Illustrators combine art, design and creative skills to develop ideas and produce original visual images for a wide range of products including books, magazines, animations, computer games, websites, sales brochures and reference materials.

Most illustrators specialise in a particular style. There are various different stages in their work, including:

  • liasing with the client to discuss their business needs (‘the brief’)
  • negotiating pricing and deadlines with the client
  • developing visual ideas that suit the brief
  • seeking client approval for ideas with rough visuals
  • using drawing, sketching, painting and photographic skills to produce illustrations.

Illustrators in employment usually work a standard working week, Monday to Friday. The working hours of freelance illustrators vary, depending on deadlines and quantity of work. Most illustrators work at home or in a studio.

Most illustrators are self-employed and work freelance. They are paid an agreed fee for each commission, which varies widely. Earnings may range from £5,000 to £50,000 a year. Some extremely successful illustrators may earn £250,000 a year or more.

Illustrators should:

  • have excellent drawing and IT skills
  • be able to work to a brief and adapt their style if needed
  • have an eye for detail and design
  • be self-motivated and able to work to deadlines
  • enjoy creative work.

Illustrators work throughout the UK. Most are self-employed, although a few are employed by design and advertising agencies, publishers and communications companies.

Most professional illustrators have a degree in illustration or another art-related subject such as graphic design or fine art. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant. Higher education qualifications in illustration include foundation degrees, degrees, and postgraduate degrees.

The Association of Illustrators runs an annual programme of events that includes seminars, lectures and exhibitions.

Most freelance illustrators remain self-employed. Success depends upon building a strong reputation and securing a steady flow of work. Some illustrators broaden their business by developing skills in related areas such as graphic design, animation and cartoons. They may choose to specialise in a particular area of work, such as medical or technical illustration or children’s book illustration and authorship.

Further Details

Related careers

· Advertising art director
· Animator
· Fine artist
· Graphic designer
· Medical illustrator
· Photographer
· Signwriter

How to get careers advice online