Education and Training Requirements

High School

Creative talent is more important in this field than education. However, there are academic programs in illustration at most colleges and universities. If you are considering going on to a formal program, be sure to take plenty of art classes while in high school. Elective classes in illustration, ceramics, painting, or photography are common courses offered at many high schools.

Postsecondary Training 

To find a salaried position as a general illustrator, you should have at least a high school diploma and preferably an associate's or bachelor's degree in commercial art or fine art. Whether you are looking for full-time employment or freelance assignments, you will need an organized collection of samples of your best work, which is called a portfolio. Employers are especially interested in work that has been published or printed. An advantage to pursuing education beyond high school is that it gives you an opportunity to build your portfolio.

Medical illustrators are required to earn a bachelor's degree in either biology or art and then complete an advanced degree program in medical illustration. These programs usually include training in traditional illustration and design techniques, color theory, computer illustration, two-dimensional and three-dimensional modeling and animation, web design, prosthetics, medical computer graphics, instructional design and technology, photography, motion media production, and pharmaceutical advertising. Course work will also include pharmacology, basic sciences including anatomy and physiology, pathology, histology, embryology, neuroanatomy, and surgical observation and/or participation.

Fashion illustrators should study clothing construction, fashion design, and cosmetology in addition to taking art courses. They should also keep up with the latest fashion and illustration trends by reading fashion magazines.

Other Education or Training

Illustrators need to continue their education and training while pursuing their careers. They can always improve their artistic skills, and must keep up with the latest innovations in design techniques, computer software, and presentation technology, as well as technological advances in the fields for which they provide illustrations. The Association of Medical Illustrators, Society of Illustrators, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and other organizations provide a variety of continuing education classes, workshops, webinars, and seminars. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Association of Medical Illustrators offers the designation certified medical illustrator. To be eligible, applicants must graduate from an accredited program that includes a course in human gross anatomy with hands on dissection, or have at least five years' experience and complete the aforementioned gross anatomy course. Applicants must also pass a written examination and have their portfolio reviewed. No licensing is required for illustrators. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any prior experience creating illustrations or assisting established illustrators will be useful for those who aspire to enter the field. 

Illustrators should have recognized artistic talent that enables them to translate ideas, words, designs, and physical objects into pictures. For many illustrators, their craft is more than just a job, it is a passion. Some illustrators work alone and must deal with the solitary nature of their work, while others work as part of a team. Since their art is often commercial in nature, illustrators must be willing to accommodate their employers' desires if they are to build a broad clientele and earn a decent living. They must be able to take suggestions and rejections gracefully. Illustrators should be able to show flexibility in changing their designs at the request of clients. They should also remain current with the changing technologies—especially computer tools—that are used in their profession.