Architectural Illustrator Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An architectural illustrator's median annual salary is around $49,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an architectural illustrator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Architectural Illustration

Architectural illustrators create two- and three-dimensional designs to help clients visualize the completed interior and exterior of their buildings. Read about pros and cons of a career in architectural illustration so you can make the best career decisions for you.

Pros of an Architectural Illustrator Career
High median salary ($49,000 as of May 2014)*
Only a bachelor's degree is required**
Both technical and creative strengths can be applied**
Complete projects independently**
Employers expect for you to have an architectural background**

Cons of an Architectural Illustrator Career
Low employment growth (one percent between 2012 and 2022)*
Employers want someone who has experience**
Many architectural illustrators are freelance***
May need business skills***
Work opportunities are mostly restricted to architectural firms***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Job Posts from May 2012, ***American Society of Architectural Illustrators

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

According to the New York Society of Renderers (NYSR) and May 2012 job posts, architectural illustrators create two- and three-dimensional designs of buildings (www.nysr.com). You'll use these design interpretations to show clients the interior and exterior of the building. This will allow them to visualize it and see what the completed building will look like and get a feel for the space. Some employers may prefer that you use pen and ink to create your drawings, but it's becoming increasingly common to use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) programs. Generally, you'll complete buildings on a project basis whether you're self-employed or work for an architectural firm. Self-motivation, creativity and the ability to work independently will help you in this field.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups career and salary information for architectural illustrators in with all other illustrators. The BLS projected that the employment of architectural drafters would only increase by one percent between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the national average (www.bls.gov). The median salary was about $49,000 as of May 2014, according to the BLS.

Training Requirements

To become an architectural illustrator, you should start by completing a bachelor's degree program in architectural design, interior design or design. You may want to pursue a nonprofessional degree in architecture, which last four years as opposed to the five necessary to earn a Bachelor of Architecture (the route necessary to become an architect). Common courses in four-year programs include studies in drawing, architectural history, space planning, energy-efficient designs, construction techniques and interior design. Most also include studies in CADD. Nonprofessional bachelor's degree programs could prepare you to:

  • Create historical and modern architectural designs
  • Select the best materials for a building
  • Incorporate space and details in architectural renderings
  • Tie energy and environmental principles into designs
  • Draft designs by hand and with AutoCAD technology
  • Develop creative solutions to common design problems

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers are looking for architectural illustrators to create two-dimensional images, or renderings, of architectural designs. They want someone who has at least a bachelor's degree, a background in architecture and experience. The following are samples of job postings for architectural illustrators from May 2012:

  • A New York City architectural and interior design firm advertised for an architectural illustrator who could create hand illustrations of commercial buildings, residential homes and renovation projects. The employer preferred someone who enjoys traditional architecture, and applicants must understand architecture and have experience creating renderings of interiors. Multimedia skills, drawing skills, problem-solving skills, attention to detail and imagination are also important.
  • An architectural and graphic design company in Washington, DC, searched for a senior artist and animator who could create 2-D and 3-D architectural drawings using AutoCAD technology. The employer wanted to hire someone with an architectural background who could create realistic-looking drawings.
  • An architectural firm in New York City wanted to hire a 3-D visualization renderer who has a bachelor's degree in architecture and at least two years of experience. The ideal candidate would have good communication skills, good design skills, a strong work ethic and self-motivation. The ad stated that the job would entail designing building's interiors and exteriors.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

To stand out as an architectural illustrator, take advanced classes in design, illustration, drawing and architecture, since all of these are relevant for your everyday responsibilities. Take computer classes and become familiar with drawing by hand and using AutoCAD programs. If you have the opportunity, complete an internship with an architectural firm. Taking business classes could also help you if you decide to work as a freelance architectural illustrator. It's also important to select pieces for your portfolio that showcase your skills through a diverse range of buildings, vantage points and styles, including hand-drawn and AutoCAD pieces.

Another way to stand out is by joining organizations that support architectural illustrators, such as the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (www.asai.org). This organization can help you prepare an online portfolio, find jobs and get a group health insurance rate. Organizations such as the NYSR could also be beneficial, since they'll help you enhance your business and design skills.

Other Careers to Consider

Drafter

If becoming an architectural illustrator isn't for you, there are other careers you could consider. For instance, drafters use CADD software to turn the plans for architects and engineers into technical drawings. However, the employment growth rate for drafters is only expected to increase by six percent between 2010 and 2020. You can start work with an associate's degree, but specializing in architectural drafting may require earning a bachelor's degree. Architectural and civil drafters made a median annual salary of around $47,000 as of May 2011.

Architect

With the BLS reporting that architects made a median annual salary of around $73,000 as of May 2011, it could be an appealing career alternative for you. Architects design and plan buildings, which requires drawings buildings to scale. You can start out with a bachelor's degree in architecture, which takes five years to complete, but some employers may require that you have a master's degree in architecture. You must also complete years of training and then pass a licensure exam to practice. The BLS projected that employment would increase 24% for architects between 2010 and 2020.

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