The Best Illustration, Art, Design and Photography Contests For Students

Win your first art, design or photography contest. Here are the top competitions and prizes geared towards creative students all over the world.

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As a student, contests and prizes can give you an incredible head start on your professional career. But not all contests are created equal. We rounded up some of the best illustration, design and photography contests for students, with winning opportunities ranging from paid internships and commissions to high-profile exhibitions.

Many of these contests are free to enter or have low fees geared towards students on a budget. Keep reading to find out how you can gain professional recognition and cash awards through student contests for emerging creatives from all over the world, whether you’re into painting, book illustration, photography or industrial design.

Even more contests:
The Best Illustration Contests and Prizes in 2016
The Best Design Contests and Prizes in 2016
The Best Fine Art Contests and Prizes in 2016
The Best Photography Contests and Prizes in 2016



Joanne Handley, 2016 winner

International Photography Awards

Prize: Up to $10 000 in cash prizes, publication in the IPA Annual, inclusion in “Best of Show” exhibition
Entry fee: Starts at $15 per photo for students

The International Photography Awards are open to photographers from all over the world, and there are a huge number of categories you can enter, including a “Moving Image” category for film work. Students will be judged against other students and non-professional photographers. With categories ranging from architecture to advertising to fine art, any student photographer is sure to find a place to enter their work here.


Sebastian Vacariuc, 2015 winner

Sony World Photography Awards: Student Focus

Prize: Sony digital imaging equipment, a flight to London to attend the Sony World Photography Awards ceremony, €30 000 worth of Sony photography equipment for the winner’s university
Entry fee: None

This contest is open to anyone between ages 18 to 30 taking part in a full-time photography course at participating registered institutions. This year’s theme is “Memories,” so entrants must work that into their submission. This contest definitely has an international focus, with past winners from countries all over the world.


Hannah Cooper McCauley, 2015 winner

PDN Photo Annual

Prize: Cash prizes ranging from $2500 to $15 000, publication in PDN
Entry fee: $35 for students

This contest from long-running photography magazine Photo District News is open to photographers anywhere in the world, and has a category specifically for student work. The work must be created within the past year, but otherwise the categories are pretty open. Aside from the chance to snag a cash prize, publication in PDN is a big deal, and this contest is a great opportunity for students to get valuable industry exposure early in their careers.



Matthew Richards, 2011 winner

The Book Illustration Competition

Prize: A £5000 commission to illustrate an edition of Mansfield Park to be published by The Folio Society in 2017, as well as five runner-up prizes of £500
Entry fee: £15 for students

This contest by The Folio Society and House of Illustration is a unique opportunity for illustration students to illustrate a published book. The contest winner will be paid to create nine illustrations and a binding design for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Entrants can come from anywhere in the world, and must submit three complete illustrations for the book as well as a binding design. This is a contest that could really kickstart your career as a book illustrator.


Sandra Lane, 2016 winner

The Royal Watercolour Society Contemporary Watercolour Competition

Prize: £250 to £750 in cash awards, the chance to show work in the RWS Spring and Autumn Exhibitions, exposure via publication on RWS publicity material, a variety of sponsored prizes including art materials, studio time, and more
Entry fee: Up to three works for £5 for students

This competition is obviously geared towards artists working in watercolors, but the RWS says that “work made in any water-based medium on a paper support is eligible.” So, if you paint with gouache, acrylics, or ink, you can also take part in this contest, which has a special reduced entry fee for students. At such a low price for submission and so many possible prizes to be won, this is a great opportunity for illustration students working in water-based mediums.


Harriet Lynas, 2016 winner

The Macmillan Prize

Prize: Ranging from £250 to £1000
Entry fee: None

This is a great contest for UK-based student illustrators looking to get into book illustration. Entrants submit a rough draft of illustrations for a children’s book. It’s judged by contemporary children’s book illustrators, an experienced children’s bookseller, and Macmillan’s publishing director and Children’s art director.


Vicky Mills, 2013 winner

Penguin Random House Student Design Award

Prize: A four-week work placement in the Penguin Random House Design Studios and a cash prize of £1000, with second and third prizes in the amount of £500 and £250
Entry fee: None

As far as contest for emerging book designers go, this is an important one. As one of the top publishing houses in the world, Penguin is a terrific place to get exposure for your work. Design categories are: (i) the Adult Fiction Cover Award; (ii) the Adult Non-Fiction Cover Award; (iii) the Children’s Cover Award. Entrants can be students in any program anywhere in the world, but they must be eligible to work in the UK.



Frederick Kim, Katie MacDonald, Erin Pellegrino, 2016 winners

Core77 Design Awards

Prize: Core77 Design Awards trophy, publication in awards gallery
Entry fee: None

With 14 categories ranging from transportation to furniture and lighting, this design contest has something for every young designer. A student winner is selected in every category. If you’re a design student working in architecture or product design, this is a good opportunity to get some exposure and recognition for projects. Team-based entries are permitted, and entrants can apply from anywhere in the world.


Martina Doležalová, 2016 winner

International Competition of Packaging Design

Prize: €250 to €1100, one winner will also receive three weeks remunerated internship at the company Model Obaly
Entry fee: None

This yearly design competition invites students and young designers under 30 to create an innovative package design. The theme for 2017 is “Open & Play:” “Design a packaging you would like to play with. Create an interactive package box and prove that even with packaging that fully protects the product can be fun.” This is the perfect competition for product designers who like to get creative.


Gabrielle Leighton, 2016 winner

RSA Student Design Awards

Prize: Depends on the category, includes cash prizes, paid industry placements, complementary RSA Fellowship
Entry fee: £35.00

Founded in 1924, this is the longest-running student competition in the world. The contest aims to challenge emerging designers to tackle “social, environmental and economic issues through design thinking.” Students can enter as a team or individually, creating work that fits one of 12 possible design briefs. The contest is open to current full- or part-time students anywhere in the world, and to recent grads.



YCN Student Annual

YCN Student Awards

Prize: Recognition at YCN’s Annual Awards Ceremony and in their Student Awards Annual. Winners also get internship, mentoring, and other professional development opportunities.
Entry fee: None

The YCN Student Awards are based on a wide range of live creative briefs, which is a bit different from a lot of illustration contests. This is an interesting chance to challenge yourself creatively. As a lot of the briefs are marketing-oriented, it’s a good contest for illustrators who are also interested in design and advertising. The contest is open to all students anywhere and also to recent graduates.


Therese Mölk, 2016 nominee

Joseph Binder Award

Prize: Ranging from €1500 to €2500
Entry fee: Starting at €55 for one entry

This contest, named after prominent Austrian illustrator and designer Joseph Binder, is open to students and professionals in a number of illustration and design categories. It occurs every two years, and is themed around one of Binder’s ideas: the next upcoming motif is “everything is three-dimensional.”

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