5 Important Things You Need To Know Before Starting To Work With Your Illustrator

The Specs

You’ve hired an illustrator for your picture book. Congrats! But now what?

Once you decide on an artist, you should give them the specs of your book before they start. This is important, so they know what size to make the illustrations and don’t waste their time, or yours.

What are specs? Specs are the specifications or technical parameters of your book and include things like size, resolution, color, and formats.

Size

Common picture book sizes are a square (usually 8.5 x 8.5 inches, since that is the size favored by IngramSpark), letter size (8.5 x 11 inches, portrait or landscape), and 8 x 10 inches (landscape or portrait). Comic books are traditionally 7 x 10 inches, and novels are typically 6 x 9 inches. (NOTE: All sizes are width x height unless otherwise specified.) Nonfiction books range in size from 5.5 x 8.5 inches and 6 x 9 inches to 7 x 10 inches and beyond. Workbook-style books are generally bigger than regular books. 

Keep in mind that this will depend on what printer you are using. Print on Demand (POD) Printers have a set list of sizes they can print, and will not vary from this. All the sizes mentioned above are commonly used with POD printers. If you are printing privately, by an offset printer online, offshore, or near your home, you can print any size you want. Another common picture book size that POD printers can’t handle but offset printers can is 10 x 10 inches.

Make sure to determine your book size before you start. It can really set the illustrator (and your timeline!) back significantly if they assume the book will be 8.5 x 11 inches, but you wanted an 8.5-inch square.  

TL;DR (too long; didn’t read): Decide on your size before you start working with the illustrator. Common picture book sizes include 8.5×8.5”, 8.5×11”, 8×10”, and 10×10” but can vary depending on the printer you use.

Resolution

Another important spec to remember is resolution. Resolution refers to the quality of your images and is measured using DPI, or dots per inch. Every image (jpeg, gif, tiff, PSD) is made of thousands of tiny dots, called pixels. The more pixels you have per square inch of your photo, the better the quality of your image. When you are telling the illustrator the specs for the book, make sure they prepare the images in 300 DPI (or PPI – pixels per inch. It’s 2 different ways to say the same thing). 300 dots per inch is considered a standard high-resolution image. More than that won’t make it print better quality, by the way – it will just hike up your file size.

These high-resolution images should be used for both the printed and electronic versions of your book. This will ensure that both your printed book and your ebook will be crisp, clear, and fun to look at.

TL;DR: Images should be saved at 300 dpi at their actual size (for example, if your book is 8.5 inches square, the images should be either 8.5 x 8.5 inches at 300 dpi, for a single page, or 17 x 8.5 inches at 300 dpi for a double-page spread).

Color

Color can be a little tricky. Screens operate using a basic 3 color scheme of red, green, and blue (RGB). That means that every color you see on your screen is made up of these 3 colors. The colors are filtered through the light of the screen, so colors naturally appear more vibrant than they do on paper. Printers use 4 basic colors – cyan (blue), magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK – yes, the K stands for black, since the B was already taken). There are exceptions to this, such as hand-mixed spot colors and gold and silver stamping, for example, but most standard printers use CMYK as a basis. 

Illustrators will usually do their work in RGB color mode since it has many more options for image manipulation and coloring. Once they are done, they are going to send you the files as RGB files unless you tell them otherwise. Definitely tell them otherwise – make sure they send you all the images in CMYK. While converting the images to CMYK is not absolutely necessary for POD printers, especially if the graphic designer will save the final PDF file as a CMYK document, in my experience, the colors print a little brighter and truer if the illustrator converts the images as well.

If you are working with a publisher who requires you to bring your own illustrations, ask them what color mode they prefer.

TL;DR: Have the illustrator convert all the images into CMYK before they send you the final files. This will ensure maximum print quality no matter which printer you use.

File Formats

The illustrator should send you the files in high-resolution JPGs (no compression or downsizing), PSD files (native Photoshop files), or TIFFs. No PDFs please – not for the images. If your files are in vector format, meaning, they are not done in a drawing program like Photoshop or CorelDraw, but in a program like Illustrator, the files can be saved as PDF, EPS, or AI (native Illustrator files). Vector files contain lines and planes instead of pixels. This means, shapes, most logos, a lot of text – things that don’t have images in them. Ask your illustrator what program they prepare their images in. Most of the time they are pixel-based programs. If you have a logo, that would probably be a vector and should be saved in one of the vector formats listed above.

TL;DR: Illustrations should be sent to you as PSD, JPG, or TIFF, unless it’s a logo or some other vector-based image, in which case it should be saved as PDF, EPS, or AI. 

Page Count and Spreads

The next thing you need to decide is how many drawings you need, over how many pages. The best way to do this is to go back into your manuscript and divide it up. A standard picture book is 24 or 32 pages, and all the books should ideally be multiples of 8. (In book printing, each side of the paper is considered another page. So one piece of paper, folded in half and printed on both sides would be four pages. Picture books are usually printed in packs of 16 pages, called a signature. Printers will print them on large pieces of paper with the pages laid out back to back. Most printers need at least a multiple of 8, or half a signature, to print properly. POD printers allow you to upload any manuscript that is a multiple of 2, but be aware that they will add blank pages at the end to get the page number up to a multiple of 8. I have found the best way to deal with the blank page issue is to actually make it a multiple of 6, instead. No matter what you do, POD printers will add two blank pages at the end, for their barcode, etc. If you make your book 30 pages, for example, the two blank pages at the end look intentional. With offset printers this is not an issue – just make it a multiple of 8 and everyone is happy.) 

When determining the page count, make sure to set aside extra pages for the title page and the copyrights/dedication page. This is the minimum that you need. If you don’t have enough story pages to make your book a multiple of 8, for example, your story only fills up 18 pages, you can always include an About the Author page, a glossary, a separate dedications page, and a half-title page or other similar fillers.

Create a new Word document (or Google Slides doc – see next section) with the same number of pages you need in your book. Split up your text and put each section of text on its proper page. Then print it out and flip through the book. Does it read well? Should some page breaks change? Doing this will help you decide how many drawings you need so you can tell the illustrator what exactly you need from them.

Create a new Word document (or Google Slides doc – see next section) with the same number of pages you need in your book. Split up your text and put each section of text on its proper page. Then print it out and flip through the book. Does it read well? Should some page breaks change? Doing this will help you decide how many drawings you need so you can tell the illustrator what exactly you need from them.

When you sit to figure out how many illustrations you need, there are a few things to keep in mind. You can do the illustrations across two adjacent pages (called a spread), or you can illustrate both pages separately (single pages). You can also do spot images (images that fade out, are cut off, or somehow do not bleed to the end of the page), images that take up three-quarters of a spread (leaving a white column on the right or left), or several spots on one page (to emphasize a progression of some sort, maybe, or several points of view). There is no limit, and varying the size of your illustrations will help keep the child’s interest and keep the pages turning. 

TL;DR: Your specs are your book size, the image resolution, color, and how many illustrations you need. Tell this to the illustrator before they start drawing to save you both time and headache later on.

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