How to Become a Fashion Illustrator



Career Path Guide

To become a fashion illustrator, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for it:


• You have natural artistic ability

• You have manual illustration and computer aided design (CAD) skills

• You have a keen interest in fashion

• You are self-motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated

• You are willing to work hard to build your business and promote your brand

• You have excellent people skills and are willing to network to build career momentum

• You are able to handle professional criticism, and rejection

• You are willing to endure periods of limited income while building a portfolio, a client base or finding stable employment


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a fashion illustrator. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Fashion Illustrator

There is no regulated educational standard for this field; the amount of education you need to get on a fashion illustration career path typically depends on whether or not you will be self-employed. If you are not choosing to be self-employed, and are planning to work as an employee of an organization, the educational requirements of the job will depend on the discretion of the employer.


It is advisable, however, to seek formal post-secondary education in a field such as fashion design, fashion marketing, fine arts, or a closely related field, as this will allow you to hone your illustration skills in a variety of manual and computer-aided mediums, as well as provide you with exposure to rare internship opportunities.


Whichever educational path you choose towards your career in fashion illustration, including if you do not purse a degree or diploma program, it is highly recommended that you purse courses in computer aided design (CAD) programs, including Photoshop.


If you want to be self-employed as a fashion illustrator, you will also need an understanding of how to operate a small business. Pursuing coursework or and/or mentorship in fields such as finance, structuring, marketing and accounting is a great way to ensure you have the proper knowledge base for starting and growing your business.


Success Tip: Generally speaking, the more education you have in a field relevant to fashion illustration, the more marketable you are to prospective employers and clients. 





General Job Description

Fashion illustrators work very closely with fashion designers and art directors in order to produce unique and artistic images, with the aid of both traditional and digital media. They are responsible for developing eye-catching drawings which are aimed to attract the target audience to a specific fashion line.


Fashion illustrators are also assigned to the creation of sketches, layouts or images, which are commonly used in print ads, television commercials as well as online ads.



Typical Job Duties

• Liaise with fashion designers, art directors and buyers to gain an understanding of the project

• May be involved in selecting the appropriate colour, sound and animation that will accompany the existing fashion concept

• Effectively communicate the designer’s fashion ideas through illustrations

• Produce layouts and drawings that will be used in catalogues, magazines, flyers, commercials and other forms of presentation

• Sketch drawings using various mediums such as paint, charcoals, coloured pencils and computer aided design (CAD) programs

• Continuously hone drawing, sketching and illustration skills

• If self-employed, must perform business administration duties, such as marketing, budgeting, and financial management



Work Experience Needed

A good way to begin a career as a fashion illustrator is to join an internship or apprenticeship program. These programs will give you hands-on experience in key areas of fashion illustration, such as taking direction from designers. This will also allow you to make valuable industry contacts. These programs may be offered through your school, although if you are not in school these opportunities may still exist, although the level of competition is likely to be very high.


Although there may not be a quantifiable amount of experience you need to get a job or a contract as a fashion illustrator, gaining experience will afford you the opportunity to develop a portfolio and make valuable industry contacts.


Build Your Fashion Illustration Portfolio

Collect photographs and samples of your work to assemble in a physical and digital portfolio. Your portfolio will be your visible resume; you will use it to market yourself to prospective employers or clients. Without a proper portfolio, your chances of getting a job as a fashion illustrator are next to none.


Your portfolio may be a collection of projects you’ve completed while in school, projects you've completed during an internship or apprenticeship, freelance projects you’ve completed, or projects you’ve completed purely for practice. By the time you start applying for contract or permanent jobs, your portfolio will speak for itself.


Success Tip: Whether or not you gain an internship or apprenticeship program, you must continuously hone your skills, so draw and paint at every opportunity. Over time, you will see your skills drastically improve.



What Skills Do I Need?

To be effective in this profession, and perform your job duties with competence, you'll need to posses a certain set of skills. These skills are usually acquired through a combination of schoolwork, practice, career experience and natural ability.


Artistic Talent: At the core of becoming a fashion illustrator is natural artistic ability. If you do not have natural ability in art or creating visual graphics, this career won’t be well suited for you. Although visual artistic skills can be improved, they generally cannot be acquired.


Manual and Computer-Aided Illustration Technical Skills: In order to create fashion illustrations, you need to be well-versed in not only manual illustration techniques with pencil, pen, paint and other tools, you also need proficiency in computer-aided design programs (CAD), such as Adobe Illustrator.


Knowledge of Clothing and Fashion: It's quite valuable to have an understanding of clothing materials and proportions, including how they interact with the human form. It is also important to have knowledge of current fashion trends.


People Skills: Good interpersonal skills are important to have if you want to become a fashion illustrator. This includes having good listening skills and the ability to take direction, as well as the ability to maintain positive relationship with others.


Networking Abilities: For increasing your employment prospects and building career momentum, it is imperative that you develop and expand your professional network. Once you have worked with someone, say for a university project or on a paid project, be sure to exchange contact information and add them on your social media platforms.


