Production Artists Tips

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Artisan Talent Tip: Revisions may not be the most glamorous work a freelance artist can do, but doing such jobs quickly -- and demonstrating intelligence and people skills -- can be a great way to make an impression on organizations that have the potential of turning into a source of future work.

Can a freelance artist find work in a corporation?

From Freelance Artist To Production Artist

If you are a freelance artist looking for a more stable work environment, why not look for a position as a production assistant at a company? Since the job requirements are so varied for this type of position, artists with related skills and technical ability can often find a spot within a corporation in this type of entry-level design position.

How can you know if you are qualified to do this type of work? There are several ways to evaluate whether your skills are a good match for the corporate environment.

  • Read job descriptions. Check out online job boards and postings to see what the job descriptions are calling for under "production assistant" headings.
  • Check out a talent agency. Talent agencies can help you understand the requirements for the current job market and see if you have enough experience to get hired.
  • Consider schooling. If you think a career in this type of field would be interesting, why not investigate come college courses and degrees to see if they can help round out your current knowledge base? Talk with a career counselor at a school that has related programs, such as graphic design or advertising.
  • Use your network. Ask around and see if anyone you know is in touch with someone in this type of field. See if they'd be willing to talk with you for a few minutes about what their work entails.



Artisan Talent Tip: A freelance production artist will be more valuable to employers the more he or she knows about the print production process. Proofing -- the ability to go over a first copy and catch errors before the print run starts -- is one of the skills employers seek.

What are some of the skills needed to be a production artist?

Production Artists: Skills Needed

When you're looking for freelance artist jobs it can be difficult to know whether you should specialize in web or print. Production artists are needed in both venues, and the skills needed often overlap. Knowing how to operate certain programs can help you be more marketable, whether you choose to do freelance work or look for employment at a corporation. To be competitive with others in the field, it helps to have a working knowledge of the following:

  • Computer programs. Examples of some of the programs that production artists should be able to use include: Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, HTML and Illustrator.
  • Computer graphics and animation.
  • Logo design.
  • Branding.
  • Color theories.
  • Typography.
These are just some areas in which it can be a good idea to have experience. College coursework and getting a degree are also desirable. Many production assistants have studied in areas such as advertising design, graphic design or advertising communications.


What Do Production Artists Do?

Artisan Talent Tip: If you're looking for a job that will let you bring your own creative visions to life, this isn't it. Often you'll work with stock art or existing logos, and be judged more for your attention to detail than your visual sense. Still, it's worth picking up the skills needed to be a production artist, because such gigs can help pay the bills while you reserve your creative energies for your own work.

How can I find work as a freelance production artist?

Finding Work As A Freelance Production Artist

If you are looking for work as a freelance production artist, networking will play a crucial role in your search. The more people you can connect with, the better your chances of finding your way into the field. These days it takes more than sending out a resume to get hired.

Since there is a good deal of competition for work in creative jobs, coming in and working your way up is a good way to get started. Production assistants are generally considered "entry-level", so this type of job can serve as a launching spot for a career in advertising or related fields. Finding work can take a while if you are just beginning your search, but connecting with a good talent agency can help you find something more easily.

Be sure to take advantage of social media as well. Sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn can be good for letting people know you are looking for work. They can also be a place to post information about your background and experience.

What is proofing?


Printers provide proofs on paper (sometimes called "bluelines") or in digital form. Your job as a proofer is to look at both the details and the big picture. Don't make needless changes -- at this stage, any change can cost money. Here are some of the questions you can ask as you proof a document:

  • Is all the copy there? Is it where it's supposed to be?
  • Are the pages in the right order?
  • Are all graphics and photos in place?
  • Are there any blemishes or dust spots in the proof? Note them -- they may be minor, but they may reflect flaws in the film from which the final piece will be produced.
  • This isn't the time for minor rewrites, but by all means note and fix any major text flaws -- misspellings in headlines, that kind of thing.

Do I need to learn Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is an essential skill for a print or Web production artist. As the name indicates, it is at its best when working with photographs, and has limitations when it comes to the creation of original graphics.

To combat widespread software piracy, Adobe also sells a reduced version of Photoshop called Photoshop Elements. This is considerably cheaper than the full version and is adequate for Web graphics, but does not contain many of the prepress features needed for professional-quality print work.

