Commercial Art Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about salaries in the field of commercial art. Read the job descriptions and learn about education requirements and career prospects to decide if a commercial art career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Commercial Art

Commercial artists use their creative skills to promote products, services, or ideas through multiple media venues; including careers as a graphic artist, art director and illustrator. Below is a look at these careers:

Graphic Designer Art Director Illustrator
Career Overview Graphic designers create visual images to communicate a business's message. Art directors oversee the artists and creative workers in an art department. Illustrators create pictures for magazines, books, newspapers and commercial products.
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree High school diploma, but some employers may prefer a bachelor's degree
Program Length About 4 years About 4 years Varies
Additional/Other Training Graphic designers must keep up on latest software available N/A Apprenticeships under experienced artists and workshops are available
Experience Requirement None, entry-level About 3-5 years None, entry-level
Job Outlook (2014-2024) Slow growth of 1% predicted* Slow growth of 2% predicted* Slow growth of 3% predicted (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)*
Median Salary (2014) About $45,900* About $85,610* About $43,890 (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers create logo designs, artwork for advertising campaigns and marketing materials. Designers meet with clients to determine the needs for a particular design that can best communicate a business's message and identify a product or service to the public with images and text. Graphic designers may work under the direction of an art director or as a self-employed professional.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most graphic designers must have a bachelor's degree in design to qualify for a position. Graphic design programs include coursework in art, computer-aided design, website design and printing. A graphic design program also allows students to compile a portfolio of their work.

In November 2012, employers of graphic designers were searching for the following skills:

  • A Kansas employer in the advertising industry is seeking a graphic designer to perform design duties for clients. Applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in graphic design or an equivalent amount of experience in the field. Candidates are also required to have a minimum of four years experience in graphic design and skills in Mac programs. Applicants must submit a portfolio of their work.
  • An employer in Louisiana in the healthcare industry is looking for a graphic designer to create designs for the company's website and develop marketing materials for the business. Candidates must have a bachelor's degree in graphic design or marketing and skills in computer design programs.
  • A California employer in the advertising industry is seeking a graphic designer to work on print, web and video projects. Applicants must have three to five years experience in graphic design that includes web and print work. The employer is looking for a professional with experience in video editing.

Standing Out

The design software and techniques used in graphic design can change over time. To stand out in the field, graphic designers must remain up to date on the latest computer programs and trends. Training courses in the latest software programs in graphic design will help you gain an edge in the field.

Art Director

Art directors oversee the art department in advertising, marketing or design firms. Directors are responsible for the development of a design concept and supervising the design staff that will execute the concept. Art directors develop budgets for design projects and presents designs to clients.


Art directors must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in design or art and experience in the field. Some professionals gain the experience to become an art director after working as a graphic designer, illustrator or photographer. According to the BLS, some art directors complete a master's degree in fine arts to qualify for the supervisory position. Art directors usually develop a professional portfolio of their work to demonstrate their artistic abilities.

The following positions were available for art directors in November 2012:

  • A New York employer in the retail industry is looking for an art director to work in its marketing department. Applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in graphic design or fine art and at least 10 years experience as a graphic designer in print or web work.
  • An employer in Washington, DC, in the advertising industry is seeking an art director to lead the creative staff on client projects. Applicants must have experience in design, project management, web design and creative software.
  • An Ohio employer in the publishing industry is searching for an art director to oversee the design and layout of a bi-monthly magazine. Applicants must have skills in creative software programs, good communication and organizational skills to qualify for the position.

Standing Out

Creative professionals usually have experience in the field before advancing to a director's position. Experience in a leadership position or in presenting designs to clients can help you gain an edge in the field. Communication and leadership courses can help aspiring art directors learn the techniques to oversee and direct the activities of others and may help you stand out in the job market.


Illustrators create drawings for magazines, advertisements, books and commercial products. According to the BLS, illustrators may use both pencil and ink drawings and computer programs to develop an image. Some illustrators specialize in medical or scientific drawings, which appear in medical and science books and publications.


A college or university education is not a requirement for a job as an illustrator, but those preparing for a career creating medical or scientific drawings must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Medical illustrators must complete coursework in art and science. Master's degrees in medical illustration are also available for those planning to specialize in the field.

Below are some examples of illustrator positions available in November 2012:

  • A California employer in the advertising industry is seeking an illustrator to create illustrations and convert drawings to web icons. The applicant must have a portfolio demonstrating experience with web icons.
  • An technology solutions business in Mississippi is searching for an illustrator to produce illustrations with a fine degree of detail. The illustrations may require knowledge of science, medicine or technical equipment. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in fine arts or graphic arts and three years experience in preparing technical presentations and displays, photography and creative software.
  • An Alabama employer in the engineering industry is looking for an illustrator to create graphics for print and web applications. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in an art discipline and a minimum of two years experience in the field. The employer requires applicants have a portfolio that contains illustrations and examples of graphic and web design work.

Standing Out

Employers seek applicants with experience in the latest creative software programs. Completing coursework to remain current in these programs may help you stand out in the job market. While a formal education is not necessary for a career in non-scientific illustration, taking art courses to perfect your skills and add to your portfolio may help you gain an edge when searching for a position.

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