Graphic Designers and Illustrators

Unit Group 5241

Skill Type: Occupations in Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport

Type of work

Graphic designers conceptualize and produce graphic art and visual materials to effectively communicate information for publications, advertising, films, packaging, posters, signs and interactive media such as web sites and CD-ROMs. Graphic designers who are also supervisors, project managers or consultants are included in this unit group. Illustrators conceptualize and create illustrations to represent information through images.

For the full and official description of this occupation according to the National Occupational Classification, visit the NOC site.

Examples of Occupational Titles

  • advertising designer
  • animator - animated films
  • cartoonist
  • commercial artist
  • cybergraphic designer
  • graphic artist
  • graphic designer
  • graphic designer - multimedia
  • graphic designer - multimedia, interactive media or new media
  • illustrator
  • layout designer
  • medical illustrator
  • multimedia illustrator
  • scientific illustrator


Job prospects in this occupation are fair.

(Update: June 2015)

Over the last few years, the number of graphic designers and illustrators has grown sharply. Although their numbers increased in almost all the industries in which they work, growth was the strongest in graphic design services and in computer systems design. Considering the trends in the industries in which they work, the number of graphic designers and illustrators is expected to increase significantly over the next few years, but at a slower rate than in the past.


Although they are closely related, the occupations of graphic designers and graphic arts technicians (see 5223) have very specific features. As the name indicates, graphic designers create graphic designs and sometimes produce them. Graphic arts technicians only have technical training in the use of the main software and only produce designs developed by graphic designers. Designers assess needs with clients, manage budgets, see that deadlines are met and are sometimes responsible for managing project production teams (graphic arts technicians, photographers, programmers, etc.).

Sources of employment

Job openings will primarily result from employment increase. Because there are few graphic designers and illustrators over the age of 55 (7% compared with 18% for all occupations, according to the 2011 National Household Survey data), there will be proportionately less retirements than in other occupations. Experienced graphic designers may progress to positions as artistic directors and advertising directors. Experience can also help to create a designer's own business.

Labour pool

These openings will be accessible first to graduates of vocational and technical training programs that lead to this occupation (see Training section). Some openings will be filled by experienced graphic designers and illustrators who are unemployed. Other positions are expected to be filled by immigrants who meet the occupational requirements. In 2011, the percentage of immigrants in this occupation was slightly higher than in all occupations (16% compared with 14%, according to National Household Survey data).

The occupation attracts many people and a number of graduates have to start work as freelancers, not always by choice. Experience as a graphic arts technician and sometimes even as a photographer, will be an advantage. Those who stand out most have the most talent, creativity and artistic sense. These qualities can even compensate for a lack of technical or university training for the very talented. A post-secondary education is increasingly important for working in this occupation. An indication of this phenomenon is that about 90% of the people in this occupation held a post-secondary diploma in 2011, a percentage that has risen sharply since 1996 (77%). Such an increase indicates that the vast majority, if not everyone who found a job in this occupation between 1996 and 2011 had a post-secondary diploma.

The strong appeal of this occupation is reflected in the data from the provincial government Relance survey. The labour market status of people with a DEP (Vocational Studies Diploma) in computer graphics processes is not as good as the status of vocational training graduates as a whole: the placement rate is not as high, the unemployment rate is much higher and salaries are lower.

The situation for Diploma of College Studies (DEC) graduates in graphic design, premedia computer graphics, multimedia integration, animated design and 3D modelling and image synthesis technology, and for those with a Bachelor of graphic arts (graphic communications) is better than those for DEP in computer graphics processes graduates overall, but a little worse than that of graduates technical diplomas and with Bachelor degrees.

If on average close to 70% of people with a bachelor's in graphic arts or a DEC degree working in jobs related to their training worked in the graphic arts occupations (5223 and 5241), about three quarters of them with a DEC in multimedia integration worked in positions related to the computers, such as Web designers and developers (2175), programmers (2174) and technical occupations in computer (2281, 2282 and 2283).

Regarding the annual crop of approximately 400 or 500 AEC graduates related to the DECs referred to earlier, their labour market status varies across programs and years between acceptable and mediocre.


According to National Household Survey data, in 2011 about half of graphic designers and illustrators worked in professional, scientific and technical services mainly in design services (32%), advertising services (9%) and computer systems design (5%). A significant number were also found in newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishing (6%) and in software publishing (5%).


Employment growth in this occupation varies considerably between industries.

Printing and publishing

The printing and book, newspaper and magazine publishing industries have undergone large-scale technological changes over the last few years. Document digitization is without a doubt the greatest change. Initially, digitizing documents greatly increased the speed of pre-printing work. For instance, it resulted in the disappearance of almost all typesetters (see 1423), who were gradually replaced by publishing agents, graphic arts technicians and graphic designers. Digitization then made it possible to create products that were once impossible to design and to greatly improve the graphic quality of printed products. It thus boosted employment for people in occupations related to graphics, such as graphic arts technicians and graphic designers. The number of graphic designers and illustrators has increased sharply in printing and publishing in the last few years.

