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How to Become a Technical Illustrator in the US

Technical Illustrator
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Unless you are a scientist, engineer or technician, understanding technical information can be a tall order. Technical illustrators create detailed drawings, graphs or schematics to help you easily understand complex information. These illustrations are used in technical reports, user manuals, text books and sales brochures.

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1. What Do Technical Illustrators Do?

In detail, their tasks include:


  • Meeting with clients to discuss their illustration needs
  • Studying blueprints of industrial machines, consumer electronics, automobiles and residential and commercial buildings to create visual illustrations
  • Visiting manufacturing or production sites to observe how the products to be illustrated are assembled or installed
  • Creating rough/preliminary sketches and submitting to clients for approval (they can create the sketches by hand or using computer design software)
  • Making necessary adjustments to the preliminary sketches
  • Working with product engineers or scientists to ensure final illustrations are consistent with the structure of the product

Technical illustrators may also be known as engineering or scientific illustrators.

2. Work Environment

Technical illustrators in regular employment work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. They do their work in brightly-lit illustrations studios or offices.

Freelance or self-employed illustrators have flexible schedules, and they can create the illustrations from their homes or personal offices.

3. Salary

According to Indeed, technical illustrators in the US earn an average annual salary of $62,000.

4. Entry Requirements

An associate degree in technical illustration is sufficient to help you get your foot in the door of this profession. The program provides training in areas such as:

  • Introduction to drawing
  • Digital illustration
  • Color theory
  • Technical illustration and infographics
  • Portfolio compilations
  • Design and composition

Some of the colleges offering this degree include:

After graduating, be sure to compile a portfolio of some your best technical illustrations. Portfolios enables potential employers or clients to evaluate your skills before deciding whether to hire you.

5. Important Qualities

To be an accomplished technical illustrator, you need:

  • A high level of visual awareness
  • Excellent drawing skills
  • Strong computer skills
  • Skills in blueprint reading
  • The ability to easily synthesize information
  • Good math skills
  • Good practical and technical skills
  • The ability to meet tight deadlines
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods of time without losing focus
  • A keen eye for detail
  • An interest in science, engineering and technology
  • Good observation skills
  • Clear presentation skills
  • Good communication skills

 

6. Career Advancement

In this field, professional competence is an important career progression tool. After getting hired, focus on delivering high quality and detailed illustrations. If you are in full-time employment, you can quickly secure a promotion to a senior job. If you are in self-employment, finding clients won’t be tough, as your portfolio will market you.

To hasten your advancement prospects, you should also:

  • Secure membership in the Society for Technical Communication (STC)or American Design Drafters Association (ADDA). Either of these professional organizations will enable you to network with other illustrators, as well as access industry publications, webinars, conferences and other professional development resources.
  • Get certified by STC – The Society will start offering foundation, practitioner and expert-level certifications in 2015.
  • Pursue a bachelor of fine arts in illustration.

7. Job Opportunities

Although many technical illustrators are self-employed, you can find full-time employment in:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Architectural and engineering firms
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Book publishers
  • Established illustration studios

As an experienced full-time technical illustrator, you can be promoted to the position of lead illustrator. Experienced freelance illustrators can progress to establish profitable illustration studios.

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According to Careers.org, there are about 1,000 new job openings for illustrators and fine artists each year. Competition for full-time positions is strong, so you should be prepared to work on a freelance basis as you hunt for a full-time job.

Now that you know what it takes to become a technical illustrator, your task is to acquire the necessary qualifications and break into the industry. Good luck!