If drawing for a living sounds like a dream come true, you might want to pursue a career as a professional illustrator. Whether you choose to get a degree or not, you can use your artistic abilities to express and support yourself.

Learn How to Become an Illustrator

Some illustrators have degrees, and some don’t. In your journey to become a professional illustrator, what matters most is that you pick a path that works for you and your desired niche. 

A person's hand using a fine-tipped mechanical eraser to add details to a graphite illustration of a woman with long hair.
In the Skillshare class Portrait Drawing for Beginners: How To Draw Faces Quickly And Accurately, teacher Louise Stigell sketches a woman’s portrait.

Degree Options 

If you decide to go the formal education route and get a degree before starting your career, you can choose between several possibilities. Those include degrees in: 

  • fine art; 
  • commercial art; 
  • graphic design; and
  • animation. 

Depending on the college you attend, you may be able to obtain an associate’s degree in your chosen field within two years or less. Or, you may opt to get a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree. 

The specific degrees and fields of study that are best for you depend on the type of illustrator you want to become. If you want to work at an established digital animation studio, for example, you’re more likely to need a four-year degree in computer animation or a similar field. 

But if you want to be a freelance fashion illustrator, you may only need to provide prospective clients with a portfolio of your work. 

So before signing up for a bachelor’s degree program, be sure to carefully consider your wants, needs and budget, as well as the requirements of the jobs you’ll be applying for. 

Illustration Classes

Since many illustration jobs require proof of your artistic abilities rather than proof of a degree, you can increase your chances of getting hired by developing your skills through standalone classes. 

If you prefer face-to-face instruction, check nearby community colleges, art schools and art studios to see which classes are available in your area. 

Or if you’d like to enjoy the convenience and accessibility of on-demand learning, consider taking online illustration classes like those offered by Skillshare. 

With the help of such classes, you can learn how to: 

Illustrator Jobs

A person's hand using a pen to draw an illustration of berries and leaves on branches.
In the Skillshare class Botanical Illustration Intensive: Draw Plants Using Science and Style, teacher Maggie Heraty shows students how to create true-to-life botanical illustrations.

In general, illustration jobs fall into one of two categories: traditional in-house positions, and freelance work. 

Traditional Illustration Jobs

In a traditional illustration job, you’ll be expected to create illustrations for your employer on an ongoing basis. And unless the job is one of an illustration instructor, you’ll likely also need to work with colleagues to revise and improve each of your illustrations. 

These types of illustration jobs can be either full- or part-time, but they always involve illustrating for a single employer long-term. 

Traditional illustration jobs can include: 

  • drawing storyboards and covers for a publishing company;
  • creating artwork for a video game developer; 
  • teaching illustration classes at a school; or
  • creating fashion illustrations for a clothing brand. 
Illustrating for merchandise can provide a realistic route to becoming a full-time illustrator.

Freelance Illustration Jobs 

Although freelance illustrators have many of the same responsibilities as traditionally employed illustrators, there is one major difference: Instead of creating illustrations for one employer on an ongoing basis, freelance illustrators do so for multiple clients, typically on a short-term basis. 

If you choose to become a freelance illustrator, that means you’ll need to find clients who will buy your work. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork can be ideal for this purpose, and you can also pitch your art to clients you’d like to work with.

While freelance illustration jobs don’t provide the same stability as their traditional counterparts (especially when you’re getting started), they do offer unparalleled freedom to choose who you work with and what kind of work you do. 

Do Illustrators Get Paid Well? 

In the United States, the largest portion of illustrators (26 percent) make between $33,500 and $42,999 per year. Some are paid as much as $128,500 per year, while others are paid just $24,000 per year. 

To determine how much you can earn as an illustrator, you’ll need to analyze the specific type of illustration you want to do, as well as your local job market. 

Types of Illustrators 

A person's hands resting on either side of an iPad. The iPad screen displays a digital illustration of a woman wearing a light blue button-down shirt and a dark blue pleated tulle skirt.
In the Skillshare class Fashion Illustration: Digital Drawing with Attitude, teacher Danielle Meder showcases one of her finished illustrations.

Because illustration is such a versatile medium, there are many different types of illustrators. 

Medical Illustrator 

By combining their knowledge of medicine with their artistic skills, medical illustrators convey complex information through easy-to-understand visuals. 

Due to their highly precise subject matter, medical illustration jobs tend to demand more qualifications than other illustration-related positions, and some require applicants to have a Master’s degree in medical illustration

Fashion Illustrator 

Interested in turning stylish outfits into pieces of art? You might want to think about becoming a fashion illustrator

Fashion illustrators excel at creating stylish, unique drawings that put the spotlight on clothes, accessories, shoes and other elements of fashion. They may use runway photos as references, or they may work with fashion designers to bring their ideas to life. 

Book Illustrator

Ever walked through a book store and looked at the wide array of cover art on display? Someone had to create it, and if you become a book cover designer, that person could be you. 

In such a role, you’ll be charged with creating beautiful, eye-catching book covers, and possibly illustrations to complement books’ contents too. 

Children’s Book Illustrator 

While fully-illustrated books for adults are hard to come by, children’s books often have just as many illustrations as they do sentences. So if you love creating playful, fun and fantastical illustrations, you might also love being a children’s book illustrator

Technical Illustrator

If you enjoy creating detailed diagrams, technical illustration could be an ideal career path for you. As a technical illustrator, you’ll be responsible for creating hyper-accurate drawings and diagrams of items ranging from clothing to circuit boards. 

Comic Book Illustrator 

In addition to classic superheroes, today’s comic book artists can specialize in a wide variety of characters and settings. 

With a little practice, you can even start drawing comics featuring your own original characters and plots. 

Forensic Illustrator 

By working with investigators, witnesses and victims, forensic artists help to catch criminals and solve mysteries. If you become a forensic illustrator, you may need to draw sketches of suspects, create images of crime scenes, illustrate pieces of evidence or all of the above.

Draw Up a Career as a Professional Illustrator

If the wide variety of illustrator jobs and niches proves anything, it’s that illustration can be a viable career choice. So if you love drawing and want to make a living from it, don’t doubt yourself—with the right tools and resources, you can turn your passion into income.

Sell Your Prints Online!

Building a Career in Illustration: Explore Print-On-Demand

Written by:

Carrie Buchholz-Powers