Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Things to Consider When Accepting An Illustration Commission

As illustrators, each one of us, over a period of time, is confronted with offers to produce an assortment of different types of work. Along with the work, these offers come with a wide variation of conditions and circumstances. When a new commission comes along we are usually “in the moment” so to speak, focused on the specific task at hand required by the job offer. We rarely take time to step back and consider the commission with regard to any career goals we may have established. Surprisingly, most illustrators I have talked to haven’t even considered any practical career goals, or a future direction for their illustration business. In fact, many illustrators don’t consider being an illustrator to being in business. This is perhaps due to the art school mentality that an artistic, creative pursuit should not be commercialized. Or it may be the fact that illustrator’s generally work alone, i.e., not in “company” with other illustrators.

Why Illustrators Accept Commissions

The first, foremost, and most obvious reason is to make a living. However, making a living represents the lowest level of reasoning when it comes to taking on a job, and that applies whether it is accepting an illustration commission, or accepting a job in some other field such as car wash attendant. I think all of us would agree that there must be a higher form of reasoning when it comes to accepting work, even if acceptance of a commission occurs in more of an intuitive manner rather than for a specialized motive or part of an overall plan. We accept commissions because they feel right at the time. We have a feeling that might come from a familiarity and a comfort level with the job.

Why Illustrators Should Seek Commissions

Accepting a commission because there is familiarity or comfort level with either the type of work, the client, timeframe, etc. is certainly a valid reason to do so. After all, if we don’t have any kind of intuition about what it is we do, then we are probably doing the wrong thing, and intuition is one of the necessary aspects to accepting the right kinds of commissions.

Intuition plays an important part in how we live our lives. Everyday there are things that we choose to do and things we choose not to do. There are things we want to do and things we do not want to do. Illustration commissions can be considered in the same manner. For a day-to-day approach to business, choices made solely on intuition will be sufficient, but for a goal-oriented approach, some form of forethought or future planning is needed. To organize this, many illustrators create a set of goals and a strategic plan to reach them. Having taken some time to think about the future and outline those thoughts an illustrator is now prepared to make better choices about commissions.


Below is a shopping list of considerations divided into three main categories. Depending on the direction of a business strategy, some may apply and some may not. Some may seem to be positive while others appear to be negative. A single item may trump the decision to accept a commission, even though several other considerations may be in favor of it.

The following main categories represent the three, what have now become universal reasons, to accept a commission: 1) For money (value); 2) For creativity (purpose); 3) For recognition (acknowledgement).

© 2013 Don Arday.
Value refers not only monetary compensation, but to all the financial benefits that can result from a commission.

 Does it pay well?
 Will it pay quickly?
 Will it be time or material efficient?
 Is it a repeating gig?
 Will it involve derivative alterations?
 Does it have resale potential?
 Does it include media licensing?
 Do you retain the original?
 Will you retain copyright ownership?
 Does it require an elaborate contractual agreement?
 Does it require a non-compete clause?
 Is it “work made for hire”?

© 2013 Don Arday.
Purpose delineates the desirability of a commission from an internal standpoint, the personal artistic and creative benefits it offers.

 Do you look forward to doing it?
 Will you enjoy doing it?
 Is it a good fit for you?
 Is it a creative or technical challenge?
 Will it be your concept?
 Will you be able to creatively contribute to someone else’s concept?
 Will you have freedom with the visual content?
 Will it expand your repertoire of subjects?
 Is it something new for you?
 Is it for a worthy cause?

© Don Arday.
Acknowledgement refers to the external benefits the commission has the potential to produce, such as increased--exposure to work, marketability, and reputation.

 Is it for a new client?
 Is the client prestigious?
 Will you receive a byline credit?
 Can the client be used to attract other clients?
 Will you, or the illustration, be promoted by the client?
 Will it result in wide-range exposure?
 Will it extend your marketability?
 Is it international?
 Will it be in use for an extended period of time?
 Can you use it for self-promotion?
 Will it be worthy of juried shows and competitions?

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

So, as you can see, there are many individual reasons to accept an illustration commission, and if you have a strategic plan, you will be able to place more emphasis on some than on others. Compensation, although a necessary evil, may not be the most satisfying reason to accept a job. You might believe the creative opportunity, or the acknowledgement for the assignment, to be far more rewarding.

I’ve always considered any commission that qualified for a benefit in all three major categories to be an assignment, not only worth accepting, but also worth seeking...but two out of three ain’t bad. And whenever I accepted work that offered two areas of rewards, it nearly always worked out well.


