Technical Illustrator Jobs: Salary and Career Facts
Research what it takes to become a technical illustrator. Learn about education and responsibilities, job growth, and salary to find out if this is the right career for you.
What Is a Technical Illustrator?
Technical illustrators may produce hand-drawn images or use computer design programs to create diagrams and schematics. Their images may be used to demonstrate how something works or the anticipated visual representation of a design plan. They may work with engineers to prepare blueprints of bridges, mechanical devices or other items that an engineer is designing. As part of their duties, they will also provide relevant information around the drawing. This may include labeling parts or providing instructions or explanations related to the illustration.
|Degree Required||Associate's degree recommended or classes taken in related fields|
|Education Fields of Study||Art, sciences, computer graphics and design, engineering|
|Key Skills||Creating images by hand or using computer software, general computer skills|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||2% for all drafters, engineering technicians, and mapping technicians*|
|Median Annual Wage (2019)||$59,908**|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com
What Would I Do as a Technical Illustrator?
As a technical illustrator, you will create images to convey the fundamental concepts and mechanical functionality of various technical objects. Generally, the images you create are used to explain technical information to a non-technical audience.
For example, you could use a cut-away technique to show the inner workings of a combustion engine, an exploded view to show how intricate machinery fits together or a simple line drawing to create a geological map image. Today, much of the technical illustration work is done with specialized computer software, so employers may look for applicants with excellent computer skills. Many different industries need to convey their technical information, so you may find employment in the chemistry, engineering, geology or computer fields, among others.
What Education or Training Do I Need?
You could train for a career as a technical illustrator by taking related courses in both art and sciences. There are also formal training programs for technical illustrators, typically at the associate's degree level. In a technical illustration program, you could study computer graphics, visual design, technical terminology and computer-aided design (CAD).
CAD software and technique are staples of technical illustration, so even if you don't attend a training program specifically for technical illustrators, you may consider classes in computer graphics and design. Your technical knowledge is paramount to communication, so study in fields such as engineering can also be beneficial.
What Salary Could I Earn?
Salary.com reported in November 2019 that technical illustrators earned a median annual wage of $59,908. Though salaries can vary due to skill and experience, you may be able to increase your earning potential with formal training and knowledge of many different technical industries. For instance, if you are able to illustrate technical information about both aerospace engineering and computer hardware, you may be able to pursue advanced or specialized positions in your field.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (www.bls.gov) employment for drafters, engineering technicians, and mapping technicians was expected to increase 2% from 2018 to 2028. This is due to the fact that computer-aided design software is enabling other professionals to perform tasks that used to be done by drafters.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
Medical illustrators and graphic designers are professionals who share some common job requirements or tasks with technical illustrators. They all need some level of artistic skill to produce hand-drawn images. It is also common for all of these professionals to use computer-aided software to produce images on computers, though they still need to understand how to produce images to scale.
Medical illustrators, graphic designers and technical illustrators all produce visual images that are meant to represent things, processes or concepts to those who view the images. They all have the job of reviewing data provided in a text or from a client or designer and using that data to inform the images they produce. A degree isn't necessarily required to be a medical illustrator, although graphic designers usually need a bachelor's degree.