Monday, August 13, 2018

Basics To Making Better Digital Prints

Whether you illustrate using traditional media or digital media, high quality accurate or pleasing digitally output prints of the utmost importance. Output has continued to be a challenge for illustrators since the very outset of digitally created or digitally processed imagery with the number of variables that can occur in the imaging process causing the difficulty. However, there are several methods and techniques that can be applied to digital working methods to improve digital print quality and accuracy.

© 2015 Don Arday.

Multi-User Open Environments VS Single User Closed Environments

The easiest situation to deal with is that of a closed (single-user) environment. In a closed environment all variables can be systematically eliminated. When identical conditions are applied to both the creation of illustrations, and the way they are output, in other words under ideal circumstances. An example of this would be an illustrator who creates their own art and outputs prints she or he wish to sell by using the same equipment in the same environment and the same paper stock.

Unfortunately, many of us have to produce prints in an open (multi-user) environment that contains many variables. The variables not only occur at the output stage but also on the front end or input stage. This is especially true for students that use community computer lab facilities. These labs may present a variety of working conditions, as well as operator created variables. These might include someone changing the monitor’s brightness or even color preferences.

Regarding back end output, the truth is, most freelance illustrators produce work for a number of clients, and each one uses a different output system. There may even be times where an illustrator may be unaware of output preparations or even who will be printing their illustration.

Ways To Improve Image Output


Most output professionals would agree that monitor calibration is the most effective way to optimize print output. There are two categories of calibration that can be used. One involves the exclusive use of a software program while the other requires the use of a hardware device in combination with software. Although software calibration can improve the relationship of input to output color in some situations it is not as effective as a hardware colorimeter or color spectrophotometer. A colorimeter is used to calibrate a monitor’s brightness, contrast, and color temperature while a spectrophotometer is used to calibrate reflective light from prints. Using a colorimeter will greatly increase the potential for all forms of color print or display output to be accurate. There are a number of good commercially available colorimeters.

Color Management

Color management is a method of controlling the color characteristics for every device in the imaging chain. All devises rely on color management in the form of a color profile to control their color space. The color space on an input device requires a translator or converter to impart its color characteristics to an output device, which has a separate set of color characteristics. Users by default can allow the input software to manage color or alternate parameters can be chosen. Although occurring behind the scenes color management is something illustrators should be aware of. Alternative color monitor settings can be selected in Adobe software under Edit > Color Settings.

Print Profiles

A digital profile is a descriptive index that is used to define of properties and limitations of a color space. A profile registry is a set of finite values that create meaning for digital display media or physical output media. Profiles exist for hardware devices, within software programs, and for physically displayed media. The best visual results and intended color consistency is achieved by using profiles that were created for their respective destination environments. Imbedding the correct print profile in an image file can greatly improve print quality. Profiles can be selected in Adobe software under Edit > Assign Profile.

Monitor Brightness

Users, to suit their own personal preferences in a multiuser environment, frequently alter monitor brightness. Although a simple adjustment, this alteration can have a significant impact on color accuracy. An overly bright monitor will result in darker print output while a darkened monitor will result in lighter prints. It is always advisable to check the status of the monitor when working in a non-calibrated multi-user environment. Florescent, incandescent, and LED lighted environments can also perceptually alter the appearance of hues.

Color Sampling

When dealing with darker tones in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other like programs it is advisable to sample the colors to see what there CMYK or RGB color percentages are, especially when painting or blending colors. Sampling dark colors can inform an artist about how much black is contained in a color, how saturated it may be, or whether it is warm or cool toned. This can indicate if there will be any gain or over saturation that will occur when printing. Even subtle warm and cool colors can be hard to judge. This may sometimes appear to cause a shift when printing, but it may actually be a misperception of a color’s content to begin with. The link below is to a perceptual color test provided by X-Rite. The online color challenge, based on the Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue Test.

Work Environment

It’s time to think outside of the box. All the conditions referred to above occur inside hardware devices, but there is one factor that influences color perception that does not--the users environment. The amount of light in the workstation environment, whether it varies, and the quality of the light will all influence the colors used in an illustration. Both natural and artificial light varies in amount and in color temperatureColor temperatures over 5,000 Kelvin are cooler in color--bluish white, while lower color temperatures, 2,700–3,000 Kelvin are called warm colors--yellowish white through red. Color temperature and brightness can alter an illustrator’s use of a particular color scheme. Working in an environment with a stable lighting situation can improve output results. Professional colorimeters include ambient light testing.


Many professional printers and color separators distinguish the difference between 'accurate' color reproduction and 'pleasing' color output. Absolute 'accurate' color is very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain due to the change from the environment of a backlit display to that of a reflective print. Due to this, 'pleasing' color takes precedent, which means that the quality of color output in reality comes down to a judgement call. In other words, what is most pleasing to the creator.


All or any of the above suggestions can greatly enhance color display and output quality and accuracy. Even in difficult to control multi-user open environments certain color management procedures can be applied to improve the color environment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Figuring The Income From An Illustration Business

The income stream of an illustration business is the amount of money received for work produced. However this does not necessarily translate into personal income. Personal income is based on the profit the business will generate.
© 2013 Don Arday.
Profit (or loss) is based on the juxtaposition of the operating expenses of the business to the income the business generates through the work it provides. Put in the simplest terms, if a business has $20,000 per year in operating costs, and the income earned from illustration commissions adds up to $30,000, then the business has made $10,000 in profit. The personal income generated by the business is whatever profit is achieved, in this case $10,000. This may or may not be what is required or desired by the owner, especially if a thorough financial model was lacking at the outset of doing business.