Work that only had an advantage in one area always resulted in some form of sacrifice. If money was the reward, then timeframe and acknowledgement were forfeited, and stress ensued. If it was creativity alone, as is the case with many so called “freebies”, then earnings were lost and recognition failed. If a commission was accepted for the recognition only, compensation, timeframe, and creative freedom were lost. And, recognition can take a while, and be a promise unfulfilled.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Trim, Bleed, & Live Area Dimensions For Printing

Print advertising and publication dimensions are important for preparing and formatting an illustration for delivery to a client or printer.  All periodicals and many independent publications rely on a system using three measurements or guidelines for the preparation of artwork. These guidelines are called the “trim”, “bleed”, and “live area” dimensions. Publishers supply these specifications to illustrators and designers for the preparation of artwork. Any variance or a failure to comply with the dimensions provided can result in a rejection of a piece of artwork by a publisher.

© 2013 Don Arday.


Trim Area

Somewhat self-explanatory, trim is the term that is used to describe the absolute horizontal and vertical area dimensions of a publication. Most publications are printed on paper that is larger than the page dimensions to allow for processing, handling, and binding as well as image demands. In the finishing process, guillotine knives trim bound or individual printed sheets to their proper final size, which is the trim size.

Every print publication has trim dimensions. The final compositional appearance of an illustration, whether it will bleed or not, should be based on the proportion of the trim dimension.

Bleed Area

When imagery or design elements are produced with the intention of extending beyond any edge of a page of a publication this known as a bleed. In other words bleed is used when it is it is necessary for the image or a portion of it to extend beyond the trim edges. Bleed area dimensions are provided by publishers to ensure the image will be placed on a page for proper reproduction, and to provide a margin of safety for variations of movement as the paper passes through a printing press.

Not all publications use bleeds. If a publication does not permit bleeds then there is no need to prepare artwork with a bleed dimension. Newspapers would be one example of this. The normal allowance for bleed is 1/8" beyond all sides, although on posters and large publications it can be wider.

Live Area

With the extreme accuracy of today’s printing presses, there is some debate as to whether live area in a publication is still necessary. The live area is an area within a page that is designated a safe area for all content. In print ads, the live area it typically 3/8” inside the trim, or in some cases it can be as wide as 1/2”. Imagery and content meant to bleed will extend beyond both the live area and the trim.

In other forms of print publications, such as magazines, the live area is actually a margin established for layout purposes. In magazines for instance, the edges of the live area would indicate the furthest extent that text could occur at the top, sides, and bottom of all pages. The publication designer establishes a live area margin in the initial layout stages of a new publication design.

Slug Area

The slug area is every part of a press sheet that will be cut off of the final print. This includes any bleeding image content; all crop, fold, and registration marks; and any color bars.

© 2013 Don Arday.


Crop Marks

Crop marks indicate where the page is to be trimmed. They are short, thin, solid, horizontal and vertical lines, placed outside of the trim area at each corner of a page that provide a cutting guide for the finishing process. Crop marks are provided by who ever prepares the document for print, be it an, illustrator, art director, designer, or production artist.

Fold Marks

Fold marks indicate where the paper is to be folded if needed. These marks are short dash or dotted horizontal or vertical lines, placed outside of the trim area along the edge of a page to indicate where a desired fold is to occur. Fold marks are provided by who ever will prepare the document for print.

Center Marks

Center marks are included to indicate the horizontal and vertical center of the printed page. These marks are used in the post-printing process to help align pages to finishing machines, etc.

Registration Marks

A printer uses registration marks to align the separate colors of ink when printing a page with more than one color,  Since each color of ink used in printing is applied with a separate set of rollers to a separate printing plate, registration marks are crucial for accurate alignment. There are many different kinds of registration marks used by printers, each with its own purpose to aid in printing a variety of different types of imagery.

Color Bars

Color bars are placed beyond the bleed area to allow the printer to control the color on the printed page. Color bars not only provide a constant stable standard for measuring the flow of various colors used in a printed image over the duration of a print run, they measure the visual properties of ink as well as the performance properties of the printing press. They also provide information for comparing a color proof to the printed version of an image.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Information Every Illustration Estimate & Invoice Should Contain

Estimates and invoices are nearly as important to an illustrator’s business as the illustration’s that are produced for jobs. For without an estimate, an illustrator
may never be awarded a job, and without an invoice, he or she would most likely not get paid.

