The Job and What's Involved

Illustrators combine art, design and creative skills to develop ideas and produce original visual images for a wide range of products. These include:

- Books and book jackets
- Educational, training and reference materials
- Instruction manuals, leaflets and sales brochures
- Greetings cards, giftware and packaging
- Advertising materials, posters and catalogues
- Magazines and newspapers
- Television and film animations and storyboards
- Computer games, websites and mobile phone visuals

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

  • Discussing client needs and identifying the target audience for the work.
  • Agreeing the brief and contract, including payment and deadlines, with the client.
  • Developing visual ideas that suit the brief.
  • Seeking client approval for ideas with rough visuals - this stage may involve going back to the drawing board several times to rework sketches.
  • Using drawing, sketching, painting and photographic skills to produce illustrations.
  • Increasingly, using computer packages to scan in their own visual images, and then refine and develop the ideas on screen.
  • Continuing to work with the client, seeking approval at all stages of development and making any changes as required, right up to completion of the job.

There are specialist areas of illustration, including fashion, medical, scientific and technical illustration.

Self-employed illustrators need to be proactive in finding work. This includes promoting themselves to employers and keeping their portfolio up to date. Some illustrators use agents to do this work. They also need to keep their own records and accounts.

Illustrators in employment usually work from 9am to 5pm, 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. They usually work at a drawing board and computer workstation.

A newly qualified illustrator working full time may earn between £14,000 and £19,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Illustrators work throughout the UK. Most illustrators are self-employed and work freelance. They often have other paid jobs while they try to build up their business. It is a competitive area of work.

A few illustrators are employed, although graphic design or animation skills may be needed in addition to illustration skills. There may be opportunities with:

- Design or advertising agencies
- Publishers
- Multimedia and web publishers
- Corporate communications companies

Some illustrators employ agents to promote their work and pay a percentage commission for their services. Illustrators also need to network and build up contacts.

It is increasingly important for illustrators to produce work in multimedia format. Many illustrators also have a web presence to promote their work. Jobs and other opportunities may be advertised on websites such as, and There are also websites that allow illustrators to upload their work for potential commissioners to see, often for a fee.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements to become an illustrator. With talent, commitment and experience it is possible to develop a career in illustration without formal qualifications.

However, most professional illustrators have a degree in illustration or another art-related subject. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most illustrators develop their skills and portfolio through a higher national diploma (HND), foundation degree or degree in an art and design subject, such as illustration, graphic design, fine art, print-making or combined visual arts.

Qualifications include:

Foundation Degrees and HND's - applicants usually need a minimum of one A level, including an art and design subject, a relevant BTEC national award or BTEC Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design). Courses usually last two years full time.

Degree Courses - entrants usually need at least two A levels including an art and design subject, plus five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent. Many colleges and universities also require the BTEC Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design). Most full-time courses last three years.

Postgraduate Degrees and Diplomas - Most courses last one year full time.

Applications should check entry requirements with individual colleges and universities. A portfolio of art and design work is usually expected. Some colleges offer courses in portfolio preparation. Occasionally, an applicant with an outstanding portfolio may be accepted without the usual minimum entry qualifications.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Illustrators need:

  • Excellent drawing and IT skills.
  • To be able to work to a brief and solve problems.
  • To adapt their style if needed.
  • Creativity and imagination.
  • An eye for detail and design.
  • Self-promotional skills.
  • Self-motivation and the ability to work to deadlines.
  • To be good at communicating and negotiating with clients and colleagues.
  • A good understanding of medicine, science or technology (to be a medical, scientific or technical illustrator).

Your Long Term Prospects

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 of work such as graphic design, animation and cartoons. They may choose to specialise and train in a particular area of work, such as medical or technical illustration or children's book illustration.

Established illustrators may also run workshops in schools, libraries or museums. A few may become agents for other illustrators. Some may train to teach illustration.

There may be opportunities for illustrators in full-time employment to become art directors, design managers or heads of department.

Get Further Information

Artists Information Company, 1st Floor,
7-15 Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 5DW
Tel: 0191 241 8000

The Association of Illustrators (AOI),
2nd Floor, Back Building,
150 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AT
Tel: 020 7613 4328
17 Macklin Street, Covent Garden,
London WC2B 5NQ
Tel: 0845 094 6407

Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI),
29 Arboretum Street, Nottingham NG1 4JA
Tel: 0121 333 8492

Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators,
Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon,
Surrey CR0 0XZ
Tel: 020 8253 4506

Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain (MAA),
Medical Illustration UK Ltd, Charing Cross Hospital,
London W6 8RF
Tel: 020 8846 7165

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900

Society of Artists Agents

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