Graphics Illustrator Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A graphics illustrator's average salary is around $51,000. Is it worth the training and technical expertise requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a graphics illustrator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Graphics Illustrator

Working as a graphics illustrator, often called a graphic designer, can allow you to express yourself and grow creatively through the design of text and images to convey messages to others. Following is a list of pros and cons that can help you make a decision of whether or not this occupation is a good fit for you.

Pros of Being a Graphics Illustrator
Jobs related to computer design are in high demand (35% expected growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Can work in several different industries, such as advertising, fashion patterning or mobile application design*
Get to help create memorable designs so companies can form their identities and market their brands*
You could work for yourself (29% of graphics illustrators are self-employed)*

Cons of Being a Graphics Illustrator
Possible conflict between your design interests and plans and those of your employer*
May require meeting short deadlines, causing stress*
Schedule can vary randomly to meet business needs, especially if you're self-employed*
Job decline for some industries, such as publishing (-16% predicted changes between 2012 and 2022)*

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

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a graphic designer, you would responsible for designing text and images, such as a product logo that can be used for brand recognition and conveying a message to consumers. To create a design, you may sketch it by hand then use computer design software to select font size and style, color and layout. These designs are often used for websites and on printed materials like brochures, posters, signs and magazines. With the recent explosion of new media outlets, such as mobile phones and tablets, you may find opportunities creating graphics for applications.

Jobs in this field are usually available at advertising and public relations, printing, publishing and computer systems design companies. You may also find work in specialty areas like fashion and motion picture. In the fashion industry, you may create patterns or images for clothing that can be applied to apparel using printing press machines. For the motion picture industry, your job may involve working on the credits that are shown at the end of a film.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment growth for graphics illustrators overall was projected to increase by 7% from 2012 through 2022, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, this number varies greatly depending on industry. For example, graphics illustrators in the publishing industry (other than online publishing) will be hit the hardest, since a 16% job decline was projected. Meanwhile, a substantial 35% increase was projected for those in computer systems design!

The BLS also reported that the widespread use of the Internet would spur more demand for graphics illustrators to create designs for electronic publication, portable devices, websites and video games. Additionally, job prospects will be more favorable for illustrators that have expertise in Web design and interactive media. As of May 2014, the average salaries for graphics illustrators in the industries mentioned are as follows:

  • Printing: $41,000
  • Publishing: $45,000
  • Advertising and public relations: $52,000
  • Specialty design: $54,000
  • Computer systems design: $60,000

What Are the Requirements?

Education, Qualifications and Skills

Typically, completion of a bachelor's degree program in graphic design is the minimum education needed for you to become a graphics illustrator, according to the BLS. Other common degree programs include fine arts and Web design. To gain acceptance into a graphic design bachelor's degree program, many colleges and universities require that you have at least 1 year of study in art and design. This experience is usually acquired though artistic courses taken in high school. Some schools may also require that you submit samples of your work.

As noted by the BLS, a key factor in landing a job is having an outstanding portfolio. During college, you will have the opportunity to build a professional portfolio by using pieces from class projects, internship experiences or other work done in your spare time. Once you've secured an entry-level position due to your winning portfolio, you generally need to gain 1-3 years of experience before you can advance to a higher-level position, according to the BLS.

In addition, some skills that you'll need to thrive in this position are:

  • A creative mind
  • Good communication
  • Computer savvy
  • Time-management

Job Postings from Real Employers

Although a bachelor's degree is the standard education required to work in this field, many job postings don't list a degree requirement. Instead, employers generally require that candidates have at least 2 years of graphic design experience and knowledge of Adobe design programs. Below are some real job postings for graphic design/illustrator positions that can give you an idea of what skills employers were looking for during March 2012:

  • A marketing communications company in Connecticut wanted to hire a candidate to design greeting cards. This candidate needed 2-5 years of experience, knowledge of Adobe Creative Design Suite and pre-press printing equipment. This employer preferred candidates with experience in website design.
  • A California consumer packaging company sought a freelance illustrator for a temporary project to do art renderings and design product packaging. Qualifications for this position include 2-5 years of experience and experience in design software, such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, QuarkXPress, Flash and Illustrator.
  • A New York City staffing company was looking for a candidate with experience in clothing to make seamless pattern designs for a fashion importing company. This candidate must have at least 1 year of experience and good knowledge of Illustrator and Photoshop.
  • A leading mobile commerce company in Georgia wanted to hire a candidate to customize mobile applications, lead visual design projects and create material, such as screen layouts, storyboards and templates. This candidate must have 5 years of Web or software application design experience plus knowledge of software in Adobe Creative Design Suite.

How to Stand out

Keep up with Technology

A significant portion of your job will involve using software to create designs, so you will need to remain up-to-date with the latest upgrades to existing software and new design software in the market to stay competitive in the job market, per the BLS. The Adobe Creative Design Suite is one of the premier software packages used in this profession. If you want to stay in-the-loop of software updates for Adobe products, signing-up for email notifications, news feeds or visiting the company's social networking sites are simple ways to remain informed.

Being savvy in Web design and interactive media in general can give you an advantage in the job market, so keeping your technological and computer skills fresh is a good idea. Also noted by the BLS, completing business, marketing and writing courses that can equip you with skills needed to work on a team and complete projects can also give you a job market advantage.

Join an Organization

You can also keep up-to-date with the latest technologies and developments in the field by becoming a member of a professional organization. The National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) provides its members with the latest software information and training tutorials, as well as technical support. Additionally, you can showcase your work and share designs via an online gallery, opening up an avenue for potential clients to find you. Other organizations you may consider for membership include the Graphic Artists Guild, which offers professional webinars that can boost your skills and help you expand your clientele, as well as the Society of Illustrators, Artists and Designers (SIAD).

Other Career Paths

Multimedia Artist and Animator

If you've ever been captivated by the visual effects in a movie or video game, this mind-blowing experience was the work of multimedia artists and animators. Typically, these professionals work in the television, filmmaking, video game or other interactive media industries. If you've always dreamed of a career in entertainment but still wanted to pursue your interest in art and design technology, you can have the best of both worlds in this profession.

According to the BLS, most employers don't require a degree for positions in this field. However, you can stand out by completing a degree program, such as art or computer graphics. Slow growth (8%) was forecast for the period 2010-2020, but a higher than average salary to help balance out this con was also reported: as of May 2011, multimedia artists and animators earned a mean wage of about $68,000, according to the BLS.

Desktop Publisher

If you like working with graphics but don't have the ingenuity to create new and original designs, becoming a desktop publisher may be suitable for you. In this position, you would import existing graphic images and texts into a desktop publishing program to create layouts and prepare for publishing. You would also scan printed materials onto a computer to convert content into a digital format. If a project requires fresh artistic designs, you would work with illustrators to make this possible.

Formal education is not necessary for this position. You can gain skills through related experiences or on-the-job training, or you could complete a 2- or 4-year degree program in a field like graphic design or graphic communications. The mean salary for this profession was around $39,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS. However, keep in mind that rapid decline in employment (15% decrease) was projected for the 2010-2020 decade.

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