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Illustrator and Graphic Designer Job Description, Career as an Illustrator and Graphic Designer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College plus training

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Varies—see profile

Definition and Nature of the Work

Illustrators and graphic designers are both in the business of creating original art to decorate or to convey information. Illustrators draw pictures for books, magazines, and other print materials, including greeting cards and wrapping paper. Graphic designers use art to communicate a message to a certain audience.

Illustrators use light, shadows, and color to create two-dimensional pictures. Most illustrators specialize in a particular type of drawing. For instance, fashion illustrators work for fashion designers and draw sketches of clothing as it is being In his studio, an illustrator draws a piece to be used in a magazine. His design must meet the specifications and guidelines established for the project. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) designed. Technical illustrators draw diagrams that show how to maintain, repair, and use machines and appliances. They prepare their drawings from blueprints, photoprints, or mock-ups, which are scale models of designs and products. Medical illustrators utilize their knowledge of biology and anatomy to draw sketches of the human body and surgical procedures. Their works are used in medical publications to help make difficult concepts clearer. Scientific illustrators specialize in drawing illustrations of geologic and planetary formations, animals, and plant life for publication in teaching materials.

Graphic designers are visual artists who use their creative skills to design a variety of objects, products, materials, and displays for commercial clients. Designers may create packaging and promotional displays for new products, distinctive logos for a product or business, or the visual design for a company's literature. They also work in publishing, developing the layout and design of books, magazines, and newspapers. Some create graphics for television. Others develop designs for Internet Web pages, interactive media, and multimedia projects.

Illustrators and graphic designers of the twenty-first century are integrating the use of computers into their work and preparing their art in digital format. Both must determine the needs and preferences of their clients as well as the target market segment when creating their art.

Graphic designers prepare design specifications and produce a layout for the client's approval. Once the design has been approved, they construct a model or sample of the design. Designers may work with oils, watercolors, acrylics, pen and ink, silk screen, plaster, metals, or other media to create designs. Computer graphics and design software have allowed designers to utilize a greater number of design alternatives for clients, which reduces costs and saves time in the design process.

Education and Training Requirements

All artists must have artistic talent, creativity, imagination, skill, and knowledge specific to the industry in which they work. Most people who enter the fields of illustration or graphic design hone their skills in a two-year or three-year post-secondary program—or preferably in a four-year bachelor's degree program. Computer graphics courses are now essential for job consideration in these highly competitive fields.

Art schools teach the numerous and varied aspects of illustration and graphic design, including perspective, color, the elements of design, lettering, advertising, composition, layout, and computer graphics. More specific courses may be offered in package design, typography, or display work, for example. Those who plan to freelance (be self-employed) or pursue careers as art directors or studio owners should take business and advertising courses as well. Medical illustrators need training not only in graphic art but in the sciences. Master's degree programs are available in graphic design and in medical illustration. Interested individuals should make sure that a school offers the courses they need before applying for admission.

Getting the Job

All artists must submit a portfolio containing samples of their best work to prospective employers. Illustrators and designers should develop and enhance their portfolios during their college years. Internships, offered by some firms, also provide opportunities to improve skills and add to design portfolios. Beginning designers usually go through a one-year to three-year on-the-job training program.

The placement offices of colleges and professional schools often help graduates find job opportunities. New artists can also apply directly to companies that employ illustrators and graphic designers. Job postings appear in the classified sections of newspapers and on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

The employment outlook for illustrators is expected to grow about as fast as the average through 2014. The job market has slowed in recent years due to the growth of computer graphics packages and stock art Web sites, which allow writers, publishers, and art directors to produce their own illustrations. However, there will be a great demand for medical illustrators as medical research increases.

Likewise, the job outlook for graphic designers is expected to grow about as fast as the average through 2014. Good designers will be needed because of the increased emphasis that producers of information, goods, and services are placing on visual appeal in product design, advertising, and marketing. Furthermore, graphic designers will be needed to design and develop the layout of the growing number of Web pages. Prospective graphic designers must realize that the glamorous image of the field attracts more people than are needed; competition will be keen.

Graphic designers who work for companies usually start with basic work. As they gain experience, they move into more complex design work with less supervision. Those with extensive experience may become chief designers or directors of design departments. Some experienced designers start their own businesses.

Working Conditions

Full-time graphic designers work in many different industries, including wholesale and retail, advertising, manufacturing, and publishing. They generally work a forty-hour week in spacious, well-lighted design studios. Freelance illustrators and designers have more flexible hours, although they usually spend a great deal of time marketing their services, establishing a reputation, and handling the administrative aspects of self-employment.

Earnings and Benefits

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, illustrators earn a median annual salary of $38,060. Salaried medical illustrators earn significantly more. The median income for a full-time medical illustrator in 2005 was $59,000.

The salary for full-time graphic designers varies, depending on the designer's experience and the size of the company for which they work. The median annual salary is $38,030. Experienced designers can earn $65,000 or more per year. Earnings for freelance graphic designers vary widely depending on talent, business ability, and established reputation. Successful freelance designers usually earn more than salaried designers.

Where to Go for More Information

American Institute of Graphic Arts
164 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10010
(212) 807-1990

Association of Medical Illustrators
810 E. 10th St.
Lawrence, KS 66044
(866) 393-4264

Graphic Artists Guild
90 John St., Ste. 403
New York, NY 10038-3202
(212) 791-3400

The Society of Illustrators
128 E. 63rd St.
New York, NY 10021-7303
(212) 838-2560

Society for News Design
1130 Ten Rod Rd., Ste. D-202
North Kingstown, RI 02852-4180
(401) 294-5233

Society of Publication Designers
17 E. 47th St., 6th Fl.
New York, NY 10016
(212) 223-3332

Salaried artists receive a standard benefits package that includes health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacations. Self-employed illustrators and designers must provide their own benefits.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts