How to Work As a Freelance Illustrator

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Working as a freelance illustrator seems like a dream if you like the world of drawing and design, but there is a long way to go to achieve that goal. Working as a freelance illustrator can offer you creative freedom and select interesting projects. At the same time, it comes with a number of responsibilities and disadvantages compared to working as an employee in an agency.

If you’re wondering how to become a freelance illustrator, we’re here to help you get off to a good start. Being self-employed or freelance is not easy, but keep these tips in mind and you will be on the right track to success.

Choose a specialization

As in any profession, the first step to success is understanding what your job entails.

You must know the types of jobs offered by this sector to choose the most suitable for you. The most popular types of illustration projects that you can find on freelance job portals and job offers are:

  • Publishing and printing projects
  • Material for advertising campaigns
  • Create graphics in the field of fashion, accessories, crafts, decoration and others
  • Animation and motion graphics projects
  • video game industry
  • Projects for individuals such as portraits

To this, you have to add other sources of income that an illustrator or other types of graphic designers may have. A good example is the creation of print on demand stores or selling your designs in illustration banks.

Unless you have a strong reputation in a particular niche, you’ll probably start out with a mix of very disparate projects.

This is quite common in any solo career. As we recommended to freelance copywriters, looking for specialization is essential to be able to reach better clients.

Can you be an illustrator without a degree?

Yes, you can become a freelance illustrator without needing to have a degree in illustration or a career in fine art. Many artists in the industry are not licensed, and most clients will judge you on the quality of the work in your portfolio, not on the degree or diploma you may or may not have.

How much can you earn as a freelance illustrator?

Projects can arrive all at once, spend seasons without work and if you do it very well have a constant flow of commissions.

The price of each project can vary greatly depending on what type of client or industry you are targeting. There are projects that can report between $1,000 and $2,000, and others between $10 and $20. Generally, the budget will depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • If a client comes to you because they liked your work, you can sell yourself better and demand a higher payment
  • On the contrary, if you are the one who offers yourself, the payment can be much worse
  • Some sectors, such as an e-Commerce service or video games, can pay very well
  • The time it takes to complete it and the urgency of the client can trigger the budget of a work

As in any business sector, avoiding clients who do not value your effort, your knowledge or your talent is essential to advance.

Create an illustrator portfolio using a good strategy

Every hour you spend creating a professional portfolio will have a positive impact on your career.

Taking care of the details of your website will be telling your client that you will also take care of their project. That’s why avoid these mistakes when creating your portfolio as an illustrator:

  • Use at least your own domain and not options like This can cost less than $15 per year and affects your image.
  • Take time to describe the work you have done, what problem you solved, the tools used, different proposals you made, etc. The client wants to know how you develop your work, and it is not enough to show the result
  • Talk about yourself, why you dedicate yourself to illustration, what projects you like the most, and what goals you have. A photo of you is not enough
  • If you want to capture visits from Google, create a page for each service and sector for which you work. Besides, add a blog section and constantly write about your profession.

Choose your best works

When it comes to the content of your portfolio, always bet on quality instead of quantity. While an aspiring illustrator may be tempted to upload as many samples of their work as possible, it’s actually wiser to choose the ones that most closely resemble what you want to be hired for.

We tend to think that specializing is losing other jobs. But think better this way. A portfolio in which you offer all kinds of work is not going to stand out. But a specialized portfolio will make the client think of you as the perfect solution. On the other hand, you can always get projects of all kinds by other means.

If you have a number of jobs to display, be sure to organize them on separate pages, so your website is navigable.

Lastly, try to collect reviews and opinions from your customers. Over time this will become your greatest asset (along with your jobs) to get new clients.

Use freelance portals correctly

Once your website is up and running, it’s time to start looking for a job. There are many ways to find freelance illustration jobs, but the different illustration portals are a good place to start.

Sites like Behance or Dribbble are full of art directors and creatives looking for new talent.

Other platforms offer projects in the form of a contest, which can be a good opportunity if you are just starting out.

Platforms like Fiverr are organized differently. You must offer a specific task at a fixed price (gigs), which is somewhat complex for illustration jobs that require changes or previous work with the client.

Finally, the freelance and remote work portals will provide you with a large number of projects, both specific and long-term.

These sites will take you directly to your right target audience, people who really need good illustrators. The drawback is that the competition is very high as you are competing with illustrators from all over the world, including those countries where the standard of living is much lower.

The main advice is that you try to become strong on one of the platforms, collect positive reviews and over time you will be able to raise your prices and impose more favorable conditions for yourself.

Whether you end up using one of these platforms or not, you’re going to learn a lot about what the illustration market demands, current prices, and the tips to unlock consumer insights.

Get creative on social media

If you manage to market on social media effectively, you will be guaranteed success. Since that means that they come to you because they like your work and you can impose your prices and conditions on them.

Of course, bad clients and people who waste your time will also arrive. With a little experience, you will learn to detect them and avoid them without hesitation.

Which social networks to choose

For illustrators, image-based sites like Instagram or Pinterest are essential. If used correctly, they can be a gold mine. People who are new to the industry but need illustrators – for example, restaurant owners who need menu design – can be good clients if they like your work.  LinkedIn is also a great platform for new gigs. By creating a profile and joining relevant groups, you can connect with potential clients and learn about upcoming opportunities. You can also reach out to people you know who might need an illustrator for a project. You can use a free email finder tool to get the email address of your potential clients and reach out to them directly. This will allow you to build a relationship and show off your work.

It is a way of fishing for clients whose only reference in the field of illustration is you. If you are the first to make them fall in love with your illustrations, it is easier for them to contact you at some point.

Do not rule out video platforms such as TikTok or YouTube or the short video formats of Instagram and Facebook. If you are able to create a short video with the entire process of creating an illustration, you will have very valuable content. Video is the most powerful format to capture the attention and interest of users. If you have a few notions of video marketing, you can grow without limits as an illustrator.