Did you know? University of Colorado Denver offers a BFA in Illustration that trains students to be professional Illustrators using traditional, conceptual, and technology-based techniques. Learn More.
What are the top illustration schools in California for 2022?
|1||ArtCenter College of Design||Pasadena|
|2||California College of the Arts||Multiple|
|3||Otis College of Art and Design||Los Angeles|
|4||San Jose State University||San Jose|
|5||Laguna College of Art and Design||Laguna Beach|
|6||California State University-Fullerton||Fullerton|
|7||California State University-Long Beach||Long Beach|
|8||Academy of Art University||San Francisco|
|9||California State University-Northridge||Northridge|
|10||California State University-East Bay||Hayward|
Our 2022 ranking of the top illustration schools in California. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.
1. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
The Illustration BFA Program at ArtCenter College of Design (ArtCenter) is a unique pathway that allows students to choose from six distinct Tracks. Options include Illustration Design, Illustration/Fine Art, Motion Design, Entertainment Arts, Entertainment Arts Consumer Products, and Surface Design. A Designmatters Minor is also available, and includes many of the same courses as the Illustration Design Track.
Across Tracks, students may take courses such as Illustration Now!, Digital Illustration, Drawing for Illustration, Sketching for Illustration, Illustration Design, Illustration Strategies, Illustration Publishing, Children’s Book Illustration, Data Visualization for Illustrators, Professional Practices, and Portfolio Design Lab. All Tracks and the Designmatters Minor (when added to the Illustration BFA) are 120 credit hours.
Graduates of the Illustration BFA Program at ArtCenter College of Design may continue their studies by enrolling in the school’s Interdisciplinary MFA Program, which features a customized curriculum based on the student’s goals, individual studio spaces, and access to state-of-the art facilities, software, galleries, and project studios. ArtCenter BFA and MFA graduates have been hired at DreamWorks, Google, Disney, Apple, Mattel, and Blizzard, among others.
ArtCenter College of Design is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Established in 1930, the school sits on a 165 acre, hilltop campus within a modernist steel-and-glass structure. With additional campuses in Los Angeles, and downtown Pasadena, California, and satellite studios in Petersen Automotive Museum (Miracle Mile, Los Angeles) and Berlin, Germany, ArtCenter serves just over 2,000 students enrolled in 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs.
2. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California
California College of the Arts (CCA) has an Illustration BFA Program that features a semester-long thesis project, a Professional Practice course that teaches students how to start and run a freelance or small business, participation in the Senior Show, which attracts local and national design professionals, and courses taught by professional illustrators, fine artists, and designers. In addition, students will participate in classroom critiques (individual and group), studio projects, and lectures.
Consisting of 120 credit hours. The CCA Illustration BFA Program explores emerging animation, AR/VR, and imaging technologies, storytelling, 3D modeling, screenprinting, hand-lettering, drawing and painting. Course examples for the program include Drawing 2D, 3D, and 4D, Painting Workshop, Illustration Studios 1-3, Digital Media, and Writing 1 and 2.
Students in the Illustration BFA Program at California College of the Arts have access to industry-standard software and digital tools, as well as state-of-the-art computer labs, printing studios, workshops, and painting studios.
Graduates of the CCA Illustration BFA Program are prepared to seek careers in traditional publishing (book illustration, editorial illustration), comics, advertising, surface design, game design, technology, animation, motion design, education, exhibition design, printmaking, retail design, and many other industries.
California College of the Arts is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Established in 1907 as the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts, CCA had just three teachers and 43 students when it opened. Today, California College of the Arts employs 420 faculty members that serve just over 1,600 students enrolled in more than 40 undergraduate, graduate, minors, and dual degree options.
3. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
The Communication Arts Department at Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) has an Illustration Program with BFA and Minor pathways. BFA students who would like to enhance the program with a specialization may choose from 17 minors. Examples include Advertising Design, Book Arts, Digital Media, Printmaking, and Product Design. Other BFA Program features include participation in conventions, field trips, and student exhibitions, interactions with visiting artists, and experiential learning opportunities such as internships.
Consisting of 120 credit hours, the OTIS Illustration BFA includes courses such as Illustration Communication Studio I-IV, Advanced Illustration Applications, Typography for Illustrators, Creative Action Lecture, Drawing + Painting I-III, Alternative Materials and Procedures for Illustrators, Practicum I-III, and Professional Practice. In the final year of the program, students will complete five upper division studio electives, Senior Entrepreneur 101, Senior Thesis/Research Paper, Senior Project/Seminar, and the Capstone course.
Graduates of the Illustration BFA Program at OTIS have been hired by Nike, Disney, Apple, LA Weekly, Davis Elen Advertising, College of the Canyons, Hurley International, Chronicle Books, Disney Consumer Products, Conde Nast Publications, Hallmark, Interscope Records, Mattel, Target, Ogilvy Worldwide, Sony Music, Twentieth Century Fox, WB Network, Von Dutch, Quicksilver, Sony Music, Young & Rubicam, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and GUESS?, among others.
Otis College of Art and Design is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The school is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). Founded in 1918, Otis College of Art and Design is Los Angeles’ oldest professional school of the arts. Serving more than 1,200 students, the school offers 11 BFA degree programs and MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing. A variety of minors and certificate programs are also available. Programs and courses at OTIS are led by more than 430 professors—all active professionals in their respective fields.
4. San Jose State University, San Jose, California
The Animation/Illustration Program at San Jose State University (SJSU) is housed in the Department of Design, which maintains close relationships with industry leaders such as Disney, Sony Pictures Animation, Blizzard Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), DreamWorks, Bento Box Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Hallmark, Pixar, and Warner Bros. Animation, among others. The Program routinely hosts guest speakers from these and other studios, as well as workshops, seminars, and internships.
Specific degrees for Illustrators include the BFA in Animation/Illustration (A/I) and the BA in Design Studies, Specializing in A/I. The BFA is a professional degree that explores both traditional and 3D animation, visual development, storyboarding, physics of motion, character design, and modeling. Upper division courses allow students to specialize in an area of interest and participation in the Professional Internship Program is highly recommended, but not required. The A/I BFA culminates with the Capstone Seminar and Project.
Graduates of this program are prepared for careers in areas such as feature film animation, television, game design, and any other industry that utilizes animation and illustration.
The SJSU Design BA with a Specialization in A/I is a Liberal Arts degree that combines foundation studies with design, film, theater arts, and photography. Students in this program will have opportunities to work on projects in multidisciplinary teams, they will develop skills in animation, visual development, storyboarding, and modeling, and create short films. Graduates are prepared for entry-level positions in the entertainment industry or for direct entry into the SJSU A/I BFA Program.
Graduates of the Illustration Programs at San Jose State University have been hired at more than 135 animation, film and game design studios. They have worked on films such as Shrek, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, and taught at major colleges and universities. SJSU Illustration alumni can be found at Lucasfilm Animation, University of Silicon Valley (USV), Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, NBCUniversal Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Cartoon Network, 20th Century Fox, Animation Mentor - The Online Animation School, Disney Animation, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Zynga, and Sony/Columbia.
San Jose State University is accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Established in 1857 as Minns' Evening Normal School in San Francisco, SJSU is the oldest public institution of higher education in the Western United States. Serving around 36,000 students and located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose State University is also one of the largest schools in the California State University System. SJSU provides bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in 250 areas of study. Programs at San Jose State University are housed in nine colleges comprising dozens of departments and schools.
5. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach College of Art and Design (LCAD) has several pathways that combine illustration with graphic design, digital media, drawing, and painting. Options include the BFA in Graphic Design + Digital Media (GD+DM) and the BFA in Drawing + Painting. An Illustration Minor consisting of 18 credit hours of study is also available.
All programs feature small class sizes, courses taught by industry professionals, mentorship programs, internship opportunities, guest speakers, and hands-on design projects with LCAD partners such as Sony, Nike, and UCI.
The LCAD BFA in Graphic Design + Digital Media (GD+DM) is a multidisciplinary program that explores traditional and emerging areas such as 3D, iPad development, package design, advertising, print, video, photography, motion, user experience and interfaces, action sport design, mobile apps, the web, virtual reality applications, social media, and motion.
This 122 credit hour program has an Illustration emphasis that allows students to choose electives that match their goals. Examples include Pictorial Design for Illustration, Rendering, 3D Design (ZBRUSH), Animal Drawing, Color Illustration, Words, Images & Ideas, Figure Drawing, and Painting. Examples of required courses and studios include User Interface Design, 3D-1: Animation for Motion Graphics, Brand Strategy, Motion Graphics + Visual Effects, Typography, Computer Imaging, Digital Photography, Graphic Design, Fundamentals of 3D, Communication Design, Digital Videography, and Exhibition Design.
Students in the GD+DM BFA Program will have the opportunity to complete an internship and a professional portfolio before graduating. The program culminates with the Senior Capstone and Thesis Defense.
Nearly 100% of recent graduates of the Graphic Design + Digital Media Program work in their chosen field, with most securing employment through LCAD prior to graduation. Program alumni work at some of the world’s top companies and studios. Examples include Adobe, Coca-Cola, Sony Pictures, Saatchi & Saatchi, Red Bull, Lexus, Fox Entertainment, Warner Bros., Vans, Disney Interactive, IKEA, Nike, Razorfish, Pixar, Amazon, Capitol Records, Hurley, Sony Music, Meta, Live Nation, R/GA, Taco Bell, AT&T Entertainment Services, and Maserati.
The Laguna College of Art and Design Drawing + Painting BFA provides the unique opportunity to participate in a Spring Professional Mentorship where students have a chance to work with a professional mentor in the areas of museum administration, art conservation, or gallery exhibition. Students also have the option to work one-on-one with an independent artist advisor. Through the LCAD Career Services Office and Internship Coordinator, students will also have the opportunity to Students apply for an internship in their junior year.
The Drawing + Painting BFA has an Illustration Emphasis that explores traditional and mixed media art. Students will work on projects that focus on branding, exhibition design, murals, print, and more. In the Professional Practices course, students will learn about gallery operations, publications, and artist branding. In the senior year of the program, students will have access to their own private studio space, where they will benefit from individual mentoring, and interactions with peers and guest artists.
Course examples for the program include Illustration 1, Fundamentals of Illustration, Pictorial Design for Illustration, History of Illustration, Artistic Anatomy, Fundamentals of Digital Painting, Pop-Surrealism, Experimental Drawing, Mural Painting, and Exhibition Design. The LCAD Drawing + Painting BFA Program culminates with the Senior Portfolio + Senior Capstone and Thesis Defense.
Graduates have been represented at galleries or worked with partners such as Art Miami, LA Art Show, MEAM Museum, Salmagundi Club, Art Renewal Center, Laguna Art Museum, Poets + Artists, Portrait Society of America, Sue Greenwood Fone Art, Gallery 1261, Arcadia Contemporary, LPAPA, and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, among others.
Laguna College of Art and Design is regionally and nationally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Founded in 1961 as Laguna Beach School of Art (LBSA), LCAD has a main campus in Laguna Beach, California, with educational affiliates such as the Florence Academy of Arts in Florence, Italy, the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, and NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences (NHTV), Netherlands.
Laguna College of Art and Design serves nearly 750 students enrolled in dozens of bachelor’s, master’s, and minor programs.
6. California State University-Fullerton, Fullerton, California
The College of the Arts at California State University Fullerton (Cal State Fullerton, CSU Fullerton or CSUF) houses the Department of Visual Arts—home to the Illustration Program. Degree options include a BFA, MA, and MFA in Art with a Concentration in Illustration. All programs feature internship opportunities, workshops and seminars, study abroad experiences, visiting artists, and access to state-of-the-art production studios, labs, and equipment.
Across programs, students will take courses such as 2D and 3D Design, Writing in the Visual Arts, Special Studies in Illustration, Cartooning and Caricature, Elements of Sequential Art, Digital Narrative Illustration, Graphic Design, 3D Computer Animation, Art History, and Independent Study.
The BFA program culminates with the BFA Capstone Project, which may include works in animation, games, VR, visual effects, exhibitions, and others. The MA Program requires a Project and Thesis (P/T) to graduate. The MA P/T consists of the development and presentation of a creative project in the concentration beyond regularly offered coursework. The MFA program culminates with a one person art exhibit (MFA Project Exhibition).
