What Are My Career Options in Commercial Art?

Several career options are available in the field of commercial art. For example, you could work as an illustrator, art director or graphic designer. Read on to learn more about career options in this field, including the educational requirements for each. Schools offering Design Strategy & Innovation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Commercial Art Overview

Commercial artists can be found in a variety of disciplines, from the world of publishing to medicine. Detailed below are four highly sought-after professions within the commercial art industry.

Important Facts About Career Options in Commercial Art

Illustrator Medical Illustrator Art Director Graphic Designer
On-the-Job Training Internships available Internships available Internships available Internships available
Key Skills Artistic ability; creativity; manual dexterity; social savvy Basic scientific knowledge; problem-solving; visualization; artistic ability Leadership; ingenuity; artistic ability; creativity; time management Analytical thinking; computer competency; artistic ability; creativity;
Work Environment Self-employed; glass manufacturers; motion picture and video production companies Literary publishers; museums; multimedia and interactive design companies Advertising, public relations, and related services; newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers; specialized design services Specialized design services; printing and related support activities; wholesale trade
Similar Occupations Archivists, curators, and museum workers; fashion designers; industrial designers; Jewelers precious stone and metal workers; woodworkers Industrial designers; multimedia artists and animators; writers and authors Desktop publishers; web developers; technical writers


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as an illustrator, you'll create art for commercial products such as greeting cards, wrapping paper, and calendars (www.bls.gov). You may also create illustrations for books and magazines. The BLS reports that recent technological developments now allow illustrators to create artwork digitally, and so you may find employment designing scenery and graphics for video game companies.


The BLS notes that craft and fine artists, including illustrators, usually don't need any formal education beyond a high school diploma. You do have the option to earn a college degree in the arts or take some classes in illustration. Another option is to take private lessons from an experienced illustrator.

Job Outlook and Salary

In May 2018, the BLS reported that illustrators, painters, and other fine artists earned an average annual salary of $49,380. The BLS also reported expected job growth of 7% between 2016 and 2026 for these artists. Job opportunities will be better for computer illustrators than for those who work for print publications.

Medical Illustrator

If you have an extensive background in both science and art, you may consider working as a medical illustrator, where you'll specialize in communicating scientific information through visuals. You will create pictures to help audiences visualize biological, chemical and physical concepts. Your illustrations may be used in textbooks, medical publications, advertisements, videos, and educational posters. Companies that hire medical illustrators include universities and other research centers, hospitals, animation firms, advertising agencies, and pharmaceutical companies.


A career in medical illustration typically requires a bachelor's or master's degree that provides you with a background in both medicine and art. The BLS notes that masters-level programs in the field are only available at four schools. The BLS also notes that you need to be knowledgeable in human anatomy and surgical procedures to succeed as a medical illustrator.

Job Outlook and Salary

While the BLS does not report specific salaries for medical illustrators, the Association of Medical Illustrators' most recent survey reported that in 2018, these professionals earned a median wage of $70,650, and the self-employed made a median wage of $80,000 (www.ami.org). Illustrators are grouped with other fine artists per BLS data, expect the 7% job growth for them over the 2016-2026 decade.

Art Director

As an art director, you will be responsible for creating the physical environment described in a movie or television script, according to the BLS. You'll supervise a team of workers, including carpenters, painters, electricians, set decorators, costume designers, and makeup artists. Most of your work will take place on studio lots or on location. You will be expected to work long hours in order to meet deadlines.


A career as an art director generally requires work experience in the art field and a bachelor's degree in a related subject. For example, you might pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. In addition, you generally need to possess a portfolio of your work.

Job Outlook and Salary

In May 2018, the BLS reported that art directors earned an average annual salary of $92,780. Job growth for these professionals is expected to be at a slower-than-average rate of 5% over the 2016-2026 decade.

Graphic Designer

As a graphic designer, you'll work with illustrations and fonts to create an overall product, such as a book or magazine cover, a billboard or a piece of merchandise. According to the BLS, the increased use of technology in graphic design means that you'll likely create your products using both traditional and digital means and that some of your products will be created for exclusively online publications. You could work for an advertising or publishing firm or you could work as an independent contractor. Regardless of where you work, your designs will have to be submitted to your supervisor or client for approval before you will be able to finish the product.


A graphic design bachelor's degree is the most common educational requirement for a graphic designer. Many of these programs require prerequisite courses in art. During your program, you can expect to create a design portfolio to showcase your work. You'll also need to learn the design software you'll use on the job.

Job Outlook and Salary

In May 2018, the BLS reported that graphic designers made an average annual salary of $50,370. Employment growth for these workers is expected to be slower-than-average, at a rate of 4% expected over the 2016-2026 decade.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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