To the layperson, illustration is just a fancy word for drawing, something that children do for fun.
But to the educated, illustration is a unique art form with a long history of contributing to some of the most essential pieces in human history.
Illustrators serve important roles, ranging from comic book penciling to fashion design to technical manual figures. If it involves linework, then it’s illustration.
With so many career options available, someone handy with a pencil may wonder why they should bother with college at all. After all, if they have the skill and the passion, what more do they need?
While illustration schools can’t provide more passion or raw talent, they do have much to offer.
In addition to helping illustrators hone their technical skills and be connected with a group of other like-minded people, illustration schools also provide networking opportunities.
With the proper networking, illustration can go from a hobby to a well-paying career.
When you know people involved with publishers, production houses, and studios, you’ll have a better chance of giving your work the attention it deserves.
All of the schools on this list provide those three crucial elements.
We’ve determined our rankings by aggregating other illustration school rankings.
After observing the listings posted by other outlets, provided at the end of this article, we’ve taken an average to create an overall ranking. In the case of a tie, College Gazette has determined the tiebreaker.
10. Pratt Institute School of Art (Brooklyn, NY)
Established by industrialist Charles Pratt in 1887 by industrialist Charles Pratt, the Pratt Institute has long been a leader in all things arts and engineering.
Today, the Pratt Institute School of Art is one of the most respected institutions in the world. Its faculty includes practitioners and scholars, winners of every major award and recognition.
Through the graphic design and illustration associate’s degree program, students gain the skills they need to begin a career from their art. They can either take the training directly into the job market or transfer to complete a four-year degree.
Faculty members in the program include Anthony Macbain. Himself a Pratt graduate, Mcbain has worked as a concept artist and illustrator on major video games.
9. Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
For illustrators looking to break into video games or another cutting-edge field, the Rochester Institute of Technology is a great choice.
Mixing together traditional drawing skills with the latest in digital imaging technologies, the illustration BFA at RIT puts artists at the forefront of digital visual communications.
Artists get to put their work into practice at RIT’s MAGIC (Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity) Center. A research center devoted to cross-disciplinary digital media research and production, MAGIC keeps illustrators focused on the future.
Of particular interest to illustrators is the MAGIC Center’s digital games hub. Through the hub, illustrators can design characters and manuals as part of the video game industry. They can also participate in community outreach programs, letting their art have a real impact on the area.
8. Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
The Maryland Institute College of Art is one of the oldest art schools in America.
Over its many years, MICA has trained some of the country’s greatest artists, including those who go on to win the Fulbright Award, the Jacob Javits Fellowship, and many other prizes.
MICA’s illustration major brings traditional practice into the 21st century with three concentration tracks.
For those looking to get into technical drawing and design, there’s the illustration studio. Future book illustrators can pursue the Book Arts track, while comic book artists will prefer the Sequential Art track.
No matter which track they choose, illustrators will also benefit from pursuing a master of professional studies degree in several tracks. With this advanced degree, students can become their own boss, learning about the economics of the art world, from making connections to running a gallery.
7. Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts (Syracuse, NY)
The Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts has a reputation as one of the finest art schools in the world.
It stands out from its sisters, thanks to its emphasis on the liberal arts. At Syracuse, illustrators and other artists leave the program as well-rounded people, equipped to think critically about their subjects.
To that end, the illustration degree at Syracuse makes artists familiar with various forms of media.
Approaching illustration as a form of storytelling, the degree teaches students how to find the right mode of expression for whatever situation they face. With these skills, students can go on to work in everything from advertising and newspapers to video games and animation.
Thanks to its liberal arts approach, Syracuse has sent its students off to careers in companies such as Dawson Design Associates, Array Architects, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
6. Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)
One of the best art schools in the world, the Savannah College of Art and Design offers a wide range of degrees for illustrators. Whether you’re looking for a two-year associate’s degree or a full master’s, SCAD has the means to help you take your art to the next level.