Employment in the printing and publishing industries is expected to decrease, but employment in this occupation should be less affected than employment in other occupations in these industries. Consequently, the expectation is that the number of graphic designers and illustrators working in these industries will nevertheless increase slightly in the next few years.

Specialized design services

From a small industry at the beginning of the 1990s, the specialized design services industry grew to be the first largest employer in this occupation in 2001, 2006 and 2011, according to census and National Household Survey data. The spectacular increase in employment in this industry is due to the growth in multimedia (see below) and to document digitization, among other things. Digitization has made it easier to transmit graphic files and to subcontract graphic work to firms that specialize in this field. Furthermore, the high cost of equipment and software in this field also encourages subcontracting, especially when the volume and frequency of need for graphic documents does not justify hiring at least one full-time graphic designer. According to data from Statistics Canada's Annual Survey of Business Service Industries, the the real value (after inflation) of revenue and operating expenses in this industry in Québec fell slightly between 2006 and 2012, showing that the principal effects of the factors explaining the spectacular increase in employment in this industry have already been realized. Consequently, this industry should contribute less to growth of employment in this occupation in the future than in previous years.

Advertising services

The level of activity in advertising depends largely on economic growth, the popularity of locally produced advertising and the development of new niches. The sharp increase in employment in this sector during the latter half of the 1990s is attributable to both healthy economic growth and an increase in the proportion of locally produced advertising, which is much better adapted to the characteristics of Quebec consumers.

Slower economic growth and an increase in the number of adaptations and translations of advertisements being developed-and even produced-abroad could explain in large part why revenues and employment have grown more slowly in this sector since the turn of the century. In fact, operating income in the Quebec advertising sector even increase only very slightly in real terms (after inflation) between 2001 and 2012, only 0.3% per year, according to Statistics Canada's Annual Survey of Advertising and Related Services.

Traditional advertising grew only slightly in Canada from 2000 to 2008, but has stagnated or even declined thereafter. According to data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada, it increased slightly for television (growth concentrated in specialized channels, but stagnant in general channels) and radio between 2009 and 2013. This type of advertising, however, started to decrease in 2005 in daily newspapers, decline that is observed every year until 2013. However, new advertising opportunities have gradually emerged: product placement (use of a product or display of a brand name in a movie or television program), signs on buildings and in elevators and bar bathrooms, electronic signs at store checkouts and in public places, penetration of schools and hospitals, invisible advertising (where actors promote a product or service in public places), etc. Each of these niches requires a specific approach and has a well-defined target audience. Advertising on the Internet and specialized television channels, for example, reaches clearly targeted clienteles, based on the sites they visit and the shows they watch.

Despite spectacular growth rates, Internet advertising had only accounted for a slim proportion of total advertising spending in the major media in Canada. This is no longer the case. Still from Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada data, in 2013 it represented more than 24% of this total. Spending on Internet advertising was higher than on radio advertising in 2007, than in daily papers in 2010, than in specialized channels in 2011 and finally than in general channels in 2013, ranking at the forefront for the first time.

Faced with all these factors, we expect that employment will remain fairly stable in advertising in the next few years.


What is commonly called the multimedia sector is actually a collection of firms and even tasks that are found in a wide range of industries, including the ones analysed above. This being said, growth in the information technology sector, which is the sector that enables the interactive, simultaneous processing of sounds, images and texts using a single computerized system according to the definition of the multimedia sector provided by the Institut de la statistique du Québec, is tied specifically to telecommunications services, computer services, software (video games included) and professional services.

While these industries clearly saw strong growth in the last few years, this growth benefited primarily programmers, computer analysts, and Web designers and technicians more (see 2174, 2171, 2175 et 2281). With respect to graphic arts technicians, the growth in multimedia seems to have been indirect, because it was mainly in specialized design services.

Since the 1990s, the multimedia sector greatly benefited from government job creation assistance programs, including through refundable tax credit, and the vitality of firms focused on developing Web technology, both for the Internet and for company intranets. Government programs, the strength of demand and the recognized quality of the Quebec labour force should leave room for a certain amount of growth over the next few years.

Considering all these factors, the number of graphic designers and illustrators is expected to increase significantly over the next few years, although at a less spectacular pace than before.

Employment characteristics

This occupation is characterized by a great many self-employed workers. Approximately 29% of all graphics designers and illustrators worked freelance in 2011 (the average for occupations overall was 11%), according to National Household Survey. The situation can be the same for new arrivals on the labour market as for older employees who have decided to work freelance. Freelance designers help companies call on specialists to produce specific projects. Other versatile freelancers fulfil contracts to produce flyers, newspapers, visiting cards, menus, etc. A number can handle all stages of production of these products including writing, design, computer graphics, layout, etc.

