Design Glossary

What Does an Illustrator Do? 7 Tips to Become a Good One

May 11, 2023 by

This is a guide covering illustrators. What they are, what they do, and some tips to become a good one!

Maybe you’re thinking about becoming one or maybe you are just researching what they do because you’re curious.

Either way, we’ve got you covered!

Table of Contents

What is an Illustrator?

Illustrators are artists who make an illustration based on a concept that a client provides. They are primarily artists and focus on drawing.

To become an illustrator, you need to have drawing and art skills, color, and layout knowledge, and should know how to communicate with a potential client and convince them to hire them.

Illustrators are essential, and you can’t understand what an illustrator does without knowing how important they are.

Without illustrators, companies can’t effectively promote their brands and raise their sales.

Illustrators are essential in any industry, and you need to produce consistent professional work to get hired as an illustrator.

What is the Role of an Illustrator?

Illustrators are hired or commissioned to create 2D pictures or images for different industries, companies, and individuals.

For example, they make images across various niches such as medicine, fashion, and technical, graphics for ads, and illustrations for children’s storybooks.

In simple terms, an illustrator makes or draws an image around a concept given by their employers – agents, publishers, companies, or writers.

Illustrators may work for a particular company, freelance their services, or work with various clients through an agent.

Illustrators often use a computer and various software like Adobe Illustrator to create images. However, some illustrators use traditional paper, pencil, charcoal, pen, and colors (watercolors, paints, pastels, etc.) to take pictures.

Then, they scan their hand-drawn projects and place them on the computer to digitalize them, and they can make tweaks to them in illustration software if needed.

To further explore the role of an illustrator, we recommend watching this “day in the life of an illustrator” video:

What Skills Do You Need to Be an Illustrator?

It’s a given that for any illustrator job that you need to have good art skills. If you have fine arts, illustration, and graphic designing skills, you can choose it as your career.

You may be thinking that illustrators and graphic designers are the same things, but they are not.

Illustrators typically do advertisement work for a company and focus on drawing stuff only, such as illustrations for packaging, logos, comic books, etc.

On the other hand, graphic designers work on the visual brand for a company (structure and design) to sell it to customers. So, their job includes a lot more stuff than just drawings.

While you can become an illustrator without formal education, having a degree in fine arts, graphic designing, and illustration can be good.

These programs teach a lot to their students.

Moreover, you can go for post-graduate courses like children’s book illustration or medical art to specialize in one type of illustration or the other.

To succeed as an illustrator, you need to have a passion for art and creativity. Illustrators have to draw illustrations 30 to 40 hours a week, and you can’t do that if you don’t genuinely love drawing and art.

Illustrators draw by visualizing a concept or an idea and have a keen eye for colors, layout, and harmony needed in illustrations.

While excellent art skills are essential in becoming an illustrator, you need to have some other skills in your arsenal for any illustrator job.

For example, you also need to be good at communicating in your native tongue and English if you’re thinking of doing freelance work.

Aside from this, it would help if you had a silver tongue when talking with clients – be respectable, but be persuasive and convince the client that you’re what they need, and you can give them high-quality work in a reasonable timeframe.

To further explore what skills you need, we recommend watching this in-depth video by Penguin Platform:

Why are Illustrators Important?

Illustrations are essential because they work more effectively than both photographs and videos.

Illustrations express the core concept of the content, and the readers can get a clear idea of what the article or content is about by only looking at the illustrations.

While a great slogan would work well, a visual depiction works wonders for your brand because the human brain is more inclined to perceive images, such as charts or infographics than plain text.

You can use illustrations to express the key message of your blog, and advertisement and use them for product branding. You can make the products and their packaging more appealing if you hire an illustrator to create illustrations for your brand.

Illustrations are a helpful, creative, and fun way to educate people, especially young children.

That is why children’s books often have illustrations. In addition, illustrations in textbooks help efficiently learn complex concepts in science, computers, mathematics, and other subjects in school.

Illustrators are vital because they can make drawings or images to attract customers’ attention, essential for any business’s success.

Why are Illustrators Important?

If a company can’t draw and engage its targeted audience, then it won’t thrive. That is why an illustrator is hired to engage clients and make more sales.

Types of Illustrators

There are various types of illustrators, and they may choose a particular niche and become experts in that industry.

They are divided into editorial, product, children’s book, Fashion, Storyboard, technical, and medical illustrators. There may be more types, but these are the most common ones.

1. Editorial Illustrators

Editorial illustrations are often used in newspaper articles, journals, and magazines.

Illustrators make drawings that focus on the critical point of the pieces; the illustrations show readers the theme of the essay or story.

As a result, editorial illustrators are highly sought out by print and online publications, and even Art directors hire them.

2. Product Illustrators

Similarly, product illustrators made drawings for product packaging, etc., for product manufacturers and advertisement agencies.

3. Children’s Book Illustrators

Meanwhile, children’s storybook illustrators create images for children’s books through traditional artwork or digital drawings.

To learn more about children’s book illustration, we recommend this video by Dave Reed:

4. Fashion Illustrators

Fashion illustrators make graphics, drawings, and paintings related to fashion and other related industries.

Usually, fashion blogs, magazines, and clothing lines hire fashion illustrators.

To learn more about fashion illustration, we recommend this video by Rongrong:

5. Storyboard Illustrators

On the other hand, storyboard illustrators work on film or video animations, ads or commercials on TV, and digital games.

