What Does an Illustrator Do and How Can You Become One?

Updated 26 January 2023

Illustrators are responsible for creating art that conveys a specific message or idea. Clients typically present an illustrator's artwork in books, magazines, websites and advertisements. If you're interested in pursuing an artistic career, learning what an illustrator's duties include may be useful for you. In this article, we answer the question, 'what does an illustrator do?' and provide the steps you can take to become one.

Related: What Does an Art Director Do? (And How To Become One)

What does an illustrator do?

If you're interested in this career, you may wonder, 'What does an illustrator do?' These professionals are visual artists who create various forms of media to present an idea, message or topic. They may collaborate with clients to create illustrations depending on the client's preferences and needs. For example, an author may pay an illustrator to create artwork for a book to match the story's message and themes. Illustrators use numerous artistic techniques and styles to create visual effects, like the use of contrast, vibrant colours and shadows.

Here are the duties that an illustrator completes while working:

  • Consult over a project: Illustrators meet with project managers and clients to consult on a project's requirements. They may discuss the type of piece, style, tone or deadline.

  • Use art equipment: They use different equipment to help them achieve the desired artistic effects. This often includes graphic design software, paintbrushes, pencils and canvases.

  • Conduct research: They perform research to better understand a project's details. They may research the concepts and topics that the project relates to, like medical concepts or technical terms.

  • Negotiate contracts: They negotiate contracts that include details about pay, deadlines and project agreements.

Parts of the illustration process

Typically, there are four parts of the illustration process, which include the following:

  • Meeting with the client: First, illustrators meet with a client to discuss the design and project requirements. If they are working for a company, they may meet with a project manager or team lead to receive their assignment instructions.

  • Discuss deadlines: After discussing the project's details, the illustrator and client create a deadline. This provides the illustrator with a timeline that they can use to complete various parts of the project.

  • Develop a sample illustration: Typically, illustrators develop sample illustrations to show the client to ensure the client likes the piece and identify any necessary changes. During this stage, illustrators can make improvements to the project and modify the art piece's requirements depending on the client's feedback.

  • Complete the illustration: After considering the feedback, illustrators complete the piece by the given deadline and provide the client with the image. They may receive further feedback on the piece from the client that they can keep in mind for future projects.

Types of illustrators

Illustrators can choose to specialise within a specific artistic field or style. Here are some common types of illustrators:

Medical illustrator

A medical illustrator creates realistic paintings and drawings of human anatomy and scientific concepts for medical professionals to use in their practice. Clients can provide a medical illustrator with information about the specific anatomy and focus of the drawing, which they can keep in mind during the piece's creation. For example, a client may ask a medical illustrator to draw a human body with an outline of the body's ligaments and bones. Education professionals may also use these drawings to teach students about anatomy and physiology.

Book illustrator

Book illustrators create art that accompanies a piece of literature. They may create illustrations for children's books, young adult books or adult books. They often collaborate with the author of the book to decide on the correct style, tone and images for the illustrations.

Technical illustrator

Technical illustrators create visual representations of technical information and procedures. They often create renderings of blueprints, technical equipment, software systems, hardware systems and equipment installation diagrams. The goal of a technical illustrator is to present complex technical information in an illustration to make it easier for audiences to understand. For example, they may create illustrations for how to install a software system, which may make it easier for the user to understand the installation process.

Product illustrator

A product illustrator is responsible for conceptualising and creating drawings for a company's products. They may create updated designs for a product to enhance its features or they may create a new product using a company's guidelines and preferences. They may also create marketing for the product, like brochures, online media and packaging designs.

How to become an illustrator

To become an illustrator, consider pursuing an educational program and gaining experience to help you achieve career advancement and expand your skill set. Here are the steps that you can take to pursue a career as an illustrator:

1. Consider a degree

Though most employers don't require illustrators to have a bachelor's degree, consider completing an art program to expand your knowledge of artistic techniques and styles and further enhance your skills. Completing a program like a Bachelor of Illustration or a Bachelor of Design may also help you find an entry-level position by setting you apart from other candidates. You may attend art school, or you can complete an art program at a TAFE provider or university.

2. Gain experience

It's important to gain experience in the art and design field to develop your skills and become familiar with different illustration fields and styles. Consider pursuing an illustration internship where you may observe experienced illustrators and work on diverse illustration projects. Try reaching out to the administration at your educational institution to see if they know of any internship opportunities. You may also look online to find art internships that are looking for entry-level illustrators.


  • What Is an Internship: Everything You Need To Know

  • What Does a Visual Artist Do? (With Skills and Salary)

3. Find a specialty

Once you gain enough experience as an illustrator, begin pursuing opportunities to work in specialty illustration. Working in different specialties may help you achieve career advancement because employers may prefer candidates that completed work in numerous illustration styles and fields. Consider completing work for a client that involves illustration styles that you're unfamiliar with. For example, if you're unfamiliar with product illustration, consider working on a project that requires you to conceptualise and create products.

4. Create a portfolio

A portfolio is one part of an application packet that contains examples of your previous illustration work. It's an excellent way to show employers your illustration techniques and artistic style. Create a portfolio that highlights the work that you feel most proud of. It's useful to include a minimum of four to five pieces of work in your portfolio.

You may update your portfolio to contain your most recent work and to include work that fits with the job descriptions or the client's artistic preferences. For example, if a client is looking for an illustrator with experience in book illustration, then you may update your portfolio to include examples of your previous book illustrations.

Related: How To Write an Application Letter (With Tips, Template and Example)

Illustrator skills

Here are the skills that you might use to create effective and meaningful art pieces:


As an illustrator, it's important that you have self-motivation since you may perform your work independently. It's important that you prioritise projects properly and allow yourself the proper amount of time to finish a piece of art. Self-motivation may also help you meet deadlines and finish numerous projects within a short period.

Related: Interview Question: 'What Motivates You?' (With Examples)


It's important that you have effective creativity skills while working. These skills can help you develop innovative and appealing designs, which may attract clients and allow you to create high-quality work. Creativity may also allow you to use different designs and artistic techniques throughout your illustrations.


Technology skills may provide you with tools to create visual media. Often, illustrators create art using design software. Being familiar with design software may help you understand the techniques and methods to create valuable designs and art.


You may work on several art pieces at the same time. It's essential that you keep track of each project and understand the requirements for each piece. Having excellent multitasking skills may help you produce high-quality work and finish each project by the deadline.

Illustrator work environment

Illustrators can work for a wide variety of workplaces, like newspaper companies, marketing agencies, publishing agencies and graphic design companies. While they often work for a company, they may also perform freelance work where they can provide art for a large number of clients. It's common for illustrators to work in an independent setting, like a studio or individual office space. Unless they are meeting with a client or project manager, most illustrators complete their work alone.

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