Fashion Illustrator Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
The average salary for a fashion illustrator, which is a type of graphic designer, is about $49,000. Is this worth the education and technical design expertise required? Learn the truth about real job duties and see postings from employers to help you decide if becoming a fashion illustrator is best for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Fashion Illustrator

If you have a passion for fashion, a talent for design and a love of technology, working as a fashion illustrator may be the perfect job for you. Although this career can allow you to work for your favorite fashion designers, you should be prepared to face strong competition for positions. In the fashion industry, there are usually more applicants than there are jobs, so you should put some careful thought into whether or not this profession is right for you. The following is a list of pros and cons that can help you make your decision.

PROS of Being a Fashion Illustrator
Can express your creativity daily*
May work for major fashion designers*
Many people may wear apparel made from your own designs*
Ability to adjust your work schedule if you're a freelance illustrator*

CONS of Being a Fashion Illustrator
May work long hours*
Job market is competitive*
Frequent travel may be required*
Meeting tight production deadlines can be stressful*
Might need to relocate to work in the fashion world (75% of wage-earning fashion designers lived in New York or California)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

A fashion illustrator is a type of graphic designer who draws sketches of clothing and creates graphics, such as patterns, texts and images, that can be printed on apparel, footwear, handbags and other fashion accessories. As a fashion illustrator, you must be able to take a design concept and translate it into a visual product that consumers would want to wear. To do this, you need a firm understanding of the fashion industry and new trends. You may gather this information by working with fashion experts or by conducting your own research.

In some instances, the duties of a fashion designer and a fashion illustrator overlap. For example, both fashion designers and illustrators create sketches by hand and use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to create designs. They also select colors, prints and styles for projects. They must determine the message or theme of the final product, present ideas to creative art directors and research fashion trends. However, fashion designers work directly with different types of fabrics and garments, while fashion illustrators usually stick to sketches, graphics and designs.

Job Outlook & Salary

Fashion illustration is a specialty area of graphic design. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of graphic designers in specialty design services was projected to grow 27% from 2010-2020, which was much faster than average (www.bls.gov).

In terms of fashion design, there is a consumer demand for more comfortable and affordable clothing, which may be a reason for the high job growth among fashion illustrators. New York City and Los Angeles are two of the most well-known cities for fashion in the country. Although you might find more job openings in these regions, you'll also typically face stronger competition for jobs. As of May 2011, the average annual salary for graphic designers in specialty design services was about $51,000, according to the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

It takes both an eye for fashion and graphics in order to select appropriate colors, patterns, photos and other images that can successfully translate into actual fashion products. The requirements for obtaining an entry-level position as a fashion illustrator depend somewhat on the company that's listing the position. Many employers prefer to hire illustrators who have some formal training in graphic design, which is usually shown by earning an associate's or a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field.

As a fashion illustrator, you must also have strong technical design skills, since you usually need to use computer software programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, as well as CAD programs. As with any artistic job, being highly creative is very important when designing apparel. However, you must also be able to successfully convey a message that appeals to consumers and makes them want the product. The field thus requires you to combine good storytelling techniques with business and marketing skills.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many employers hiring fashion illustrators are looking for those with several years of experience and working knowledge of design software. Having a bachelor's degree is often listed as a preferred requirement. Instead of a degree, some employers accept a certificate in the fashion field. The following is a list of real job postings for graphic designer fashion positions that can give you some insight into what skills employers were looking for in March 2012.

  • A Los Angeles, CA, clothing company seeks a graphic designer with experience producing illustrations for textile and apparel. Qualifications for this job include a bachelor's degree in art or design, plus 5-7 years of experience. Candidates should also have working knowledge of software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and QuarkXPress.
  • A Buffalo, NY, headwear fashion company is looking for a graphic designer with at least five years of experience and a certificate or 2-year degree in fine or commercial art, fashion or graphic design. This candidate is responsible for creating graphic designs for hats based on seasonal trends and customer needs.
  • A New York City staffing firm wants to hire a graphic designer for placement at a fashion importing company. The candidate will be responsible for creating seamless pattern designs using CAD software. This employer requests one year of experience and knowledge of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
  • A major fitness company in Florida seeks a fashion designer to provide illustrations for their clothing line. The candidate must perform tasks like sketching and drawing flats into computer programs, as well as creating graphics for print. This employer requests that the applicant have at least three years of experience in active wear clothing and a bachelor's degree in fashion design.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get to Know the Fashion Industry

The graphic design industry can be a competitive field. The fashion industry is centered on trends; therefore, if you can show a prospective employer that you have knowledge of the latest fashion styles, you can stay a step above the rest. There are many ways you can learn more about fashion. You might read books, subscribe to fashion magazines, attend fashion and trade shows or even work at a clothing store.

Take Courses

The BLS reported that job opportunities should be best for those graphic designers with a strong technology background. Taking courses on the latest software design programs can show employers that you have technical skills, as well as artistic capabilities.

Advertising is also increasingly important in the fashion and design world. Taking a few classes in fashion merchandising and marketing could help you sell your designs. You might even use your knowledge of Internet marketing to create a multimedia website that showcases your illustrations, designs and resume.

Alternate Career Paths

Industrial Designer

Maybe you're good at sketching and using CAD programs, but not really into fashion. Maybe you're a 'techy' who wants a design career that can better utilize your computer and mathematical skills. If this is you, then perhaps becoming an industrial designer is your calling. Industrial designers develop design concepts for products in the manufacturing industry. These products can include appliances, cars or medical devices.

This job typically requires knowledge of engineering and business principles to ensure that products meet specific requirements and have a practical use for consumers. To gain employment in this field, you generally need a bachelor's degree in architecture, engineering or industrial design. As of May 2011, the median salary you could expect to earn in this profession was about $61,000, according to the BLS.

Drafter

If you have a knack for putting design plans on paper, you may enjoy being a drafter. As a drafter, you would convert designs into blueprints and other technical drawings that can be used for various construction and manufacturing projects. You generally need an associate's degree in drafting to apply for these jobs. However, more specialized positions may require a bachelor's degree. The BLS reported that the median salary for architectural and civil drafters as of May 2011 was around $47,000.

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    1. Penn Foster Career School

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Penn Foster Career School

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Indiana Wesleyan University

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Southern New Hampshire University

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CDI College

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