Technical Illustrator

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Technical Illustrator


Technical illustrators' pencil and paper drawings are slowly becoming obsolete with the increased use of computer-aided design systems. Technical illustrators use both traditional and computer aided techniques when drawing for a broad range of industrial industries and specialties. They draw enlarged views of machinery parts for operating manuals, create wildlife illustrations, or draw commercial and residential buildings from structural information provided by blueprints. Their job is to draw diagrams and simplified directions for people to understand how things work.

Technical illustrators draw machine parts and objects from different angles to show how they fit together. They also show through drawings how things should be assembled, taken care of, and repaired. Technical illustrators specialize in catalogs, technical manuals and handbooks, instruction manuals, brochures, or presentation materials such as transparencies, flip charts, and slides. They study blueprints and engineers drawings in order to create a visual illustration. Most technical illustrators make drawings for detailed instructions on how to assemble manufactured products.

The first step for illustrators is to meet with product designers or companies to discuss how to draw the product. The technical illustrator will draw a rough sketch either from measuring or photographing an object or listening to an oral description from an engineer. Many technical illustrators enjoy the diversity involved in the job as they are always drawing new and sometimes very different images. However, the creativity involved in each drawing is sometimes minimal due to the technical nature of the drawings.

Technical illustrators spend a lot of time researching the products or subjects they draw. They often work closely with engineers or scientists to make sure that the drawings cohere with the products. Some technical illustrators also draw promotional and advertising drawings in replacement of photographic images or for style purposes. They may work independently, in teams with engineers and other artists or as support for engineers, architects and industrial designers. Illustrators are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Technical illustrators must pay attention to fine details and be comfortable working with a variety of visual media. They have strong organizational and research skills, and the ability to work rapidly to meet deadlines. Since drawing takes a great deal of time, effort and concentration, technical illustrators must be willing to work under a great deal of pressure.

They work closely with engineers and architects therefore they must have flexibility in working with others' ideas yet have an independent work style and practice. Successful technical illustrators will enjoy synthesizing information, finding innovative ways to present ideas and working with or consulting with people.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with clients to establish the nature and content of desired technical illustrations
  • Prepare preliminary drawings or sketches for approval
  • Estimate timelines and the cost of materials
  • Draw enlarged views of machinery parts for operating manuals
  • Prepare finished artwork using the required medium; such as computer graphics, pen and ink, acrylic, pastel, pencil or airbrush
  • Draw commercial and residential buildings from structural information provided by blueprints
  • Technical illustrators usually work from their homes or in bright studios. Many work in a freelance capacity and go from project to project. Illustrators work somewhere between standard eight-hour days and 11- or 12-hour days, depending on deadlines and inspiration. Hence, evening and weekend work is fairly regular depending of course on how many clients an illustrator has. Finally, with increasing competition in this field, technical illustrators should be able to work in a range of styles and media.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Technical illustrators work for art companies, consulting firms, construction and manufacturing companies, private machine design firms, all levels of government, architectural and engineering consulting firms, and organizations in the petrochemical, food processing and energy industries.
  • Some technical illustrators work out of their own home offices, as independent freelancers, while others work in the offices of advertising agencies, retail or wholesale companies who use illustrations in their catalogs, and other similar organizations.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Technical illustrators can use their artistic skills to move into any other drawing related careers, such as graphic design or children's book illustrations. They have the option of becoming creative directors in advertising companies or work for magazines as the layout and artistic director. Some may also decide to move into the teaching sector at the high school, community college or university level.

  Educational Paths  
Most technical illustrators have a postsecondary degree in fine arts or graphic design, coupled with extra training in engineering technology and blueprint reading. Some technical illustrators also take classes in biology, architecture, mathematics and other sciences to broaden their background for drawing. A good idea is to take a computer-aided design course (CAD) as most engineering and technological drawings now take place on the computer using this system.

All technical illustrators should have a portfolio that displays samples of their artwork. Colleges and employers will automatically expect applicants to have strong portfolios, which will help in getting a job.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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