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Writing and Illustrating Picture Books: Part 4 - Other Illustrating Considerations

In my last blog post, I talked about some of the things you need to think about when you decide to do your own picture book illustrations. Today, I want to explore that subject a little further and get into some of the finer details. For my first picture book, I did my illustrations digitally in GIMP and Photoshop, so much of what I'm going to say here primarily applies to digital art. However, since your illustrations are going to have to be converted to a digital format to be put into your interior file and uploaded, a lot of this is applicable no matter what medium you're working with.

Color Modes

This is something that definitely applies to digital art but will also apply to traditional art once you're compiling your files to upload for printing. When it comes to digital art, I'm entirely self-taught, so this was something I didn't really know much about until a few months ago. I wish I'd known before I started illustrating because it would have made life so much easier if I had just started out right. So I'm telling all of you - pay attention to your color mode. Most products that are designed to be printed (like books) need to be created in a CMYK color mode as opposed to an RGB color mode, which is more suited to computers and uploading to the web. So for your eBook, you might want your pictures in RGB mode, but for print, you'll want them in CMYK.

Guess who did all of her illustrations in RGB mode?

Yup. That's me. Fortunately, converting them to CMYK mode wasn't too bad, and I only had a few drastic color changes that needed to be corrected. But it could have been a lot worse if I'd had more blues and greens in my illustrations. Because of all the other issues involved in printing - such as matching the colors on the screen with what you'll actually see on the printed product - it's probably best to just start in CMYK mode and then convert to RGB mode if you decided to do a digital version of your book as well. CreateSpace doesn't specify a preference for CMYK over RGB, but if you ever want to explore other publishing options, have your book printed as a hardcover, or create promotional materials using your illustrations, you're better off with CMYK.

Other Color Considerations

That brings me to my next point about colors and printing. Since I started this whole indie publishing thing, I've learned that the colors you see on the screen aren't always what you're going to see when you print. That may not be news to some of you more professional types who have been doing this for a while, but it's definitely something I wish I'd known a long time ago, so I'm going to talk about it here it anyway. The colors on a monitor actually change over time, which means what you're seeing may not actually be the real colors. That doesn't become obvious until you look at the image on a different screen or print it. Also, some screens are better suited to displaying colors accurately than others. If digital art is something you see yourself doing long-term, like I did, you can invest in a fancy setup with a nice computer monitor specifically intended for graphic design, art, and/or gaming. I realize that's out of reach for a lot of people, though, so here are some other things you can do:

  • Invest in a color calibrator. This is something you should probably do if you're a digital artist or graphic designer anyway. I'd never even heard of them before, but now that I've had mine for a year, I'm a big believer in them. They're easy to use and can make a world of difference. This is the one I have (I swear it was only like $110 when I bought it), but I also considered this one.

  • Compare your work across multiple screens. If you have a friend who has a fancy gaming computer monitor, definitely ask if you can check out your art on that screen. As I was researching desktops, I found that many of the same specs that work well for digital art are also recommended for gaming computers, even when it comes to monitors.

  • Do some test prints of your art. Just print smaller versions if you don't want to pay for the full-size. Even if it's just through Walmart, it can be helpful to see color variations between print and the screen so you can make adjustments as needed.

  • Get a proof copy. Seriously, if you're not doing this (or planning to do it) already, you need to reconsider. You should do it when you publish a novel or other text-only book, but it's even more important for picture books when there are so many images that could get ruined by a placement issue or color difficulties. Just save yourself the potential headache and get a proof copy.

Know Your Publisher

This is something I didn't do until I was finished with illustrations and ready to publish, and I really wish I had done it beforehand. So many things are determined by who you decide to publish with. For example, what trim sizes do they accept? That's going to affect the size of your illustrations. Can you choose what kind of paper they print your books on? What color mode(s) do they accept? Do they have specific color values you need to take into consideration when creating your artwork? Do they have a guide that will walk you through the formatting process step by step so you don't mess anything up? Are there setup fees involved? Will you need to purchase your own ISBN? What are the pros and cons of publishing with Ingram Spark over CreateSpace or Book Baby or whoever else, and what's going to work best for your book?

All of these could affect the way you decide to format your book or do your illustrations, so it's helpful to do your research before you're ready to publish or even before you start working on illustrations. That's not to say it's impossible to figure it all out afterwards, but it definitely makes things a little more complicated.

If you have any other questions about this, please leave a comment below or contact me however you feel most comfortable. I'm not an expert, but I'm always happy to answer questions. In my next post, I'll be talking more about the publishing process for picture books.

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