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© Ugur Akinci
As I mentioned several times in the past, if you are a technical communicator who enjoys graphic arts, you are missing something in your career if you have not developed your technical illustration skills. Our industry is very ripe for those writers who can also draw and create all kinds of technical illustrations.
I had the opportunity to revisit the issue when I received the below inquiry form a reader:
“I wanted to ask you about the Technical Illustrator jobs. Is this an exclusive job title or something with writing rolled in it? Does it enhance the prospects of a technical writer? And finally how does one develop the capabilities of a Technical Illustrator?”
Below is my answer. I’m sharing it with you all since I sincerely believe that in this economic environment we all need every market advantage to survive the storm. If you’re capable of creating technical illustrations, that’s definitely a competitive advantage out there.
“I’d definitely recommend you develop your tech drawing skills,” I wrote to this hard-working reader who really wants to excel in his career, “since it creates new opportunities and enhances your utility to your employer or clients.
Probably the best way to begin doing that is to download a powerful but free VECTOR drawing program (PIXEL or RASTER graphic programs like Photoshop or GIMP won’t do) like Inkscape and start learning the A-B-Cs of vector drawing, like, how to draw Bezier curves by using the PEN tool.
Also, you definitely MUST learn how to use the LAYERS. It should be a second nature to you to use layers effectively when creating an illustration.
It takes a while to get the hang of vector drawing but there are many good tutorials on the Internet (including some on this very web site). If you have access to Adobe Illustrator so much the better since it’s an industry-accepted and recognized vector drawing program with too many features to count here.
Once you build confidence in your drawing abilities, like tracing a photograph by making use of layers and producing a line drawing of the hardware in the photo, then you can promote yourself as a “technical illustrator” and let anybody know that you would be pleased to handle any small drawing jobs that they may need, including perhaps packaging and equipment labels, maps, icons, logos, and simple graphic projects like that. If you deliver a couple of assignments pretty well, soon you’ll start getting more assignments since there is always a need for tech illustrations.
And of course the best but also the most expensive way to develop your skills as a tech illustrator is to go to a graphic arts school and get a degree in tech illustration. But I think 99% of the technical writers would not have the time and money to do that. So self-education is still the best alternative, just like I did it in my own career.
Lastly, “Technical Illustrator” can be an exclusive job title. There are many technical illustrators who are just graphic artists. They don’t do any writing at all. Yet there are also tech writers like me who do both. It just depends on what the need is in your company and how well you can develop and market your own drawing skills. But if you enjoy graphic arts, that’s something you can definitely try since it can only enhance your profile as a well-rounded technical communicator.”
I wish good luck to all those technical writers who would like to add another tool to their tool set and enhance their competitive advantage in the market place by learning how to create technical illustrations.
NOTE: In my personal opinion, the BEST professional technical illustration software that was designed exclusively for technical illustrations is Corel DESIGNER Technical Suite X4. (It’s not cheap and its learning curve is steep but it’s very good. I wish I had one.)
Are you a technical illustrator who would like share your ideas about how a technical writer can learn to draw illustrations? Or do you have any questions regarding this issue? What else would you like to know? Please let me know. I’m here to help you. Thanks.