They make illustrations to complement a story, be it for an ad, movie, or graphic novel.

To learn more about storyboard illustration, we recommend this video by Ben Marriott:

6. Technical Illustrators

Technical illustrators are responsible for creating images and graphics that portray technical information, for example, software or app installment guides, etc.

To learn more about technical illustration, we recommend this video by Etteplan:

7. Medical Illustrators

Likewise, medical illustrators make drawings or pictures of human organs, medicines, inner workings of the body of animals, etc.

In addition, they are hired to create images for magazines, textbooks, charts, ads for medical centers, etc.

To learn more about medical illustration, we recommend this video by Annie Campbell:

Tips to Become a Good Illustrator?

While skills can get you far, you need to follow some tips that will help you become a renowned professional in your field and help you tackle problems you may face.

1. Communication

You need to have good communication skills, be respectful to your clients and build up a contract network.

Regularly communicate with your clients and talk to them about what they want in their commission.

In any illustrator job, your goal is to make something that pleases the client, so you need to understand what they want. You can achieve this via constant communication.

2. Deadlines

You also need to set a reasonable timeline and work under the deadline.

If you consistently miss a deadline, it can affect your contracts and prevent you from getting long-term and repeat clients.

If you’re new to the illustration business, you may not have an idea of the deadlines.

But you can take time how long you take to finish a project and take personal stuff that may hinder you into consideration to find the timeline that works for you.

However, it would be best if you still noted what timeline works for your client and adjusted your deadline based on it.

3. Be Unique

You can’t just copy someone else works, like draw something you see on the net.

Instead, you need to find and develop your own particular and unique style.

Many famous illustrators like manga artists all have a signature drawing style.

When you’re first starting, you can use some of the techniques other artists use in your work but make every commission unique and add your flair to it.

4. Consistent Quality Output

You need to find the art style that works for you and produce consistent professional illustrations and graphics.

For example, if you use a tablet for all your design work, make sure you follow similar presets and design styles so you can have a cohesive look and brand.

It would help make professional drawings for all your content to stay in business and become an illustrator that people want to hire

5. Problem-Solving Skills

Look at illustration work in another way. Think of clients bringing you a problem (an idea), and they want you to solve it (make an illustration that complements that idea).

It would help if you found the right solution that works for that particular client and idea.

You need to know how to solve problems during a commission and be quick and calm during the ordeal.

6. Personal Portfolio

To develop a portfolio for your illustration business, you should get started on it in college since clients will be more likely to hire you if you already have samples to show them.

Having a portfolio is critical to succeeding in any line of work and get great clients.

While working on commission will help you pay the bills, you need to take out the time to develop your artwork.

You can have them displayed in a gallery or sell them, it’s up to you, but they will help you get your name out there and be a portfolio of sorts.

7. Basic Graphics Designing Skills

While they aren’t as important as drawing skills, you still need to know how to use graphic design software so that if you need to tweak your illustrations after scanning them on a computer, you can do so with ease.

Besides, you will have more work opportunities if you know both illustration and graphic designing skills.

To further explore tips and skills needed to become an illustrator, we recommend watching these videos by Marc Brunet and Asia Orlando:

Do Illustrators Get Paid Well?

Illustrators are always in demand throughout various industries, and the salary of illustrators varies from country to country.

According to, the average salary per year in the US is about $51,802 for illustrators. Moreover, the average salary per year in Canada is $52,575 in 2021, according to

Illustrators mostly freelance their services in the UK, and the average salary can differ based on clients.

However, illustrators can earn £20,000-£30,000 in one year depending on field experience and work quality, according to Similarly, in Australia, illustrators can earn up to $75,033 in one year, based on

According to ZipRecruiter, with freelancing, illustrators can make $59,837 per year in most countries, but the amount can vary depending on location, skills, and experience.

If an illustrator earns that amount, they may charge $28.77 per hour and earn $4,986 per month.

A freelance illustrator’s average salary can fall below or even above this limit, but some freelancers may earn $100,000 per year with their illustration work.

Final Remarks

Illustrators take an idea and make an illustration for that particular idea.

Many companies, publishing houses, writers, etc., hire illustrators to make drawings for their brands, books (children’s or comic books), logos, products, etc.

Therefore, illustrators are always in demand in one industry, and they are paid well according to their skills, experience, and location.

To become an illustrator, you need to have top-notch art skills, communication skills, and make a network of clients.

It would help if you advertised yourself or hired an agent to find clients for you.

Talent can only get you so far; you also need to keep a few tips in mind so that you can flourish in the illustration industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

What skills do you need to be an illustrator?

To be an illustrator, you need strong drawing and composition skills, a good understanding of color theory and lighting, and the ability to communicate ideas visually. Additionally, proficiency in relevant software and a willingness to continuously learn and develop new techniques are also important for success as an illustrator.

Can you be an illustrator without a degree?

Yes, it is possible to become an illustrator without a degree, as the field is primarily based on a portfolio of work and artistic skill rather than formal education. However, having a degree or training in art or design can provide valuable skills and knowledge, as well as opportunities for networking and mentorship.

What is the difference between a graphic designer and an illustrator?

The primary difference between a graphic designer and an illustrator is their focus and skillset. Graphic designers typically work on projects involving visual communication and layout, while illustrators specialize in creating images and artwork to convey a message or idea.