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Digital Art Career Pathways and Salaries

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What careers—and salaries—are available for designers and animators in 2022?

More and more artists are moving into the digital art space, but with no idea where to begin their careers. What jobs are actually out there for designers and animators…and what do they pay? If you’re just starting out as a digital artist, or if you’re cranking out cryptoart in between projects for Buck and Subway, this article explores the options you might not even know exist.

With technology driving limitless prospects for creative innovation, the discipline of digital arts has quickly become one of the most popular and interesting professional choices for hungry artists. Social media helped develop and encourage a generation of self-made digital creators, but what are the possible career paths for someone with these interests?

We actually developed a full Industry Trends Report to help guide new and current artists in charting out their careers. If you want the full report, grab it below. 

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For this article, we’ve used Payscale.com as a guide for average salaries, in case you wanted to dive deeper. 

What is a Digital Artist?

Digital artists may work on a variety of projects—including video animation, website user interfaces, artwork for the visual elements of a video game, illustrating a medical manual, creating two-dimensional images for fashion design, and more—using a computer and contemporary software programs. 

A digital artist may develop a number of digital assets depending on the project, including 3D figures and environments, storyboards, textures in artwork design, animations, and 3D effects. Visual effects for movies and television are also created by digital artists in collaboration with editors.

What Are the Jobs and Salaries for Digital Artists?

Graphic Designer

What does a Graphic Designer do?

Graphic Designers use color, illustrations, fonts, and layout to visually communicate a message or present a product. Among other things, they create logos, product packaging, print materials, and websites. 

Graphic designers work in a wide range of businesses and in various capacities. For example, a designer could be hired as in-house staff to work on promotional materials for a company, or they could work for a design agency with a variety of clients and projects. Many graphic designers are also self-employed, working as freelancers on a project-by-project basis.

Graphic Designer salary 

$47,072 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Graphic Designers 

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign

Motion Designer

What does a Motion Designer do? 

Motion Designers create artwork for the web, television, and movies. This can include things like movie snippets, trailers, advertising, and title sequences, among other things. To bring their concepts to life, they use visual effects, animation, and other cinematic techniques. 

Motion Designer salary 

$60,397 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Motion Designers 

Adobe After Effects, Graphic Design, Design (Typography & Color Theory), 2D/3D Animation, Video Editing

What's the difference between graphic design and motion design?

Graphic and Motion Designers work in many of the same applications, are hired at many of the same companies, and have complimentary styles and skill sets. The biggest difference is that one prioritizes animation and therefore has a distinct approach to each project.  

Graphic designers work with static images, such as posters, business cards, and stationery, that are either digital or printed; their designs are never created with animation in mind. Motion graphics adds movement and animation to visual design that would otherwise be static, meaning they often have to consider the movement of their projects before laying down a single brushstroke. Shapes, objects, or text are generally animated in motion graphics animation.

Web Designer

What does a Web Designer do? 

Web Designers combine a variety of visual design components—such as text, images, graphics, animations, and videos—to create and build websites and web pages. A web designer can either construct a whole new website or make minor changes to the style and layout of current sites. 

Web Designer salary 

$52,296 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Web Designers

Adobe Photoshop, Graphic Design, HTML5, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

What's the difference between a graphic designer and a web designer?

Web designers solve creative problems through a well-designed website that converts users to customers. Graphic designers solve creative problems through a logo, branding, or printed materials to educate a potential customer.

Multimedia Designer

What does a Multimedia Designer do? 

Multimedia designers create multimedia presentations and tools to educate and promote their company's branding, goods, and services. They must meet with members of their firm (and/or clients) to discuss requirements, generate a draft of the multimedia product, and complete the final product. These individuals may be in charge of the company's web design, including landing sites, as well as editing video footage into an appealing bundle. 

Multimedia designers can also generate print materials like infographics, reports, and case studies. These designers must stay on top of new approaches and programs as they become available, incorporating appropriate tools and skills into their daily work.