According to census and National Household Survey data, women held approximately 48% of the jobs in this occupation in 2011, a percentage that has been rising significantly since 1991 (40%). The annual employment income ($38,480) shown in the "Characteristics" section of the "Statistics" applies only to the 59% of people in this occupation who worked full time and full-year in 2010. The average employment income for those who did not work full time and full-year came to $22,977.

Education and Training

To become a graphic designer, applicants usually require:

  • a bachelor's degree in graphic design or graphic communications


  • a diploma of collegial studies (DEC) in graphic design, premedia computer graphics, multimedia integration, animated design and 3D modelling and image synthesis technology,.

  • an attestation of collegial studies (AEC) in graphic design,
  • an Attestation of College Studies (AEC) in graphic design, including the numerous programs offered in video game design and 3D modelling and animation,.

  • a diploma of professional studies (DEP) in processes infographic,

along with demonstrated superior creative and artistic ability. Access to the occupation is also possible with a DEP, DEC or AEC plus several years of experience in the labour market as a graphic arts technician. Diplomas and attestations sometimes focus on the technical aspects of computer graphics design and less on the artistic aspects.

There is no specialized illustrator training in Quebec. Courses in illustration are part of the bachelor's degree in graphic design. Illustrators come from a variety of disciplines, including college training in graphic arts, plastic arts, etc.

Useful References

Important Considerations

Despite the significant growth forecast for the next few years, candidates will face very strong competition because of the great popularity of this occupation. In fact, the labour market status of the graduates of the main training programs leading to this occupation is not as good as it is for graduates of vocational and technical programs overall.

Candidates' portfolios, talent and creativity are keys to access to this occupation. The occupation features many self-employed workers.

Skills most in demand for illustrators are artistic ability and personal style.

Statistics 5241 - Graphic Designers and Illustrators

Main Labour Market Indicators

In the following table, indicators such as the growth rate, yearly variation in employment, yearly attrition and total annual requirements are forecasts generated by economists from Service Canada, Quebec region. The data source for employment is Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey. The volumes of unemployment insurance beneficiaries come from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)’s administrative data. All of the data are rounded.

  Unit Group 5241 All occupations
Employment, average 2011-2013 19,650 3,990,050
Employment Insurance claimants in 2013 250 80,700
Average Annual Growth Rate 2014-2018 1.2% 0.7%
Annual Employment Variation 2014-2018 250 26,500
Annual Attrition 2014-2018 150 74,300
Total Annual Needs 2014-2018 400 100,800

Employment Distribution

The data from the following employment distribution tables come from Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS).

  Unit Group 5241 All occupations
Employment by Gender
Males 52.3% 51.9%
Females 47.7% 48.1%
Employment by Age
15 - 24 years 9.7% 13.3%
25 - 44 years 67.4% 42.7%
45 - 64 years 22.1% 41.1%
65 years and over 0.8% 2.8%
Employment by Status
Full-time 85.9% 81.2%
Part-time 14.1% 18.8%
Employment by Annual Income
Full-time, full-year 58.6% 54.8%
Annual Average Income $38,500 $50,300
$0 - $19,999 16.5% 13.3%
$20,000 - $49,999 60.1% 48.0%
$50,000 and over 23.3% 38.8%
Employment by Highest Level of Schooling
Less than high-school 1.1% 12.1%
High-school 8.5% 20.3%
Post-secondary 57.7% 44.2%
Bachelors 32.6% 23.4%
Others Employment Distribution
Self-employment 28.9% 10.7%
Immigration 15.8% 13.7%
Employment by Region
Region Unit Group 5241 All occupations
Abitibi-Témiscamingue 0.5% 1.8%
Bas-Saint-Laurent 1.1% 2.3%
Capitale-Nationale 11.7% 9.4%
Centre-du-Québec 1.6% 2.9%
Chaudière-Appalaches 2.8% 5.5%
Côte-Nord / Nord-du-Québec 0.5% 1.6%
Estrie 2.5% 3.8%
Gaspésie–îles-de-la-Madeleine 0.5% 0.9%
Lanaudière 4.1% 6.1%
Laurentides 5.6% 7.3%
Laval 4.8% 5.2%
Mauricie 0.9% 3.0%
Montérégie 13.6% 19.2%
Montréal 44.7% 22.9%
Outaouais 3.8% 4.9%
Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean 1.2% 3.3%

Main Sectors of Employment

The data of the following table were prepared by economists from Service Canada, Quebec region. The data source is Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS).

Sector Unit Group 5241
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services 50.0%
- Other Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (Specialized Design Services and Advertising and Related Services included) 43.2%
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services 5.5%
Information and Cultural Industries 16.2%
- Publishing Industries (except Internet) 10.4%
Manufacturing 11.8%
Trade 8.3%