Business Management Skills: If you plan to be self-employed as a fashion illustrator, it is important that you have working knowledge of how to start and run a business. This includes skills and knowledge in the areas of marketing, financial management, accounting and time management.



What Personal Characteristics Are Helpful to Have?

You'll need to have certain personal traits in order to enjoy the duties inherent in this career. Taking enjoyment from your daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which can lead to having a long and successful career.


• Imagination and creative abilities

• A good sense of colour

• A capacity to work very long hours

• Able to handle professional criticism that may be delivered without tact

• Willing to keep up with industry changes

• Enjoy doing creative work that involves precision

• Enjoy advising customers and clients

• Willing to endure periods of limited financial success while building a portfolio, a client base, or finding stable employment 





Who Employs Fashion Illustrators?

Fashion illustrators have a variety of employment options within the realms of self-employment and working for others. The employment path they choose may depend on their personal preference or whether or not they find suitable opportunities with employers.


For example, some may choose to build a portfolio as a freelancer prior to looking for permanent work (as finding suitable permanent employment usually takes quite a strong portfolio), whereas others may choose to find permanent work prior to working as a freelancer or opening their own fashion illustration house.



Many fashion illustrators are self-employed, which may be in the form of working as a freelancer to do individual projects for clients, or owning their own fashion illustration company. Self-employed fashion illustrators typically contract their services to the following types of organizations.


• Advertising agencies that work with fashion designers and retail organizations

• Fashion publications (print and online)

• Local businesses (such as retails and clothing related businesses)

• Local fashion shows

• Fashion design studios

• Media organizations (online, television or print)

• National department stores

• National retail chains


Working for Others

Fashion illustrators may also work as in-house employees for a wide range of companies involved in designing, developing, manufacturing, promoting and advertising various garments, footwear and accessories. They may perform general illustration work, or they may specialize in a certain area or type of product line. Types of organizations that employ fashion illustrators on a part-time or full-time basis may include:


• Advertising agencies that work with fashion designers and retail organizations

• Fashion publications (print and online)

• High fashion houses

• Fashion Design Studios

• Fashion show production companies

• Media organizations (online, television or print)

• National department stores

• National retail chains

• Large clothing manufacturing and distribution companies

• Small specialty retail stores



How to Get a Job as a Fashion Illustrator

Some illustrators have permanent jobs with publishers as well as design and advertising agencies, although many are self-employed. Those who are self-employed must develop and maintain a strong reputation in order to secure a steady flow of work.


To become self-employed as a fashion illustrator, it's usually a good idea to maintain a steady job while you develop your client base; this will ensure your financial bases are covered, and will take the pressure off rather than panicking and struggling to develop a steady client base in a short amount of time. It will take some patience and marketing ability to get your business built, so be patient and work hard.


If you wish to land a job with a design or advertising agency then it is recommended you make a list of such companies in your area or in other areas if you are willing to relocate. You can also try applying with organizations such as locally owned retail stores, local print media, fashion and retail-oriented websites, and local fashion shows.


Once you have created this list, contact these organizations directly and express your interest in obtaining employment with them, or an internship if available.


Success Tip: When looking for jobs, ensure that you are keeping track of who you spoke with and when. They may not hire you right away, but keep in contact with them on a regular basis. That sort of initiative can pay dividends down the road when they do hire. 



Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has "fashion illustrator" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Average Salary Level

The salary level of fashion illustrators can vary greatly; some may earn an inconsistent and fluctuating income, while others may earn a more stable and reliable income. It largely depends on what kind of employment structure they have.


For example, some may work as part-time or full-time employees of an organization, in which case they may earn a more consistent income, whereas others may work as freelancers (contracting their illustrating services out to employers), in which case they may earn an income that is reflective of the amount of work they are able to secure.


Regardless of their employment structure, their salary level may also be influenced by the following factors:


• Their level of education

• Their level of aptitude and the quality of their portfolio

• The size and type of their employer/client

• The region in which they work


Unfortunately there is no salary information specifically pertaining to the career "fashion illustrator" available from reliable sources. We can however, get a good idea of what they earn by looking at the earnings of workers in closely related occupations.


Fashion Illustrator Salary - Canada: According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available), Albertans in the Illustrators occupational group earn an average salary of $58,099 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (July 12, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of American workers in the Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators occupational group is $50,900 per year.



Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "fashion illustrator", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Fashion Buyer

Fashion Designer

Fashion Journalist

Graphic Designer

Medical Illustrator




Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a fashion illustrator.


Occupations in Alberta:Illustrator.” (March 21, 2015). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 16, 2019.

Occupational Employment and Wages:Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 16, 2019.

Careers:So You Want to Be a Fashion Illustrator?” Mary Winkler (February 16, 2016). Envato Tuts website. Retrieved November 16, 2019.

Career Profiles:Fashion Illustrator Dallas Shaw.” Elizabeth Duszynski (May 3, 2012). The Everygirl website. Retrieved November 16, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Fashion Illustrator

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a fashion illustrator can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting started in this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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