On-Demand Art


From our friends at Printwear Magazine. 

Who uses clipart, design templates, stock designs and stock photography? Everyone! Almost everyone connected to artwork, photography and designing content in our industry uses clipart, design templates, stock designs and stock photography. Graphic designers, production artists, web designers all do. And don’t forget screen printers, embroiderers, sign makers, engravers, digital printers… even my sister who produces a family calendar and newsletter in Word uses this content.

Stock content usage has seen serious growth over the last five years. In one informal poll of 10 designers I know, all reported that they use templates and stock content frequently. And half said they are looking for ways to create content or templates as an alternative form of income.

More important than who uses this type of stock content are the purposes for which they use it and why. There are many benefits to using clipart, design templates, fonts, stock photography and stock designs. Here is a short list of some situations where this resource helps businesses:

  • Your business does not have the talent to create custom content,
  • You have the talent, but not the time,
  • There’s an increase in the quantity of art production (doing more in less time),
  • You need to meet clients’ tight deadlines.

Further, consider that this tool also creates a premium class of designers and photographers who do have the talent and time to create custom content. As a result, they can charge more for their rare services.

Bringing more imagery and vision to the design table in less time is always positive. So let’s take a look at some of the specifics of what to look for in this type of on-hand content.

Choose Wisely

Clipart, design templates, stock photography, and even fonts are all, in my opinion, resource tools to help you cross the finish line successfully and, if possible, in less time. It is much quicker and more efficient than actually drawing or designing in-house. Especially considering that most of us can’t really draw and the popularity of stick figures is waning, stock content increases our opportunities to be or look more creative, more professional.

Can you imagine creating, designing and building your own font? Most people can’t. Even experienced graphic designers with years behind the screen would prefer to buy a font. If you are a business owner with a graphic designer on staff, how much time do you want them to spend on redrawing what already exists and would adequately meet your marketing objectives? For example, some designers express that they need to be creative and would like to spend two hours drawing a basketball, tennis racquet or any other common image. I would argue that those two hours spent drawing the world’s greatest basketball were probably a waste and should have been used on other priorities.

Business owners and designers alike need to recognize that this isn’t an either/or proposition. Using stock content doesn’t take away the ability to be creative or original.

There are stock designs and stock layouts for Internet home pages, web pages, e-commerce pages, blog templates, Facebook layouts, Power Point templates, corporate designs, athletic designs, business card templates, and on and on. Consider this content and templates your professional starting point.

Remember playing the old game Mr. Potato Head, where you got to play with the parts and pieces of the doll? Take off the angry eyes and replace them with the happy eyes. Don’t forget to add the mustache! In the same way you were able to make a unique potato head, you can add what I call “visual value” to the template—add in your special ingredients. Personalize the template for your audience or your specific marketing objective. This is the difference between graphic design and graphic management.

Beware of Roadblocks

Not all stock content is created equally. It is critical to the success of your project that you use content that is as production-ready or production-friendly as possible for the specific imprinting process you will engage.

Beware of the roadblocks! Old, tired, aged desktop publishing clipart will often look… well, old, tired and aged. And don’t use the vintage excuse; my kids reminded me that vintage was another word for old.

Another roadblock can be best described in the adage what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. Content may look good on screen but, upon closer inspection in professional design software or when scaled to actual size, you may see serious production problems. Here are some other common roadblocks:

  • Open paths
  • Too many control points or nodes
  • Multiple objects overlapping or intersecting
  • The image is cropped
  • The image isn’t vector
  • The resolution of the image is too low
  • The image is built using process colors rather than spot colors
  • The content was created using an excessive number of colors and uses complex halftones and gradients

One of the more curious roadblocks happens with black and white clipart that really isn’t black and white. It’s not two colors; it’s only one (black). The part of the content that appears to be white is actually transparent. It only appears white to your eyes because that’s the color of the background. If it were on a blue substrate, it would look like black and blue clipart… and that’s exactly how you might feel after realizing you just paid for content that isn’t ready for production.

The last thing you want as a business owner, web designer, production artist or graphic designer is to invest in content only to realize too late that you are spending more time “fixing” it to be ready for your production process. After all, the central benefits of owning a library of stock design templates, clipart, etc., are to save time and increase your creativity without sacrificing quality.

Remember that using stock content doesn’t take away your ability to be creative or original and that this type of content and these templates are designed to be your professional starting points. As you understand what to ask, what to look for and what consumption method best suits your business needs, your customers will appreciate your creative vision that fits their budget. 


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