© 2013 Don Arday.
An estimate usually comes before a commission is awarded and upon approval signals the start of a job. An invoice comes when the commission is completed and upon payment provides closure for an assignment. For illustrators, both estimates and invoices should be considered legal documents. Estimates serve as a record of services intended while invoices provide a record of services rendered for both the illustrator and their client. And most importantly, both documents can serve as evidence if a legal dispute between an illustrator and client occurred.

Estimate Contents

Provider Company Information (Header)

1. Business Name
2. Business Logo (Optional)
3. Address
4. Telephone Number
5. Email Address
6. The Word ESTIMATE (Prominently Displayed)
7. Date

Client Company Information (Header)

1. Client Name (Person Commissioning Job)
2. Client Company Name
3. Address
4. Telephone Number
5. Email Address

Services Description (Body)

1. Description of Illustration Assignment
            a. Type/Usage of Illustration
            b. Publication Name/Placement for Illustration
            c. Format/Dimensions of Illustration
2. Quantity (If Appropriate)
3. Cost/Unit Cost (If Job Was Based on a Single Fixed Fee) or
4. Cost Per Hour and Number of Hours (If Job Was Based on Hourly Rate)
5. Cost of Materials (If Appropriate)
6. Cost for Outsourced Services (If Appropriate)
7. Cost for Licensing  (Extended Usage, Copyright Leasing/Buyout if Appropriate)
8. Total Estimated Amount For All Items
9. Sales Tax (If Appropriate)*
10. Expiration Date of Estimate

Approval (Footer)

1. Client Signature of Approval
2. Date Approved

Invoice Contents

Provider Company Information (Header)

1. Business Name
2. Business Logo (Optional)
3. Address
4. Telephone Number
5. Email Address
6. Business Registration/Tax ID Number
7. The Word INVOICE (Prominently Displayed)
8. Date of Invoice
9. Due Date of Payment
10. An Invoice and/or Job Indexing Number (The Invoice Number Should Be Unique)

Client Company Information (Header)

1. Client Name (Person Commissioning Job)
2. Client Company Name
3. Address
4. Telephone Number
5. Email Address
6. Client Purchase Order or Work Order Number (If Provided by Client)

Services Description (Body)

1. Description of Illustration Assignment
a. Type/Usage of Illustration
            b. Publication Name/Placement for Illustration
            c. Format/Dimensions of Illustration
2. Quantity (If Appropriate)
3. Price/Unit Price (If Job Was Based on a Single Fixed Fee) or
4. Price Per Hour and Number of Hours (If Job Was Based on Hourly Rate)
5. Price for Materials (If Appropriate)
6. Price for Outsourced Services (If Appropriate)
7. Price For Licensing  (Extended Usage, Copyright Leasing/Buyout if Appropriate)
9. Subtotal Amount (All Items)
10. Sales Tax Amount (If Appropriate)*
11. Total Amount Due (All Items Including Tax)

Payment Terms (Footer)

1. Payment Terms (Payment Due Date, Due Upon Receipt, 30 Days, Etc.)
2. Payment Instructions (Payable To Whom)
3. Payment Method (Company Check, Bank Draft, PayPal, Etc.)
4. Overdue Payment Policy (Optional)

* Note: Sales tax is based on the tax rate where the client is located. For example, an illustrator located in New York City producing a commission for a client located in Chicago would charge the sales tax rate for Chicago, Illinois. Information on tax rates can be found at http://taxfoundation.org/ and http://www.taxrates.com/.

Estimate/Invoice Design

The design of estimates and invoices should coordinate with the other marketing materials used such as stationery, website, mailers, etc. If the business has a logo or signature illustration that is used as an identity on promotional materials, it should be included on the estimate and invoice. Although the above lists of information seem complex and highly detailed, when placed into an organized form they can appear to be quite simple. Since so much of the information that is contained in an estimate is also included in an invoice, both forms can utilize the same formatting, typography, color scheme, etc. In fact it is good design practice to do so.

Estimate/Invoice Production

The forms for estimates and invoices can be created using basic word processing or spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Word or Excel, or they can be produced using graphic visualization software such as Adobe InDesign or Illustrator. They can also be produced using dedicated OS desktop and IOS mobile apps available for downloading, and some of these apps (for a fee) provide a cloud service for the storage of estimates and invoices and additional business book keeping tools.

Online Resources

Estimate /Invoice Templates

Estimate/Invoice Services