A key feature of Photoshop is its "filters" menu, which allows easy manipulation of a photograph to look like a watercolor painting, a windswept landscape, a stained-glass window, and so forth. Beyond the filters packaged with the program, a number of third-party "plugins" are available to help you achieve a specific look.

Do I need to learn Adobe Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is a standard in print graphics production, and is a useful skill for a freelance production artist. Its powerful tools may take a little time to learn.

One of its advantages is being resolution-independent. That allows artists to work in relatively small files (reducing computer crashes and wait times), but still be able to export them at large sizes and excellent resolution.

Illustrator is most valuable in print environments, so if your design focus is on the Web you may be able to get by without learning it. Still, it's a useful tool to add to your resume.

What is a press check and how do I do it?

Press Checking

The design industry has a great many standards, computerized color checking, electronic transmission of files to presses. Yet printing is still an inexact science. Colors that match up perfectly in the computer still come out just a little bit off -- and then your CEO's nose looks red, your beautiful green grass looks a sickly yellow, or the color separations don't quite line up right.

One job a production artist may be asked to do is press checking -- going over a product as it comes off the press, suggesting color corrections and looking for printing errors. This is not the time to fix the headline or substitute a new photo -- you're only looking for things the press operator can control.

When doing a press check, respect your press operator. Ask or suggest rather than order, and listen when the press operator explains compromises that may have to be made -- sacrificing the fidelity of one photo so as not to throw another too far off, for example.

Time is money, both for your employer and for the press operator. So be thorough, but be quick. When the product is almost right, go ahead and let the press operator start the run. Minor corrections can be made as the press is running.

What do I need to know to do revisions?


The design process for any product, from a simple brochure to a full-length film, involves multiple rounds of revisions in between the first execution of a concept and the finished product. Many organizations will bring in a freelance artist to handle these revisions and let their existing creative teams work on the next project.

These types of jobs require the ability to get on board with a project quickly, follow detailed directions, and make sense of sometimes-conflicting instructions. You'll need a solid knowledge of any program you're working in, including shortcuts to get the revisions done in a hurry. (It's always a hurry.)

What is preflighting and why do I need to know about it?


Preflighting is a specialized skill that involves checking your graphics files to be sure they fall within the specifications of the printing equipment you plan to use.

While much preflighting today is automated, printers still have to make time-consuming and expensive corrections more often than they (and their clients) would like. That's why a knowledge of preflighting is a valuable skill for a freelance artist.

One of the ways to develop this skill is to work closely with a printer. It's in the printer's best interest to educate a regular client about the limitations of the available equipment, so a good printer may be willing to take the time to teach you how to do this well.

What does a production artist need to know about type?


One of the easiest ways to create a "look" for a printed piece is with proper typography. Production artists, who generally work on tight deadlines, need a solid knowledge of fonts, type styles and design issues involving type.

This goes well beyond deciding whether to use Times or Arial. Good typography includes knowing how many font faces to use in a single document (no more than four, two is better) and how to kern a display headline so that no two letters are too close or too far apart.

It also helps to be able to spell (sorry, being a designer does not exempt you!) and proofread.

What do production artists do?

What Do Production Artists Do?

Production artists are vital to any industry that involves visual work. They are the people who get the job done, laying out pages, separating images for screen printing, taking the designer's drawing of the Evil Elf character and deploying it in four different views on the video game box.

Many creative artists start out in production jobs. If you are quick, dedicated and learn quickly, it is possible to stay in this role and earn decent money. Design shops will often bring in a freelance production artist to fill in when they're overbooked, or to free up full-time staffers for more creative roles.

What is Quark and do I need to learn it?


QuarkXpress has been a standard in page design software in the design industry for more than a decade. While competitors, notably Adobe InDesign, have emerged, Quark is still a vital piece of software for a freelance artist to know.

Quark is most commonly used on Macintosh computers, though the company does publish a Windows version. If you are a student, you may purchase an academic version for a reduced price, though it is considered unethical to use this for commercial work.

If you are familiar with older versions of QuarkXpress, it may be a good idea to get some time in using QuarkXpress 7, which has a number of new features. Quark has also released QID (Quark Interactive Designer), which allows the designer to add Flash animations to Xpress projects.

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