The ability to create images digitally has almost unimaginably altered the artistic process. In many ways, digital has been a boon to the commercial art business; in other ways, it has proven a curse. It has forced many artists and designers, whose styles or personas couldn’t adapt, into other lines of work. For those that could adapt, or began their careers within the last 15 – 20 years, working digitally can provide a myriad of creative options but can also adversely affect the creator. The almost universal ability of anyone to manipulate any image can produce dire consequences for their initial creator.
Recently, I’ve noticed more and more demands being put on creators working in the digital medium. In these trying economic times, artists are frequently asked to do the job of the designer that was let go: drop in the logo, create the lettering, provide the project in any number of sizes, specs and file formats so that we (the client) can skip the production step. And the artist is being asked to do these things as part of the project and for no additional remuneration.
And heard more and more frequently lately: “Oh, yeah, and we need layered files.”
Providing layered files, as opposed to providing a flattened file, can have many serious ramifications. Artists need to be aware of the possible consequences of this and clients need to respect the creative process and the integrity of the creator’s work.
1. Providing layered files adds considerably more work for the artist: now he or she must provide all of the underlying art that would previously have been “covered up” by an item in the foreground. For example, in a landscape including a distant mountain range behind a mid-ground house shaded by a large oak tree, everything that exists behind the oak tree must be illustrated in its entirety. Complex images can have 200 layers or more, which translates into a huge increase in time and effort on the part of the artist.
2. Providing layered files gives the client the ability (and frequently the inclination) to make changes: change the sky color, move the house, adjust the tree. Not only can such manipulation affect copyright issues (the new image is not one image initially agreed to and provided) but can create a monster of Frankenstein proportions – the image can have little resemblance to the original. The artists’ stylistic reputation is on the line here – the new incarnation might look nothing like their intention. The client might be happy but the artist, whose work has been drastically changed, may not want to claim ownership or include the piece in their portfolio, thereby limiting the potential for new work.
3. Clients who know they will ultimately be provided with layered files may be lackadaisical about reviewing initial sketches. Figuring they’ll be able to make all sorts of color and compositional changes later, they’re not too worried about the initial pass. And that lack of attention can mean hours of changes later (sometimes paid for; sometimes not) and loads of wasted time.
What to do?
Artists need to be very clear, in setting out the initial estimate or assignment confirmation, exactly what he or she will provide in the project. How many sketches, rounds of refinements, whether or not there will be a color step before going to final. How many revisions will be provided at the sketch stage? How large (or small) will the final file size be (bitmap art for a poster can be far more complex to create and render than a postcard-sized vector image). And, most importantly, will layered files be required? If layered files, extensive file formats or any design or production is indicated, it should be priced in addition to creating the initial image.
On the flip side, clients must provide all project information up front. In-house creatives and clients should be encouraged to carefully review any materials or information given to the creator as well as any sketches or color comps provided prior to the final. And if design work, multiple file formats or layered files are requested, the client should be prepared to compensate the creator.