless provided you are willing to adapt to conditions.

Illustration Job Duties

Your illustrator job would entail using a computer for scanning your drawing in. Then you can add vibrant colors to the outline. You can also utilize the pen with graphics tablet for making your illustration appear directly on computer’s screen with each stroke.

Apart from developing engaging artwork, you need to perform other activities too. These include

  • Conveying your ideas to customers and understanding their expectations
  • Brainstorm over ideas
  • Deliver in accordance to project schedules
  • Ensuring artwork quality matches the designer’s requirements.

Essential Skills

For creating compelling illustration design, you need to possess some vital skills as discussed below.

  • Artistic Touch

    You must be proficient in painting or drawing impeccably. Your sense of composition and color must be perfect. For developing a marketable portfolio, you can also attend art school to learn the technicalities of illustrating.

  • Computer Skills

    You must be familiar with computer generated images, illustration software, tablet and pen.

  • Social Networking

    If you desire to freelance, you must have strong networking skills to market yourself. Your communication skill must be superb so that you can express ideas clearly to customers and maintain good interpersonal relationship with them. Further, you must learn to take criticism and feedbacks constructively.

  • Problem Solving Quality

    You should be able to deliver assignments as per committed deadlines by vaulting over potential bottlenecks and other obstacles strategically.

Traits of Successful Illustrators

To be recognized as a successful illustrator, you need to have certain traits as outlined below.

  • Adaptive to new conditions
  • Innovative and out of box thinker
  • Attention for details
  • Bohemian
  • Original
  • Excellent deftness in drawing

It all starts with a thought, so let’s take a look at the steps that you should bring into your thought process:

  • What’s your specialization? Think what type of sketches you like creating.
  • Create Your Sketches: Create illustrations of your style so as to create a collection.
  • Set up a portfolio website: Create a website so that you can share your work samples with others.
  • Establish your business: Make your website your platform to get business. Opt for active SEO based promotions.
  • Establish social media presence: Create strong social media presence by keeping your social media accounts active. Promote user interactions.
  • Try to get Business: Push different businesses, entrepreneurs and publishing houses for business. Use your portfolio as your promotional package. Offer best quotes and discounts.
  • Establish Networks: Network with fellow illustrators to gain industry knowledge.
  • Follow an Organized Approach: Keep yourself organized at all times so that you can meet the requirements of new projects as and when they come.

Categories of illustration Jobs

The illustration jobs are of different types as discussed below.

  • Full-Time Employment

    This is the regular 9 to 5 job type where you report to a boss and draw monthly salary with incentive. Your role would encompass developing concept art and creation of assets for games, shows, 2D or 3D animations; illustrating for advertising touchpoints; creating ad designs; and illustrating for medical drawings or architectural visualizations or technical item.

    You can also prepare surface designs for home décor items, fashion and textiles. Designing greeting cards, preparing storyboards, designing themes and sketching tattoos can also be part of your portfolio. You may have to illustrate for books, magazine, religious publications, educational books, children’s textbooks, packages etc. You can design postage stamps, political cartoons, logos, calligraphy, comics etc. or can serve as courtroom sketch artist.

  • Freelancing

    You can work on different projects allocated by independent clients from home in return of a fee.

  • Direct Selling

    You can sell you art directly to consumers from your showroom, online shop, art gallery or convention. Usually, original illustrations, prints of limited editions, portraits, web or self-published comics, calligraphy bring in good revenues for you.

What does an illustrator do exactly?

Your exact job would depend on the type of your professional engagement. Apart from drawing, you may have to respond to client emails, take care of incidentals, promote work through various channels, buy supplies, submit taxes etc.

Creating a portfolio

Without a strong portfolio, your illustration career would not take off. By showcasing your skills, you attract assignments. With a portfolio, you can exhibit the originality of your work to clients.

Getting illustration jobs

You have to approach prospective clients over email or physical mail. Each interaction must be accompanied by samples of your work and description of the fields you excel in. You have to invest money, time and energy to establish your repute as an illustrator and earn consistent income.

Six Common Illustration Jobs And Their Average Salaries

  1. Comic Book Illustrator

    This is the most in-demand role where you have to sweat out significantly for landing salaried positions. You can work on your own web comics as a self-publishing freelancer. The market is very saturated and hence you have to develop highly engaging and unique comics. For landing a position with an illustration services organization, you need a certification in illustration.

    In the print comic industry, you can fetch a commission of $100-$1000 per page based on your experience and repute.

  2. Forensic Illustrator

    You can work as criminal sketch artist for capturing the scene at place of crime or for developing the accurate sketch of face of criminal from vague description offered by victim. You can be a part of law enforcement agency or will need its attestation for working independently. For being recognized, you can complete a course from international identification body or hold a degree in psychology.

    A full-time forensic artist earns $44,000 yearly on an average.

  3. Film Storyboarding Illustrator

    Storyboard is a must for films and commercials as shots can be accurately planned prior to actual shooting. As a storyboard illustrator, your success on any storyboard illustration companies would also depend on your competence in operating illustrator software.

    You can earn $84,000 per annum on an average. In marketing domain, the average salary is $65,000 per annum.

  4. Medical Illustrator

    You need to draw out body organs or parts accurately. You will also be depicting the operation of body parts to help doctors, healthcare experts, pharma companies, researchers, and injury lawyers.

    For succeeding in this industry, you need to train yourself extensively in medical, anatomical and scientific aspects. BSc degree in any biological stream would also help.

    You can earn anywhere between $60,000 t0 $2,50,000 per annum.

  5. Fashion Illustrator

    You have to materialize sartorial ideas for fashion design or advertisement industry. For a good job, you must have a strong portfolio to show off and should be located in a large city.

    Salary would be around $50,000 per annum.

  6. Fine Art Illustrator

    You leverage your natural talent for developing aesthetically pleasing artwork for selling. For succeeding in marketplace, you need to subject yourself to the rigors of training in illustration school.

    Average earning is $ 1,00,000 per annum.


This comprehensive career guide to illustration for beginners would help you leverage your talent and acquired skills for giving flight to your career. You can seek jobs on top portals like LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor etc. after completing your training.