Graphic Designers and Artists for Independent Designers
Updated: Jan 21
Most people in most of their lives have very little contact with Graphic Designers and Illustrators or Artists and so when they come to design and publish their own game they will generally go through a pretty sharp learning curve about this part of the process. This blog is pretty much everything I’ve learned about art and design to hopefully smooth that curve out a little.
Which is who?
First of all, a couple of definitions. Artists or illustrators are different from Graphic designers. While they might crossover its very rare to find someone who does both so its best to know what it is that they do before you start. Artists or illustrators create artwork. They make the actual pictures by drawing things for you, character art and box illustrations. Graphic designers take the images the illustrators create and put them together with other properties to prepare the art files for printing. Card frames and icons might be created by either depending on the feel you’re looking for and the preferences or talents of the artist in question. In short, the illustrator creates good looking pictures and the graphic designer turns them into game cards. Your illustrator will need ask for mood boards and reference images. Your graphic designer will need you to pick a font (prepare to obsess over fonts) and ask for more bleed (you will learn what bleed is. You will always need more of it).
How and where?
Finding each of the two is a little different:
Illustrator – Your illustrator will be interpreting your words, ideas and possibly sketches into something cool that will be hugely influential on your likely success at Kickstarter. As such the most important thing is that you like their work; view a range of their portfolio and pick someone whose work chimes with your vision for your game. In the end you’ll be handing up some control to their visual judgement so you need to trust it and believe it comes in line with yours. The best resource I’ve found so far for doing this is Deviant Art. Pick at least ten or twelve artists you like and contact them asking if they’re open to commissions and ask for quotes on one or two pieces of art. Costs vary but from a non-famous artist (unless you’re planning on using their name as a major draw on your Kickstarter use someone no-one has ever heard of) you should be looking at something like £200-£500 for box art, £50-£75 for small pieces of card art and £100-£150 for more involved card art pieces such as character illustrations or location art. Size and complexity will vary of course but cost is not inherently connected to quality and these are pretty fair prices. Illustrators will tend to work for piece work quoted prices (meaning that they will state how much it will cost to produce a particular image), this is because they’ll work however long something takes and when the inspiration strikes them. This also means they’ll tend to take as long as they take and getting them on board sooner rather than later can avoid holding you up, but more on that later. Keep an eye on how long the first piece takes though because they can hold you up and are tough to hurry. It can be necessary to request redesigns from your illustrator and this can be tough to do because the work can still be good but not what was intended. Its a good idea to set a number of times you can send a piece back for a redesign before needing to increase the quote upfront just to avoid bad feelings.
Graphic Designer – Your graphic designer will be taking the artwork and your text files and layering one over the other then setting it into a format that your manufacturer can use to print and cut your components. As such the most important thing is that they have a good grounding of technical expertise and experience of working on a range of projects. Find someone who has worked on a good range of projects, possibly with print advertising campaigns since someone freelance who has specifically worked on boardgames before is pretty much impossible to find. Professional websites can help here or personal recommendations. You’ll be more likely to need to talk to your graphic designers personally and in particular remember that art looks different on paper than on screen, so being able to have them hand over or quickly post hard copies can help, as such looking someone who is relatively local to you can really ease the situation. Graphic designers are more likely to work on an hourly rate, though they will still give you a quote up front. Expect something like £500 for a small box game with prices raising as complexity goes up but they should warn you whenever something goes over time as the project goes along or if you ask for something not covered by their initial quote. As a word of warning, graphic designers/artists are the people who design logos for large companies and a company that specializes in doing this will tend to charge a price for one logo that will cover what should be your entire project’s art budget. They’re not ripping you off, they’re just in a different corner of the business, if you ask for a price on a logo and it comes in much more than £100 then you’re in the wrong place. Graphic designers should have a fairly tight and professional turn around time and be very open to specific communication, they’re used to working to briefs so the more information you can offer, even when sending work back, the better.
Now, who to hire first, this is sort of a chicken and the egg problem. A graphic designer will tell you which bits of the artwork need to have nothing interesting going on in them (because that’s where the text will go), however they really can’t do much until you’ve got some artwork in and what will take an illustrator a month to create will take a Graphic designer a few minutes to set into place so you don’t really want them hanging around from when your artist turns in their first piece. Best advice on this, try to pay attention to graphic design on games you like or teach yourself a little (designing Print and Play games yourself is a good way to learn this) to best direct your artist then hire a Graphic designer once the artwork is 80% finished. Once you’ve got one game rolling you can show them the first few bits for the next game and get some direction so that will get a lot easier.
Paying the Piper.
So, as should now be obvious, artwork will be your biggest pre-Kickstarter outlay. Even if you’re going for the minimum for the page (and frankly that’s a mistake) you should expect to pay out at least £1000 before hitting the launch button. Ideally you should have enough artwork to have a 95% complete artwork prototype before launch and that will put you well over that figure, around £2000-3000 for even a small box game. This can be worrying but remember three things:
1 – It’s unavoidable. There was a day when you could get away with homemade artwork or even basic clip art and icons on a table top Kickstarter project. Unless your goal is £100 (or you’re a talented illustrator/trained graphic designer) that day is past, you will need to pay for your artwork to Kickstart, so accept it.
2 – It’s worth it. In order of things that will get your game to fund it goes something like, quality of the game, quality of the art, social media following, advertising, everything else. The first two are pretty close to each other and well ahead of the others in importance, money you spend on artwork will come back in a Kickstarter more than almost anything else.
3 – Don’t goal it. I’ve written on this a few times so I won’t labor the point but artwork money is spent, don’t include it in your Kickstarter goal. Include it when calculating your unit price but your Kickstarter goal should be what it will cost you to fulfill from the point after you hit the launch button, nothing else. You might barely fund and not make that money back but you’ll be in no worse position than before you launched (and probably more if you have copies in hand to sell) but if you don’t fund you’ll certainly be no better off. Overfunding might pay off your sunk cost, but underfunding certainly won’t.
Communicating with your Artist.
I’m not a visual communicator. I can think visually quite well and have clear images of what I want but I work in words and abstract concepts, because I’m a game designer. Artists tend to work visually and seem to communicate most effectively using images. This can be an issue. I’d suggest educating yourself as soon as possible in non-gaming art, reference points including costume art, fonts, historic artworks and artifacts, ideally storing them on a possible ideas board. Pinterest is incredibly useful for this, have your artist join and share a board with them then load it with references and images to communicate with them, it saves a massive amount of time and effort.
If you’re not already spending hours browsing through font libraries online you soon will be, as a game designer it’s a real obsession and its easy to waste days on. Now, fonts are worth getting right since they will be throughout your game, but they are easy to get wrong. To be honest they’re something you really should try to get a professional eye on, but lean towards clarity if in doubt, for the purposes of this blog I’ll just say one thing. Pay for your fonts, in one way or another. Aside from the fact that they are a huge amount of work for a graphic designer to create and so someone should be getting paid for the work, they have licenses and its very easy to accidentally rip someone off and sadly many free font libraries feature pirated or plagiarized fonts. If you hire a Graphic designer (please hire a graphic designer) they will have a library of fonts themselves that they’ve paid for the license of and if you want something specific they will be able to secure it legally and advise you on the licensing. If you’re doing it yourself find something with a clear listed cost for commercial usage. Prices can vary but a huge range are available for under £50, some can be considerably more expensive but either way is cheaper than possibly breaching a copyright. Font copyright is actually unusually complex and is based on not only the font itself but the program used to present it on software, it also involves not only the creator but various companies that may have in turn licensed and used the font.