One of the more unique elements of SCAD’s illustration program is its commitment to online education. With a cadre of art teachers in their online faculty, SCAD can bring its award-winning instruction to anyone in the world.
Professor of interior design Ernest Abuin has served as a design consultant for RTKL Associates, senior designer and commercial architect at Callison-RTKL, and head of design collaboration at PIE studio.
Art history professor Lindsay Alberts holds a Ph.D. from Boston University and has published in major outlets such as Comitatus: UCLA Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Journal of the History of Collections.
5. Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, NY)
If you want the sketches of today to be the clothing of tomorrow, then the Fashion Institute of Technology is the place for you.
FIT counts among its faculty big names ranging from fashion designer Calvin Klein, interior designer Scott Salvator, and movie director Joel Schumacher.
With AAS and BFA degrees in illustration, FIT prepares students to tell entire stories with a stroke of their pen.
While these degrees will benefit those going into traditional illustration fields, such as book illustration and advertising, FIT’s program specializes in fashion illustration.
As such, the program takes advantage of the school’s unique offerings, such as the FIT Museum.
At the FIT museum, illustrators can get a glimpse of the fashion industry’s past and its future. With a collection consisting of over 50,000 garments and accessories dating back to the 18th century, illustrators can find inspiration for their designs by studying the works of the past.
4. ArtCenter College of Design (Pasadena, CA)
Founded as the Art Center School in 1930, the ArtCenter College of Design has developed a reputation for practical thinking and embracing the latest technology.
That’s particularly true of the school’s illustration program, which trains its artists to be problem-solvers, using their work to meet the needs of their audience.
Taking advantage of emerging technologies, the ArtCenter’s illustration program offers emphasis tracks in traditional subjects, such as illustration and fine arts, as well as commercial fields, such as consumer products and entertainment arts.
Furthermore, the ArtCenter offers unique courses, unlike those you’ll find anywhere else. For example, the Surface World course asks students to create window store displays for the luxury-brand Neiman Marcus. Working in groups, students learn how to incorporate surfaces and objects into their illustrations, making the most of their surroundings.
3. School of the Visual Arts (New York, NY)
At the School of Visual Arts, illustrators learn not only how to make the most of their skills and tools, but also how to interact with their audiences.
For that reason, SVA hosts regular exhibitions and events to show illustrators how their work impacts viewers.
During the Man Made Monsters exhibition, illustrators bring to life fictional and biographical texts about monsters we create.
With solid line work and vibrant colors, these works shock audiences, forcing them to rethink the relationship between good and evil.
Among the world’s top art schools, many faculty members are comprised of New York City’s most accomplished professional artists.
2. Ringling College of Art and Design (Sarasota, FL)
One of the younger schools on this list, the Ringling College of Art and Design was founded in 1931 as a branch of Southern College. But over the decades, Ringling has made a name for itself as a school that gives artists practical skills.
That focus can be seen in the two paths available for illustration majors.
For traditionalists, there is the general illustration path. Here, students learn about composition, design, and linework. They learn how to make things clear and simple for an audience and how to tell a story with a few strokes.
There’s the visual development track for those looking to enter the entertainment industry. Along these lines, students learn about art with the latest technologies. Graduates on this track go on to careers at places such as Disney and EA Games.
1. Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)
By nearly every standard, the Rhode Island School of Design is the best art school in the world, so it’s no surprise that it would top our list as well. RISD houses and trains the nation’s best artists, responsible for changing the way we look at the world.
Part of that training includes space and tools to create. The illustration department at RISD provides not only a fully-featured printmaking studio but also computer resources with the latest software, including the Adobe suite.
Furthermore, RISD provides its students with networking opportunities, thanks to networking events such as the Design Portfolio Review. During the Review, students meet with industry professionals to network and receive feedback on their work.
SOURCES FOR THE AGGREGATE RANKING
Animation Career Review: https://www.animationcareerreview.com/articles/top-40-illustration-schools-us-2020-college-rankings
The Art Career Project: https://theartcareerproject.com/schools/illustration/