Technical Issues to Consider When Working with an Illustrator

artist at workYesterday’s post about finding and working with an illustrator focused on the soft stuff: art, personality, style.

Today, let’s chat about bits and formats and whatnot.

Once you’ve settled on a visual collaborator for your book, neither of you should assume the other knows all the technical stuff. Assume a blank slate. Talk about everything. Much of it is a collaborative artistic conversation, not simply a technical or printing issue.

For instance:

  • Image size — If your book is a 10″ square, how much of the page will the image cover? You’ll rarely need the original image to be larger than the print size. Your artist may have technical or artistic reasons to create a larger image and have it reduced. Otherwise, 100% is the right size. Smaller is never good. Never.
  • Consistency — Should all the images in your book be the same size, or is variety best?
  • Bleed and fill and text — Will your images go all the way to the edge of the page, or will there be a blank margin around it? Will the image have text over it? Does the artist need to leave room for the text, to allow readability, or will your interior designer block out an opaque region for the text over the image? Should the text be included in the image rather than typeset over the face of it?
  • Resolution — The digital image they send you should be 300dpi (or ppi; they’re effectively the same measurement, dots per inch on paper or pixels per inch on screen.) Anything less than this will be blurry when it prints. Resolutions as low as 150dpi can work, but if you’re having custom art created for your book, don’t settle for smaller, lower-resolution images.
  • Delivery method — The above assumes they’re sending you digital files. These files will probably be huge, not good for email. Use DropBox, Google Drive, or a CD or USB stick in the mail. If the plan is to deliver originals (h’ray for you) be sure you have the ability to scan them at 300dpi or that you can hire it done at Kinko’s or your local print shop. It is not inexpensive. Check first. And always have originals delivered rolled, in a mailing tube. Never flat, to be bent or crushed, and certainly never folded. Never ever folded.
  • File format — If you’re working with CreateSpace or anyone who’ll be printing your book from a PDF, you want your files as JPGs. Even though this is not the optimal format for line art, the conversion to PDF works best with JPG rather than GIF files. If you’re not working with CreateSpace or you have someone doing your formatting for you, ask them what format they prefer. It may be PNG, JPG, GIF, or even TIFF. They’ll know what all that means. What they should not do is send them to you in a Word file. Word does horrific things to images. It is not a graphics program. At some point, your images may be embedded in your manuscript in Word before it’s turned into a PDF. That’s layout. But for delivery, transferring the files from one person to another, never use Word. never.
  • Originals — If the art is created on a physical medium like paper or canvas, who owns the original? You want it, but a digital copy can be far less expensive.
  • License — Do you own the rights to reproduce this image anywhere and everywhere, or only on one page of your book? Does your artist expect to use the image anywhere other than their portfolio? Usual arrangements are for you to own all rights of use, and the artist to own only the right to include it in their portfolio. If anything else is on the table, sort it before you sign up.

Tomorrow: collaborating to create an image from start to finish — the image for chapter 1 of Ginger, the Ship Captain’s Cat goes from idea to collage to sketch to finished art.

4 thoughts on “Technical Issues to Consider When Working with an Illustrator

  1. I am so glad you made image size #1 on your list.

    As Joel can recall, we ran into a little problem when it came to Sidney. We never actually discussed what size the illustration would be, so I had assumed the wrong size. It turned out to be one of the biggest headaches I have ever encountered in this business. Thankfully, I was using a digital program and was able to salvage 95% of my work to reformat the size. (this is one of the many reasons I prefer using digital as an illustrator)

    Another point I would like to make out would be COLORS. You would think colors are universal, I did, but a lot of variables can change the final outcome of the color scheme. Without getting too overwhelmingly technical, here are some factors that may change the colors:

    *Your illustrator is using a RGB(red, green, blue) coloring program, and you use a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) printer. CMYK is far more common in printers, which is fine, but it will change your colors slightly.

    *Your monitor is a different brightness from the illustrators. If the illustrations appear very dark on your screen, it could be your illustrator has their brightness turned way up high. (I am guilty for this) Simply ask them to reduce the shade (the black) from the colors.

    Of course, if your illustrator is using a traditional media and sends you the original, I recommend using a high quality scanner/printer. If not, your colors will be more dark/muddy.

    1. Huge oversight on my part, Davina. Thanks for bringing up color.

      Different monitors display differently. Even two carefully calibrated monitors will display slightly differently — and most monitors are at the factory default settings (or worse.)

      And because monitors use additive colors (more color brings you closer to white) while printing uses subtractive colors (more color brings you closer to black) you’ll see significant differences between screen and print.

      The answer is to proceed with caution and experiment often.

  2. One other thing: print the cover out before you send it anywhere. You’ll probably find the colors look different in print than they do on the screen. Better to find that out first rather than when you get the first printed copy of your book!!

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