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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: A “Look Book” for Choosing Illustrators

My fiancee and I love thrift stores. In fact, there is seldom a question of what we want to do when we have free time. She likes the clothes, and I like the print books.

That said, my fiancee always looks for books relevant to our art therapy work with the autistic, and this week she found The Directory of Illustration 26 produced by Serbin Communications, Inc.

Granted, this particular edition is from 2008 (that’s what you get at thrift stores), but it illustrates (so to speak) a number of things about acquiring the rights to reprint images in your own publications work. It also provides good ideas for artwork, and it even says something about the persistence of print books.

A Description of the Print Book

The Directory of Illustration 26 is a case-bound volume, over 550 pages in length, full color throughout, printed on what feels like 80# or 100# gloss text. It is massive, almost two inches thick (given the combination of the luxurious paper and the ample page count). The binding indicates that it is also made to last.

Let’ start with the purpose of the book. Beautifully printed in full color, this is a “look book” for illustrators. When you are an art director or graphic artist, you may or may not be an illustrator as well. They are two separate disciplines, just as being a graphic designer and being a photographer are two separate professions. If you are designing magazine spreads, for instance, and you want to provide a visual interpretation of the editorial content, you might need an illustrator, particularly if your subject matter has more of a fantastical or interpretive nature than photography can capture.

So how do you proceed? This book is, for the most part, broken down into groups of illustrators represented by specific agencies. The agents negotiate the financial terms, while the artists they represent focus on creating art. Essentially, you page through the book to select particular styles of illustration that appeal to you (based on drawing skill, style of rendering subject matter, color usage, overall creative vision—whatever criteria you choose). You may even choose based on subject matter. (For instance, if you are producing a medical journal, you may need illustrators well versed in both artistic anatomy—how to draw heads and hands–and the particulars of drawing internal organs, cells, and such.)

The key here is that not all illustrators do everything, just as not all designers are also illustrators or photographers.

Once you understand that this print book is a directory, you’ll understand why the paper is bright and heavy and why the binding is so sturdy. In essence, this is a book that will be used heavily for at least a year. It will probably either be in the design studio as a reference for all designers in a design firm or in the possession of only the art director. It is a reference book. Moreover, it is also an advertisement for each and every illustrator it represents. Illustrators make their money acquiring new clients through print books like this. And agents make their commissions representing them. Regarding the bright blue-white paper, the brightness and whiteness make the transparent printing inks “pop.” So the images jump off the page. And the thickness of the paper suggests luxury and opulence.

The History of Illustration Directories

But why not do all of this online?

Back in the 1990s, when I was an art director/production manager, all of the books like these were, well, books. When the photo editor came into my office and suggested that we acquire stock images (set-up shots he himself didn’t have time to do) on CD or via the Internet, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept. As an art director, I was used to going to brick-and-mortar picture agencies (in physical buildings) and reviewing the 35mm slides they gave me based on my specific content requests. A new alternative at the time was to page through books, such as these, containing photos and illustrations.

Now all of this is online. You just type in a few words to search for specific content or styles, and you’re on your way. That said, I still think some graphic designers and art directors enjoy paging through well-designed “look books” (which are essentially portfolios of artists’ work) to make their decisions, particularly if their own work will show up in physical form. (After all, computer screens are backlit, so the images appear brighter than they do in print. Personally, I’d choose illustrators for print books from just such a print book—if these “talent directories” still exist.)

How to Pay for These Images

Back when I was an art director, we had in-house photographers. They took candid photos of the educational programs our business offered. But once in a while we needed more specific and perhaps more stylized images for print book covers. So we often staged these. We did photo shoots, with special lighting and perhaps a model. We created the image we wanted in a tailored way, in contrast to the candid images, which were more reportage than stylistic images.

Once in a while we needed photos from other parts of the world for the print book covers, to illustrate the global content of these particular books. This is when we approached picture agencies. Later, we choose photos from books like The Directory of Illustration 26 (in my case photography rather than illustration). Then you could buy generic photos and illustrations on CDs offered in stores or on the Internet. Now you would do the same thing by choosing images online.

But the key to all of this is that depending on what you would buy, you would pay on a different scale.

In the most generic sense of photos and illustrations, if you got it for free (or on a CD), the image was generic, and anyone could use it. Now, you can start your search for free images through Creative Commons (look online). Many of these images are specifically offered without royalties, but do be careful and read the fine print. If you break the copyright laws you can be sued. Understandably. Photographers and illustrators work hard to make these images, and they deserve payment.

Other images are “rights managed” or “royalty free.” When I was choosing images at picture agencies for book covers, the payment (royalties) for use of the images (because we didn’t own the images; we just had purchased rights to reproduce them in specific ways) were based on the following:

  1. How many copies were we printing?
  2. Was the image to be used in the text of the book or on the cover of the book?
  3. Was the publication intended for marketing use, or was it an editorial publication?

Most of what we bought at the time was “rights manged.” We had to follow the parameters noted above, but there was almost no chance that other people/marketers/organizations were using the same images. We paid a premium for this, and the reproduction rights were for a limited time.

In other cases we would buy an image that was more generic, with fewer use constraints, for far less money. In both cases we had to credit the photographer or illustrator in a particular way in the publication (very visibly), but we had more flexibility. In paying less money, we also knew that many other non-profit and for-profit organizations (our competition) were also using the exact same image.

What You Can Learn from This Illustration Directory

As a designer or art director, you can’t do it all. It’s often cheaper to pay to use images (either illustrations or photos) than to hire a staff illustrator or photographer.

Regardless of what you do, read the contracts carefully. (And ask about all options, not just rights managed and royalty-free contracts). Don’t assume that even old images from, let’s say, the Great Depression, are out of copyright, or that everything you think is “Creative Commons” is in fact free to use. Also, keep to the contract, to the letter, regarding how you use the image, whether you alter it and how, whether you use the image to sell something. In short, follow the contract.

And if you’re hiring an illustrator (through a book like The Directory of Illustration 26, or through an online contact), get several estimates, check samples, but also make sure the style in which the illustrator works (the overall look of the illustrations) matches the brand image you’re trying to convey. That is, choose a medical illustrator for medical images, or choose a more simplistic illustration design for a children’s book and perhaps a more realistic or stylized approach for a print book for adults.

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