What is a Digital Illustrator

A digital illustrator is someone who creates original artwork (including digital drawings and vector graphics) for print and digital publications using digital drawing or graphic design software.

Digital illustrator, illustrator, graphic designer, digital artist, I know it’s a lot of terminologies. I would say a digital illustrator is a combination of illustrator, graphic designer, and digital artist.

Take me as an example, I’m a graphic designer and I consider myself a digital illustrator because I create digital illustration better than hand-drawn illustration (which is what an illustrator do). 

In this article, you will learn about what is a digital illustrator, including its job options, required skills, and how to become one. 

What Does a Digital Illustrator Do

As I briefly mentioned above, a digital illustrator is someone who creates digital drawings and vector graphics using graphic design or drawing software like Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Procreate, and so much more. 

There are different types of illustrators, and some of the common ones are children’s book illustrators, fashion illustrators, medical illustrators, product illustrators, etc. 

I can’t list out all as the categorization isn’t always 100% clear. And numbers don’t matter, right? Most of the illustrations can be taken into the digital world. In fact, the demand for digital illustrators is higher than for traditional artists/illustrators and most clients would ask for a digital copy of the artwork. 

So basically, many traditional illustrators are “forced” to digitalize their artwork, in other words, become digital illustrators. 

6 Must-Have Skills As a Digital Illustrator

So what are the skills that you need as a digital illustrator? Here’s a quick checklist. 

1. Drawing skill (at least on a tablet) 

Drawing is going to be a major part of your daily work routine if you work as a digital illustrator. I’m talking about drawing by hand or vector drawing including creating shapes, using vector tools, etc. 

I would say digital drawing is easier than traditional drawing because you can redo and undo much easier on the software, and there are tools to simply process. 

The easiest example is drawing a perfect circle. I can’t even remember how many times I repeated it until I drew a nearly perfect circle by hand. However, with vector tools, I can do it in a couple of seconds. Same as drawing lines, you know what I mean?

The only challenge is that you will need to get used to drawing on a graphic tablet. Yes, it’s a must, and it’s quite different from drawing with pen and paper. 

2. Creativity and imagination

Stop thinking that you’re not creative! I think everyone is creative in their own way, and creativity can be learned and developed. 

Some people are good at coming up with ideas out of nowhere, while others might need more time to discover ideas in different ways. The more mediums/tools you know, the better you’ll express your creative ideas.

If you’re the latter, I highly recommend that you sketch out your ideas because by doing more by hand, your brain gets more active. Another tip is, don’t force yourself to think or overthink.

3. Software skill

Can’t draw perfectly? No problem! But you must know how to use graphic design or digital drawing software as a digital illustrator and you should know it well because that’s your work tool.

Depending on the types of illustrations and styles, you might choose different software for your work. For example, if you’re doing digital illustrations for a children’s book, Procreate can be more than enough for what you’ll need, and it’s much less complex than advanced software like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop

When you make digital illustrations that involve shapes and text, you should choose software that has better overall features. I would recommend Adobe Illustrator because I’m just so used to it and it’s great, but if you don’t want an Adobe subscription, feel free to try Inkscape, which is also great for drawing, and I really like its brushes.  

4. Good communication skills

It’s important to understand your client’s request and make sure that you ask all the questions to get the information that you need for the project. So if you’re someone who doesn’t like to talk or ask questions, you might end up giving your clients something that you didn’t ask for. 

Being good at communicating is also useful in negotiating with your clients, and if you can make a good relationship with them, they are more likely to hire you again. 

5. Have your own style

Every creative person should have their own style. People can be creating illustrations for the same topic but the styles can be totally different. 

For example, some illustrators use a lot of colors, some are good at black-and-white sketches, some likes to use more shapes instead of freehand drawing, etc. You should find your style. Take a look at your previous works, what characteristics do they have? 

Knowing and developing a unique style help you differentiate from the rest. Plus, It’s always easier for you to find a job that you’ll like. Because the company that chooses you like your style and you get to embrace your work rather than working for a company that “forces” you to change your style (that’s the worst feeling, I experienced it.)

6. Good at time management

Being able to finish your work before the deadline is a skill that every company would ask for. It’s not only important just because it’s one of the company rules, but it’s also for yourself. 

If you’re good at managing your time, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed by last-minute work which also means you’ll do higher-quality work. And if you work with a team, meeting deadlines is even more important because you don’t want to keep your teammates waiting. 

A lot of illustrators work as freelancers, which takes even more effort to manage time because it requires very strong self-discipline skills as well. 

3 Important Steps to Become a Digital Illustrator

Once you meet the requirements, follow the steps below to get on your digital illustration journey. 

Step 1: Start a creative course. 

Ideally, you should get a degree in art or graphic design because it’s more systematic and you’ll learn everything you need related to the subject, and career path. But if you don’t have the time, or it’s “too late”, you can also do training programs and even online courses on the specific niche. 

Specific niche means the industry/area you want to work for. For example, if you want to become a fashion illustrator, take a fashion design course. If you can’t decide what type of illustrator you want to be, then take a general graphic design course, to begin with. 

As you learn, it’s SUPER important to practice what you learn because you will find and develop your style from practicing. I regretted not doing enough projects when I first started, so I struggled a lot in my first two jobs.  

Step 2: Build a portfolio.

As a digital illustrator, your portfolio is often more important than your resume, especially when you apply for your first job or reach out to a client. That’s why you should really make your portfolio look professional and unique (with your style).

Your portfolio should include five to eight of your best projects using different design techniques and styles to show diversities. For example, you can include a piece of work of line art illustrations, one of the shape compositions, another piece that shows your 3D illustration skill, etc.  

Step 3: Promote yourself. 

Once you get everything together, the last step is to promote yourself and this is when communication skills play a huge part. Having a strong portfolio is halfway to success, and knowing how to promote yourself is the other half. 

Going to networking events, talking to professionals, and showing your work on social media are some good ways to get yourself started. All you need is a little bit of patience, and don’t give up.

FAQs

Got more doubts about digital illustration as a career or want to know more about it? I’ve got some extra information that you might be interested in. 

How much as a digital illustrator make?

The salary range is quite big depending on the industry and your position level. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a digital illustrator in the US is $63,050 a year. But for example, if you work as a freelance illustrator, you do not get a stable income.

What are some popular digital illustration tools?

Depending on the type of digital illustration you create, there are different tools that you can use for specific needs. 

For example, Procreate is good for digital drawing, but if you want to combine vector shapes, 3D, and other more advanced effects, I would recommend a tool like Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, Inkscape, or CorelDraw. 

Can you be a digital illustrator without a degree?

Yes, you can easily become a freelance illustrator or get an entry-level job in companies without a degree if you show your excellent skills. However, bigger companies tend to look for candidates with a formal degree in art, graphic design, or equivalent.  

Where can I learn digital illustration?

You can pursue a graphic design, art, or equivalent degree at universities, colleges, or art institutes. For example, Miami Ad School offers a lot of creative courses around the world. 

And if you’re looking for online courses, you’ll find so many options. For example, Domestika is one of my favorite platforms to do short courses. 

A Quick Sum Up

You will be creating digital artwork as a digital illustrator, besides having excellent drawing skills and great creativity, it’s important to know how to use graphic design software and graphic tablets. 

If you want to become a digital illustrator, you should develop your own style, build a strong portfolio, and promote yourself. There’s no other way. 

About June Escalada
Graduated from Creative Advertising major, worked more than eight years as a graphic designer focusing in branding and Illustration. Yes, Adobe Illustrator is my best friend and I’m passionate about art and design.

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