Studio Operating Expenses

The operating expenses model below has been provided to serve as a practical example of typical operating expenses for an illustration studio. In this case, the model is based upon an in-home studio, so certain expenses, such as rent, utilities, and liability insurance, are shared expenses with the household, and are prorated accordingly.

For a complete definition of each of the expense categories refer to The Informed Illustrator article at:

Studio Operating Expenses Model

Expense Category
Cost Basis/Monthly or %
Yearly Amount

Office/Studio Rent
$350/25% of $1400 Mortgage
$65/25% of  $260 Home Utility
$40/50% business usage
$30/100% usage
Business Supplies
Resale Supplies
2000 miles/54.5 cents per mile
Professional Services
Health Insurance
Liability Insurance
$21.25/25% of  $85 Home Ins.

Total Amount

Note 1: The transportation cost figure is based on the 2018 Internal Revenue Service Mileage Reimbursement calculation. The health insurance cost figure is based on data provided by E Health Insurance. The liability insurance figure is based on average homeowners insurance rates provided by Home Insurance Co.
Note 2: This operating expense model does not take associated expenses into consideration such as student loans.

Determining Income

Using the cost figures from the above model the first and easiest thing will be to figure what the studio owner/illustrator must do to break even. This is also known as the cost of doing business (CODB). The illustrator must receive at least $17,542 to equal the CODB. Now this is where it gets interesting. The illustrator can complete 17 + $1000 editorial commissions, or 7+ varied market illustration commissions of $2500, or any combination of streams of illustration income. In terns of hourly effort, at a rate of $30 per hour, the illustrator must work 585+ billable hours to reach the $17,542. Now this may appear to be quite frightening, but it only equates to working 12+ hours a week for 48 weeks, leaving 4 weeks for vacation.

Now lets say that the illustrator/studio owner wants a salary/profit of $40,000 at $30 per hour, which includes the $17,542 in operating expenses. That would require them to work a 40-hour work week for 48 weeks. So, if they could guarantee a steady flow of work, they could achieve their salary goal. This example could be an acceptable income for a young illustrator.

With that said, there are many illustrators that run their business with operating expenses between $20,000 and $30,000. Most use a fixed price structure for their commissions, rather than one that is hourly based. However, by using an hourly rate basis to calculate earnings, rather than a fixed price one, an illustrator can tell how many hours per week are needed for them to meet their goal. Just for the sake of expanding upon the above examples, here are some other financial projections based on a variety of possibilities and situations.

Income Projection Table

Income Basis/Variable
Business Costs
Yearly Earnings

Minus Costs
Hourly Basis

$40 hourly rate/35 hour week/48 weeks
$40 hourly rate/40 hour week/48 weeks
$50 hourly rate/35 hour week/48 weeks
$50 hourly rate/40 hour week/48 weeks
$40 hourly rate/40 hour week/48 weeks
$40 hourly rate/35 hour week/48 weeks
Fixed Job Price Basis

3 commissions per month/$1500 average
4 commissions per month/$1200 average
4 commissions per month/$1500 average
4 commissions per month/$2000 average
6 commissions per month/$750 average
4 commissions per month/$500 average
Disclaimer: The above table is for the purposes of illustrating income potential. It represents a very limited number of possibilities. Depending on the nature of an illustration business, some of the income examples will be more pertinent, while others will not.

Income Tax

Now enters the IRS. A hard pill to swallow, and something no one accept accountants like to think about, taxes should be considered when taking a comprehensive look at income. Taxes are paid based on net income, i.e., the income that is left after operating expenses is accounted for. For the sake of again providing a simple example, if $30,000 was earned, and $20,000 went to expenses, this would leave $10,000 in profit. The $30,000 is the “gross” income, and the $10,000 is the net income. So for a single filing self-employed person, taxes would be paid based on the net income as follows: $10,000 @15% income tax and $10,000 @ 12.4% social security tax. In real dollars this would translate to true after tax income of $7260.

Income Tax Rates

Single Filing Status 2018 Rates
10% on taxable income from $0 to $9,525
12% on taxable income over $9,525 to $38,700
22% on taxable income over $38,700 to $82,500
24% on taxable income over $82,500 to $157,500
32% on taxable income over $157,500to $200,000
35% on taxable income over $200,000 to $500,000
37% on taxable income over $500,000.

Married Filing Jointly Status 2018 Rates
10% on taxable income from $0 to $19,050, plus
12% on taxable income over $19,050 to $77,400
22% on taxable income over $77,400 to $165,000
24% on taxable income over $165,000 to $315,000
32% on taxable income over $315,000 to $400,000
35% on taxable income over $400,000 to $600,000
337% on taxable income over $600,000

Social Security Tax Rates

Self-Employed Persons 
12.4% of net self-employment income, up to $128,700.
The Social Security tax rate had been temporarily reduced for the years 2011 and 2012, in what was referred to as a payroll tax holiday. For these two years, the self-employed persons also received the same reduction from 12.4% to 10.4%.

Employed Persons
6.2% of wage earnings, employees portion, up to the maximum wage base of $113,700. The employer then matches the 6.2% employee contribution of wage earnings, up to the maximum wage base of $113,700. This equates to a 12.4% total Social Security contribution.