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How to be a Freelance Illustrator [Step-By-Step Guide]

Want to work as a freelance illustrator but confused about how and where to start? Here is a complete guide on how to be a freelance illustrator to boost your earnings.

According to Glassdoor’s report, freelance illustrators make up to $21 per hour, reaching over $50k annually.

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Considering the statistics about freelance illustrator salary, illustrating seems like a promising side hustle or even full-time work if you bag some high-paying gigs along the way.

Like most other design-related freelancing jobs, you do not need a degree to pursue freelance illustrating. If you’ve got a knack for design and an eye for creativity, you’re good to go.

While most people are skilled illustrators ready to take on any task, getting started on a freelance platform is often a hurdle in their success. That’s why I’ve curated a guide to take you through the steps of being an illustrator.

By the end of this guide, you’d have learned how to be a freelancer or take jobs where you work alone and make bank with freelance illustration jobs.

How to Become A Freelance Illustrator

If you’re wondering how to start a freelance illustration career, I’m here to help you get started. Like any other profession, you’ll begin with the basics and go on to the advanced and higher-paying gigs.

Research The Field’s Scope

First off, you need to determine what your job entails. Illustrating is a wide term that can be used to describe different kinds of projects. You need to know where your interest and skill lie.

How To Be A Freelance Illustrator

Other than this, you must also know which kind of illustration projects are most popular at the moment. According to Ben The Illustrator’s survey, clients are more likely to request these illustration gigs:

  • Editorial or publishing projects
  • Exhibited artworks
  • Private commissions
  • Advertising materials
  • Product design
  • Motion graphic projects or animations

Depending on your skillset, you might have a steady flow of work, or you may have to keep your illustration projects as a side hustle. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to earn through multiple streams.

However, it’s something you should research before leaving your nine-to-five job. Make sure you have a complete understanding of the industry and its popular trends.

Choose Your Specialty

Again, this depends on your skillset. Design is a broad category, and you’ll find thousands of jobs under Design on any freelancing platform.

Specializing your skills to a certain project type will make it easier for you to land gigs and freelance projects to take as you’ll have lesser competition.

Finding your specialty shouldn’t be difficult. In most cases, designers pick up their favorite or best skill during the learning process. But if you’re still not certain, here are a few broader fields to find your interest in:

  • Content Marketing: Illustrators working on these projects create digital guides, infographics, social media assets, and brochures. You might be hired to create an email marketing template or a pamphlet for a company’s upcoming venture.
  • Packaging: Packaging projects pay well since you’re creating something that a company will be using for years to come.
  • Visual Identity: If your interest lies in branding, imagery, typography, and logo-making, you might find work for yourself under this category.

Even after you’ve settled for a certain sub-category, you do not have to limit yourself to it. The only reason for specifying a skillset is to let the clients know exactly what your strengths are and projects you can deliver to the best of your abilities.

See Related: Best Freelance Websites for Logo Design

Build A Portfolio

Your portfolio will tell the clients what you can do and how well you can do it. So, take your time while putting together a portfolio since it can make or break any deal to acquire clients.

If you’re serious about bagging high-end freelance illustration jobs, you should buy a domain to host your portfolio website. Something like gives off an amateur vibe, and that’s not something you want to show while pitching to a named brand.

Instead, get a domain with your name. If possible, connect an email address with the domain name. You can find a ton of reasonably priced packages on Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix.

Here are some tips for putting together a freelance graphic illustrator portfolio:

  • Opt for quality over quantity. Instead of putting everything you have ever illustrated in your life, only showcase your best works.
  • If you’ve worked with known brands or any recognized company, make sure to include the work you did for them in your portfolio.
  • Put the designs in the portfolio that you want to get hired for. For instance, if you want to be hired as a freelance children’s book illustrator, include relevant designs in the portfolio.
  • Make sure the Contact Me button is prominent on the website. Display your contact details, email address, and social media links on your portfolio website so that prospective clients can reach you through multiple channels.
  • Brand yourself through your portfolio. If you’re into minimalistic designs, let your portfolio reflect that. On the other hand, if your work is more vibrant or whimsical, it should show in the portfolio so that the clients know what to expect.

Create A Freelance Illustrator Business Plan

If you want to learn how to be a freelance illustrator, you must have a business plan in mind. It will include everything from your hourly rate to the target audience. These are the questions you ask yourself before beginning so that you can solely focus your attention on work later.

Freelance Illustrator Business Plan

Here are some of the things involved in a freelance illustrator business plan:


Fortunately, there’s not a high upfront cost for starting your freelance comic illustrator business. Although you need to invest in a digital device for illustration, most other things cost little to nothing.