Multimedia Designer salary 

$55,013 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Multimedia Designers

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, Graphic Design, Video Editing

Video Game Designer

What does a Video Game Designer do? 

Video Game Designers are creative persons who are responsible for the design and layout of a video game. They are the ones who create the storylines, characters, levels, scenarios, etc. of a certain game. This position requires not only creativity and knowledge of storytelling, but also the technical skills to craft a fun and playable level of a game.

Video Game Designer salary 

$66,501 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Game Designers

Game Design, Design, C# Programming Language, User Experience Design

Video Editor

What does a Video Editor do? 

A Video Editor works on production changes to a video. The video editor collaborates closely with the director to produce the best possible final video, with the purpose of delivering the story in the most effective and compelling manner possible. Cutting and rearranging scenes is a big part of the job.

Video Editor salary

$49,432 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Video Editor

Adobe Premiere, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects

Visual Effects Artist

What does a Visual Effects Artist do? 

VFX artists create photoreal, digitally-generated imagery. The role requires the seamless integration of these effects into live action in feature films, television and, increasingly, online and console gaming. VFX artists use the latest technology to produce computer-generated creatures, crowds and stunt doubles.

Visual Effects Artist Salary 

$62,668 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for VFX Artists

Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, SideFX Houdini, 3D Animation

3D Artist

What does a 3D Artist do? 

A 3D Artist builds 3D models of products, environments, and more. They use their ability to create photo realistic materials, lighting, and rendered images for various uses including marketing and advertisements.

3D Artist salary

$55,889 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for 3D Artists

3D Rendering, 3D Animation

2D Animator

What does a 2D Animator do? 

2D Animators create characters, storyboards, and backgrounds for animation in a two-dimensional space. Animators working in 2D may be referred to as animators, character designers, or storyboard artists.

2D Animator salary 

$50,505 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for 2D Animators

Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop (Adding Adobe Illustrator added an average of 40% to the base salary)

3D Animator

What does a 3D Animator do? 

3D animators create a plethora of animations, which may turn into major motion pictures, popular video games, or shorter animations for television or film. Many 3D animators create special effects for the film industry. A 3D animator can specialize in creating various types of animated images such as humans, objects, or focus on the background and landscapes of an animation. 

3D Animator salary 

$53,643 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for 3D Animators

Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Blender

Art Director

What does an Art Director do? 

As an Art Director, you work as an artistic chameleon while also bringing your own individual voice and vision to clients. At times you will be asked to modify or update pre-existing client material into a new context; in other times, you will be expected to create an entirely new look at a product or service that defies expectations.

Art Director salary 

$70,291 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Art Directors

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Graphic Design, Branding, Design

Creative Director

What does a Creative Director do? 

A Creative Director answers the what, why, and how that a team uses as a “true north” to guide all of their decision-making. A Creative Director may not be “on-the-box” during a project but they will have an intimate knowledge of the limits and needs of a production’s pipeline and workflow. Most of a Creative Director’s time is spent with clients, developing pitches, and collaborating with their Producer and Art Director to establish the look and feel of a project. A Creative Director is expected to be continually developing their voice and vision as an artist as they are often the most visible member of a motion design studio.

Creative Director salary

$90,389 / Year Avg. Base Salary (USD)

Popular Software & Skills for Creative Directors

Graphic Design, Design, Branding, Project Management, Team Leadership

What's the difference between an Art Director and a Creative Director?

It's easy to mix up creative and art direction, but they're not the same thing. The scope of responsibilities differs between art direction and creative direction. Art direction combines art and design to produce a unified look that elicits a response from the audience. An art director, by definition, is primarily concerned with aesthetics, whereas a creative director is responsible for strategy, campaign execution, art direction, and more. An art director will know the names of the fonts that will work if a creative director requests a bold font to radiate strength. 

What's the right career path for me?

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Still not sure where to start? We believe design is the most foundational element of any artistic career. If you’re looking to work as a digital artist, you need to start there. And if you need any help, we’ll be here for you.