Graduates of the Art Programs at Cal State Fullerton have worked with or been hired by major companies and studios such as Cartoon Network, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, Lucasfilm Ltd. and The Walt Disney Company, among others.
California State University, Fullerton is Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Founded in 1957, Cal State Fullerton is part of the 23 campus California State University (CSU) System. The school serves more than 41,000 students enrolled in more than 110 degree programs across eight academic colleges.
7. California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, California
The College of the Arts at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) houses the School of Art (SoA), which has several pathways for illustrators. Options include a BFA in Art with an Illustration or Animation Track and an MFA in Studio with an Animation/Illustration Track. In partnership with the Department of Biological Sciences, an interdisciplinary Certificate in Biomedical Illustration is also available.
A major component of the Art BFA students is the option to take courses in both the Animation and Illustration Tracks and work with peers across tracks in the digital lab. Other program features include workshops led by faculty and visiting artists, courses taught by industry professionals, internships at local and national studios, and study abroad opportunities.
The SoA Studio MFA is an interdisciplinary program that requires 60 units of study, including 21 units of graduate coursework in the SoA and 39 approved units in the Animation/Illustration Track. All MFA students will participate in the Final MFA Exhibition.
The Biomedical Illustration Certificate is a 30 unit program that can be added to an undergraduate degree program or taken post-graduation. Course examples for the program include Production for Fine Art, Foundation Computer Art, Illustration 2, Special Studies Illustration, Anatomy for Artists, Computer Animation 1, Biomedical Illustration, Foundation Computer Art, and Biomedical Rendering.
Graduates of the Art BFA and Studio MFA Programs at California State University, Long Beach are prepared for positions in film and entertainment (animation, live action film, gaming), advertising, educational illustration, print publications (newspapers, magazines, books, graphic novels), textiles, biomedical illustration, visual journalism, storyboarding for film, television, animation, advertising, and games, editorial art, and gallery exhibition.
California State University, Long Beach is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Established in 1949, CSULB is one of the 23 campuses of the California State University System. The school serves nearly 39,300 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across eight colleges.
8. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University (Academy of Art) houses the School of Illustration, which has programs leading to a Certificate, AA, BFA, MA or MFA. Degree programs can be completed entirely online, and the Illustration Certificate is offered onsite. Students in all programs have access to drawing rooms, a live model drawing studio, drawing workshops, and computer labs equipped with digital workstations, new media technology, and software.
Other School of Illustration features include the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy, illustration internships, guest speakers, and opportunities to collaborate in the classroom with faculty and peers, and outside of the classroom with professional designers and artists. All School of Illustration students also have the opportunity to work with WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS, which produces illustrated, textless books designed to help kid’s self-author their own books.
Across programs, students will take courses such as Digital Media: Illustrative Imaging, Perspective, Clothed Figure Drawing, Writing for Picture Books, Perspective for Characters & Environment, Visual Development, Vector illustration & Motion, Children’s Book Illustration, Situation & Environment, Editorial illustration, 150 Years of American Illustration, Concept, Technique and Illustration, Graphic Novel/Comic Book, The Rendered Figure, Writing the Short Story, Digital Painting, History of Comics: American Comics, and Graduate Seminar in Europe.
The Academy of Art Illustration Program also features coursework that helps students prepare to market their work or launch their own studios or freelance businesses. Examples include Surface Design and Licensing, Professional Practices for Illustrators, Advanced Art Licensing & Portfolio Building, Portfolio Preparation and Self Promotion, Designing Careers, Blogging: Content Creation & Promotion, and Collaborative Project: The Agency.
Graduates of the Illustration Programs at Academy of Art University have been hired at Marvel Comics, Penguin Publishing Group, The Atlantic, Chronicle Books, Wired, National Geographic, and The New York Times, among others.
Academy of Art University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). This family-owned university serves more than 7,000 students, making it one of the nation’s largest private art and design schools. Divided into 22 schools, Academy of Art University offers more than 129 degree programs in 40+ areas of study. Programs lead to the AA, BA, BFA, BS, B. Arch, MAT, MA, MFA and M. Arch degrees.
9. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California
The Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication at California State University-Northridge (CSUN or CSU Northridge) houses the Department of Art, which has an Art BA Program, and MA and MFA options in Visual Arts. All programs offer an optional Concentration in Illustration. Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), the CSUN Department of Art features opportunities for overseas studies, internships, club events and guest speakers, portfolio reviews, exhibitions, and the opportunity to join the CSUN Illustration Society and other CSUN organizations.
The CSUN Art BA combines liberal arts studies with art and design coursework. Students will take courses such as Drawing I, World Arts: Asia, Illustration Materials and Techniques, Beginning Two-Dimensional Design, Illustration I-III, Beginning Three-Dimensional Design, Digital Illustration, History of Contemporary Art, Core Art Studio, and Senior Projects and Lab.
The CSU Northridge Visual Arts MA is a 30 unit program that can be completed in one, one-and-a-half, or two years depending on the student’s course load. Course examples for the program include Art Analysis and Criticism, Studio Problems: Illustration, History and Philosophy of Art, and Advanced Studio Problems: Illustration. The Visual Arts MA Program culminates with the Graduate Project, which consists of the Spring Group Exhibition and/or Performance of the students work.
The CSUN Visual Arts MFA is a terminal degree. This means, it is the highest degree awarded in the field. Consisting of 60 units of study, the program can be completed in two or three years depending on the student’s course load. All students will have access to a private, on-campus studio and residence status. Course examples for the program include MFA Seminar, Studio Problems or Advanced Studio Problems in Illustration, Video/Digital Art, Drawing, or Graphic Design, Art Analysis and Criticism, and Graduate Directed Research.
Students in the CSUN Visual Arts MFA Program have the opportunity to develop skills in other disciplines through electives outside the Concentration area. The MFA program culminates with the Graduate Project.
Graduates of the Art and Visual Arts Programs at California State University Northridge are prepared to pursue careers in all areas of Art and Design, including Illustration.
California State University Northridge is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Founded in 1958 and serving more than 38,800 students, CSU Northridge is one of the largest universities in the U.S. and one of the youngest in the 23 campus California State University System. This liberal arts school comprises eight academic colleges, The Tseng College, and the University Library. Programs include bachelor’s degrees in 65 disciplines, master’s degrees in 74 fields, three doctorates, and 17 teaching credential programs.
10. California State University-East Bay, Hayward, California
California State University, East Bay (Cal State East Bay or CSEUB) houses the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, home the School of Arts & Media. Within the Arts & Media School is the Department of Art, which houses the Art BFA Program. Program features include an Illustration Concentration, small classes taught by industry professionals, dedicated work spaces, three fully equipped Painting and Drawing studios, a Printmaking facility, access to student art galleries for solo or group exhibitions, and field trips to galleries, museums, and artists’ studios.
Consisting of 127 units of study, the Cal State East Bay BFA Program requires 70 units in the Art Major and 30 in the Illustration Core. All students, regardless of concentration, will complete lower and upper division foundation courses such as Fundamentals of Drawing, 2D, 3D and 4D Processes, Contemporary Visual Studies I-II, and Photography. Examples of Illustration Core courses include Introduction to Illustration, Narrative Illustration, Advanced Illustration, Figure Drawing I-II, Illustration Dynamic Forms, and Color and Concept.
BFA students will have the opportunity to develop additional skills in a number of areas through electives. Examples include Bookmaking, Photography, Animation, Graphic Arts, Motion Graphics, Typography, and Design for Production.
Graduates of the Art/Illustration BFA Program at California State University, East Bay go on to pursue positions such as Book Illustrator, Educational Illustrator, Advertising Illustrator, Character Designer, Editorial Illustrator, Storyboard Artist, Environmental Artist, Comic Book Artist, Muralist, Creative Director, Studio Artist, Forensic Artist, Fashion Illustrator, and Game Artist, among others.
California State University, East Bay is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The school, which has campuses in Hayward, Concord, and Oakland, California, has been serving the Bay Area as part of the California State University System for more than 60 years. Cal State East Bay has a population of close to 14,000 students enrolled in more than 150 degree, minor and certificate programs in the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Business and Economics; Science; and Education and Allied Studies.