Technical illustrators create graphics for documentation in manufacturing, engineering, scientific and other industries. Expertise using computer-aided design (CAD) programs and drawing freehand normally are required to become a technical illustrator. A certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in technical illustration, graphic design or a related field often is required if you want to become a technical illustrator. Some employers prefer that technical illustrators have engineering or scientific degrees to signify that they truly understand the subject matter. Other employers might not require a degree at all if you have on-the-job experience or a very strong portfolio.
Degree programs in technical illustration can vary. Some might be targeted to specific disciplines, such as engineering, and might contain courses in engineering design and engineering drawing. Other programs might train students for careers that include technical writing as well as illustrating and might teach the basics of both subjects, because some employers will desire both talents in the same employee. Technical illustration degree programs often require that math courses such as geometry and algebra be completed. Being proficient in math and writing is important if you want to become a technical illustrator.
Many employers want very specific skills for technical illustrators. For example, an aeronautics industry job might require experience illustrating aircraft wiring diagrams. If you are interested in working long-term in a specific type of industry, it can be useful to target that industry when starting out and gain any experience you can in the target area. Perhaps your school offers internships and you can try to find one in the industry in which you wish to have a career. Discuss your long-term interests with school counselors when deciding on your specific educational path.
To become a technical illustrator, a portfolio normally will be required. Your portfolio should include your best work that demonstrates a variety of skills, such as works showing your use of both CAD tools for three-dimensional designs and simple pencil line drawings. You might be able to target the work in your portfolio to the industry or area in which you wish to work. Many technical illustrators have online portfolios that can be easily accessed by prospective employers.
To find work, contact aerospace, automotive, construction and other companies that use technical illustrators. Contact job placement agencies that specialize in placing technical documentation employees. Agencies that place technical illustrators might have both permanent and contract job openings available.
Some companies bring in contract technical illustrators to meet rising workflow demands, such as when they are working on a new business proposal or creating documentation to release a new product. Accepting contract positions can be useful because you can learn about different industries and areas without making a more permanent commitment. Also, contract employees who have proven themselves are often the first to be hired when permanent openings arise.