As an Illustrator, you will use a range of artistic and graphic techniques, producing illustrations for a wide variety of areas, such as websites and reports, reference materials, publicity and advertisements, and instruction manuals.
Video: - Ewen: Commercial Illustrator
Illustrators produce drawings, images, paintings or diagrams to communicate ideas or information visually, or to make a product or some information easier to understand or appear more attractive.
As an Illustrator, you will use a range of artistic and graphic techniques, producing illustrations for a wide variety of areas, such as:
- books and book covers
- reference material
- publicity and advertisements
- websites and reports
- instruction manuals or training/educational material
You will usually specialise in a particular area. For example, Medical Illustrators produce images of medical conditions, Technical Illustrators produce detailed drawings for instruction manuals and Commercial Illustrators draw images to help make a product more attractive.
All Illustrators begin their work from a brief, given by a client. This usually outlines:
- what information the user needs to get from the illustration
- what type of product needs illustrating
- the style, theme or mood
- who it is aimed at, eg, students, Technicians, Fashion Buyers
- the timescales and budgets involved
To get all the background information you need, you may do some research before you begin sketching your ideas, for example, reading through texts.
You may then create a storyboard, which is a breakdown of a sequence of illustrations, often with accompanying text, to show how they would follow from each other, for example, in a book.
You will present your initial ideas and drawings to the client, who may accept them or ask that some changes be made. Once the ideas have been approved, you can begin to draw the final artwork!
A lot of Illustrators are freelance, working on a wide range of products for different clients. Depending on the area of illustration, you may need to discuss your work beforehand with Designers, Photographers, Authors, etc.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become an Illustrator, you need:
- a creative imagination
- to work well using different art techniques
- an understanding of colour, shape and form
- knowledge of computer graphics software and digital imaging
- good communication, presentation and negotiation skills
- to work to deadlines and budgets
Depending on the type of illustration you do, you may need specialist knowledge and an interest in the subject area.
If you work as a self-employed or freelance Illustrator, you'll need business and marketing skills.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £24,000
- With experience: £25,500 - £30,000
- Senior Illustrators earn £31,000
Pay rates for freelance Illustrators vary with the job. A useful guide to freelance rates is found on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) website - see contact details.
Self-employed Illustrator can earn as much or more than those employed by an organisation. However, earnings when starting out can be low, and when established may fluctuate according to the workload. Some Illustrators combine graphic design with illustration in order to maintain a decent income.
You may face long periods without work. To help, you may be able to claim benefits. Take a look at our information article on
Hours of work
Employed Illustrators usually work 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time opportunities are also available.
Self-employed Illustrators set their own hours, which may be irregular, depending on how much work they have. However, late finishes and weekend work are required from time to time, especially as deadlines approach.
Where could I work?
Commercial Illustrators gain work from publishers, advertising agencies, the broadcasting industry and commercial businesses.
Medical Illustrators work in hospitals and medical schools, in private medicine and in research establishments.
Opportunities for Illustrators occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Most Illustrators are self-employed and often work from home. However, the ability for individuals to promote their work online via the internet means location is less important for self-employed Illustrators
Some freelance Illustrators use the services of agents to gain commissions and short-term contract work. Some Illustrators advertise via their own website.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on WorkTrack, all the major job boards, on Find a Job, and at Jobcentre Plus.
It's a good idea to build up a network of relevant contacts, as not all design jobs are advertised. Making speculative job applications can also be effective.
Entry Routes and Training
An Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship is a great place to start.
However, some employers may ask for a degree in illustration or a related subject.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Illustrators with experience who have worked in a commercial environment may also be able to enter this profession.
Whichever entry route you choose to down, you will need to create a portfolio of your illustration work to show perspective employers.
Relevant foundation degrees, HNCs and HNDs are available and can be used as a route on to degree courses. Subjects like graphic design, and art and design would be most useful.
Foundation courses in art and design are available and can be used as a route on to degree courses.
If you would like some more training, then the London Art College offer a course in illustration. It is suited for people who may have some experience in illustration but if you have no experience, you can still join this course. Some of the units you could be studying include:
- basic draughtsmanship
- illustrating poems and songs
- editorial illustration
- graphic design
- illustrating for children
- colour mixing
Other courses could be available in your area.
If you choose to go into medical illustration, the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI) can provide information on training and courses.
Many Illustrators become self-employed once fully trained.
Some Illustrators move into management positions within an organisation or become art directors.
Relevant skills gained in graphic design, for example, are useful to this career.
To get onto an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship, you’ll usually need five GCSEs at grade C/4 or above, possibly including English and maths.
For entry to a relevant degree, you'll usually need:
- 2 or more A levels where many courses ask that you have at least a B grade in an art-based subject
- 4/5 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above where a pass in English is often required
Alternatives to A levels include:
- a BTEC level 3 qualification in fine art or interactive media, design for games and ICT, or another related subject
- an Advanced Level Apprenticeship
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
For the International Baccalaureate Diploma, many courses will ask that you have art at Higher level.
Many other qualifications are also accepted, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
To enter any course in art and design, you'll need a portfolio of your work.
Some people enter this career from a foundation course in art and design.
The usual entry requirements for a relevant Foundation course are:
- 1/2 A levels where you'll need an A level in art or in an art-based subject
- GCSEs at grade C/4 or above in 4/5 subjects where some courses ask that you have a pass in English
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Relevant skills gained in graphic design, for example, are useful. However, entry to this work is very competitive.
To enter the work or relevant courses, you need to have a portfolio of work showing your ability.
Many illustrators use agents in order to find possible work. A list of relevant agents is listed on the Association of Illustrators (AOI) website.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access course (eg, Art and Design) could be the way in. No formal qualifications are usually required, but you should check individual course details.
Part-time courses at local colleges or home study in computer design packages such as QuarkXpress, Freehand, Flash, etc, are useful to maintain/develop skills, and enhance your portfolio of work.
Part-time MA/PgD/PgCs in Illustration are available at numerous universities and educational establishments.
The University of Hertfordshire offers an MA/PgD/PgC in Illustration and an MA/PgD/PgC in Graphic Design, both by distance learning.
The Association of Illustrators (AOI) runs occasional seminars (for example, introduction to starting out as an illustrator), which are useful for newcomers.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Skills for the creative industries
Publisher: Creative & Cultural Skills
Creative & Cultural Skills
Skills for craft, cultural heritage, design, literature, music, performing arts and visual arts
Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI)
Address: 12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7837 2846
Design and Art Direction (D&AD)
Address: Britannia House, 68-80 Hanbury Street, London E1 5JL
Tel: 020 7840 1111
Association of Illustrators (AOI)
Address: Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Tel: 020 7759 1010
a-n The Artists Information Company
Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC)
Publisher: Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators
Writers & Artists
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844
Welsh Books Council (Welsh Enquiries)
Address: Castell Brychan, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2JB
Tel: 01970 624151
Wales Arts International (Welsh Enquiries)
Address: Bute Place, Cardiff, UK, CF10 5AL
Tel: 029 2044 1320