  • Hardware: If you have a printer and computer at home, you can get started today. Even if you don’t have this equipment, you can use free resources, like the library, unless you’ve earned enough to buy your own.
  • Software: It depends on the software you’re using. If you use the Adobe Creative Cloud bundle, it will cost nearly $600 annually, giving you access to most must-haves for freelance illustration jobs.
  • Art Supplies: If you need anything other than your iPad or computer, such as brushes, paints, or a canvas, you can purchase them as required.
  • Marketing: You’ll have to spend money on setting up a portfolio website and running a few ads on your social media accounts.

Freelancing Sites

As a freelance graphic illustrator, you can find work through different channels, including LinkedIn and social media. However, your best bet is freelancing platforms.

Here are the three best freelance sites for illustrators:

Initially, it might take some trial and error to find the right freelancing sites for your career. But once you create a loyal clientele on a platform, expanding your business won’t be much trouble.

See Related: 99designs vs fiverr: What is Better for Design?

Target Audience

Your target audience depends on your skill set. If you want to advertise yourself as a freelance children’s book illustrator, your target audience will be authors and publishing houses.

Likewise, if you want to dab into content marketing, eCommerce companies and corporations are the right markets for you.

See Related: Best Freelance Graphic Design Websites


Once you’ve figured everything out, you need to learn how to pitch to clients. Plus, you should know how much you’re going to charge and if you’d offer any add-ons.

Budding freelancers are often confused about the market rates for their niche. If you’re uncertain about freelance illustrator salaries, use an hourly rate calculator. It will help you find the approximate rate for all the best freelance sites for illustrators.

When pitching, don’t send the same message to each potential employer. Read and understand their needs first. Then, offer them a solution in your pitch, customizing it to their requirements.

Expand Your Reach

You might start your freelance graphic illustrator career from Fiverr, but there’s only so much growth you can get from one-time gigs. Once you’ve established authority in your design niche, you can go ahead and expand your venture.

Fiverr Logo

Here are some ways to increase your annual income while reaching a wider audience:

Sell Prints

If you have a considerable social media following, use it to your advantage. You can sell your prints or art posters through online promotions.

Instagram is an excellent place for artists to showcase their work and find buyers for their canvas prints. Alternatively, you can use Printful – a platform that would take over the tedious task of printing and shipping the posters.

Printful Logo

All you have to do is upload your print and receive the royalty on every sale.

Sell Apparel

Besides prints, you can also sell apparel bearing your designs. Again, it all comes down to networking and reputation building.

If you have a large following on social media, you can expect your merchandise to be sold out in days, if not hours. Alternatively, you can collaborate with online services that allow people to customize mugs, phone cases, T-shirts, etc. Sell your prints to them and get a percentage on every sale.

Illustrate Books and Book Covers

One of the best ways to earn money through illustration is to take on freelance children’s book illustrator projects. Since these books mainly consist of visual content, you can charge by page or for the full project.

Illustrate Books And Book Covers

If your illustration style is a bit too mature for childrens’ books, design book covers.

On average, you can get up to $800 for a book cover design. However, if you’ve established yourself as a top-tier artist, you can charge well about a thousand dollars for your service.

Sell A Font

If you want to earn some passive income, create a font and sell it on sites like MyFonts and Envato Elements.

Myfonts Logo

It might require some technical knowledge, but it’s definitely quite rewarding since you can earn money with your one-time effort.

See Related: Freelance Photography 101

Create A Design Course

Here’s another way to earn money while you sleep. Create an illustration course and sell it on sites like Skillshare or Udemy. Again, if you have a significant following, your course will do really well, earning you passive income while you focus on landing high-end clients.

Alternatively, you can create a YouTube channel and make tutorials for people who want to learn illustrations. However, this is a long-haul job, requiring regular effort.

On the other hand, course creation is a one-time thing that will earn for you as long as it sells.

See Related: Best Freelance Websites for Creatives

Final Words

Learning how to be a freelance illustrator is a full-time job in itself. Market trends and design preferences change every now and then, so you must keep up with the client’s needs.

Besides finding the best freelance sites for illustrators, you must also know how to benefit from them fully. Therefore, having a freelance illustrator business plan in place will take you forward.

Plus, if you want to increase your reach, you’ll have to learn about new platforms and their pitching procedures. In this guide, I covered how to start a freelance illustration career and gradually grow it into a full-time earning.

Follow these tips and who knows, you might illustrate the cover for the next New York Times bestseller.

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