Step-by-step advice on essentials like briefs, rates and copyright.
Illustrators Australia recommends clients and members follow these guidelines when commencing a new project using illustration. They reflect standard industry practice and are the best way we know to produce a mutually beneficial outcome.
Clients often assume they own copyright to illustrations they commission and can use them for any purpose. Not true.
Illustrators automatically own copyright to the work they produce. Clients may only use the work for the purpose outlined in writing (ideally a contract). To use the work for other purposes the client must seek written permission and pay an agreed rate in full before the illustrator will assign copyright in full.
Most illustrators choose to retain full copyright but may offer licensing rights instead.
Authors please note it is not standard practice to find or commission an illustrator for a manuscript proposal. Most publishers prefer to find a suitable illustrator themselves and will enter into their own contractual agreements with illustrators.
Authors planning to self publish should email authors a written brief and budget to discuss. Bear in mind illustrators receive many proposals for working on spec (with no upfront payment) and most will not be interested. We all need to eat!
Smaller publishers occasionally ask illustrators to work for free with the promise of exposure for their work. Illustrators Australia does not endorse or encourage this practice. Again, we all need to eat...
Illustrators work as individuals in most cases. They set their own pricing and have their own approach to quotes and contracts. Illustrators Australia recommends clients and illustrators discuss the project brief and make their agreements transparent in a written contract.
Find the right illustrator for your project
Before commissioning an illustrator it’s crucial to define your brief and spend some time researching the best illustrator for the job. Here are some points to consider.
Provide a written brief
Create a written brief that outlines your project before attempting to commission an illustrator. Your brief should include:
- Project description
- Preferred medium
- Number and type of illustrations required
- Specifications if known:
What are to be the physical dimensions of the artwork?
What pixel resolution? eg: 72 pixels per inch or 300 pixels per inch (sometimes called dpi)
CMYK or RGB? Bleed? Printer profile?
What file format is the work to be supplied in? eg: JPG, PNG, TIFF, PDF, etc.
If traditional art is to be used will you or the illustrator provide the scanning?
- Timeframe and deadline
- Usage (which will inform the illustrator’s fees)
Where/how will the finished illustration/s be used? eg: book cover, website, greeting card, all these?
Geographical area of use. Australia only, Globally?
Period of use. How long do you want to use the illustration for? Illustrators can offer usage for different licences, eg12 months, 2 years
- Cancellation/kill fees. If you cancel work in progress or reject finished artwork for reasons unrelated to the artist’s performance, the artist has a right to compensation. The amount payable depends on the stage at which the project is cancelled. Cancellation or kill fees must be defined in your contract.
- Budget. Always ask the illustrator to quote on your project unless you have a fixed, non-negotiable budget. If this is the case, tell them, they may be able to work to it by varying the finish of the work.
Approach illustrators whose style suits the project
Selecting the right illustrator for the right job is crucial. Consider the requirements of your brief and your preferences regarding style when you’re searching our members’ portfolios. Search by the most appropriate categories then take some time to explore illustrators’ IA portfolios, personal websites and social media feeds to get a sense of their chosen mediums, techniques and strength.
Do they use realistic or stylised figures? Painterly texture or flat digital images? Vibrant colour or subdued tones? Are they strongest with conceptual images or straightforward rendering? Can you find examples of work that’s relevant to your job?
You’ll get the best result by approaching illustrators whose style suits your project, rather than asking them to change or imitate someone else’s style.
Agree to terms in a written contract
Once you’ve found an illustrator keen to accept your brief it’s crucial to outline your agreement upfront in writing. IA members have access to a standard contract to adapt and use, available in our Resources section.
Be sure to include details like agreed number and timing of rough sketches (showing work in progress) and changes that are included in the cost. Extras requested later will incur added cost.
Review work in progress
Once you have commissioned an illustrator and signed the contract, use the rough sketches defined in your contract to provide feedback and ensure the project progresses according to requirements.
Most illustrators are happy to provide one or two alterations, but will charge extra fees for additional changes beyond the original brief/contract. It’s important to allow time for these changes to ensure the illustrator can meet your deadline.
Remember that the original finished artwork and the rough sketches automatically belong to the illustrator unless there is a signed agreement allowing you to also buy the artwork.
Understand licensing and copyright
Illustrators may license work to clients for a fee for a fixed period of time and purpose. Ownership of the artwork and rough sketches remains with the illustrator. This is a legally binding agreement.
Once a licensing agreement expires the rights revert back to the illustrator.
Illustrators may re-license images for use as either:
- Exclusive, ie exclusive to a client for the ways set out in the original written agreement. NB copyright ownership remains with the illustrator
- Non exclusive, ie the illustrator can license the artwork to more than one client and use it themselves. Again, copyright ownership remains with the illustrator
IA does not recommend illustrators assign copyright to clients.
Agreeing to a full buyout of an illustrator’s copyright by a client means agreeing never to use that image again or reap any further financial benefit it, including Copyright Agency Limited fees or royalties. CAL payments are made to the creator of work. When an illustrator signs a contract giving their copyright a client (like a publisher) they are giving away future CAL payments they’re otherwise entitled to.
Clients who request a full buyout of an illustrator’s copyright need to understand this and be prepared to compensate the illustrator accordingly with double or treble the original quoted price. Illustrators Australia believes clients don’t need to buy copyright. We recommend requesting a limited exclusive license instead.
Copyright and moral rights last for 70 years after the death of an illustrator or artist.
Moral rights are personal rights relating to the illustrator’s reputation. They cannot be sold, and include:
- The right to be identified as the author (right of attribution)
- The right not to have the work falsely identified as someone else’s (right against false attribution)
- The right not to have the work used in a derogatory way that is detrimental the reputation of author (right of integrity)
Learn more about copyright and contracts: