I’ve often seen illustrators confounded after their contributor application was declined. As a long-time illustrator on iStock, I’ve heard literally thousands of complaints and questions regarding microstock applications, so I figured it was about time to compile some of the most commonly experienced rejection reasons in one place!

1. Consistency is Key

One of the biggest mistakes illustrators make when learning vectors is inconsistency of style. You start out, draw some shapes, move them around, then suddenly you discover a new tool or feature. So then you draw some more shapes and use the feature, when pow, there’s something else to play with. By the end, the illustration is usually a mishmash of styles. Which isn’t good.

It’s important to plan your illustration before you hit the artboard: This way, you can control every element you are drawing. It takes a lot of skill (and a lot of practice) to sit down and DRAW directly in AI! Trust me, it’s way easier to start with something, even just a rough sketch.

In particular, pay attention to your color palette, the use of gradients, and your stroke weights. Don’t draw one shape with a 1 pt black outline but then leave the rest of the shapes strokeless. When shading something realistic, think about how the light is hitting the object: Don’t have one shape with the highlight on one side, and another shape with the highlight on the other side. And don’t be tempted to reuse shapes from another illustration if the style doesn’t match!


2. Gradient Mayhem

For some reason, the majority of new illustrators I’ve seen over the years tend to go bonkers with the gradient tool. Sure, gradients are fun to play with, but you need to pay attention: Gradients don’t always suit the object you are drawing.

Study the things around you in real life to get a feel for how light hits differently textured surfaces, then plan accordingly. Very rarely do objects gradient straight from black into white (except for highly reflective surfaces like metal), so, don’t use black-to-white gradients unless you’re drawing those objects!

Also: Gradients and outlines rarely mix well. In the hands of a skilled illustrator they look fantastic, but unless you have an extensive art background, it’s best to leave off outlining gradiated shapes until you’ve got the hang of vectors.


3. Avoid Overly Simplistic or Over-Represented Files

It’s so tempting: Login to any microstock site, and check out the top sellers. Usually they are simple things such as icon sets, floral ornaments, flags, maps, silhouettes, etc. They sell, right? So why not upload some yourself to prove you know what will do well?

Well… The problem is, these types of files don’t show your artistic skills. Pretty much anyone can trace a photo to create a silhouette. And creating a shiny ‘Aqua’ button takes only seconds. So it doesn’t tell the application reviewers much about your actual talent.


We already have tons of these kinds of files: Why would we accept someone who’s only going to make more of them, even if they do sell? Show us your best files and steer clear of stuff others have already done.


4. Uploading Similar Files

Another common mistake is uploading several of the same kind of file. For example, one illustration of a woman’s full figure, then a crop of her upper body, then a crop of her face. This is a no-no. We want to make sure you have more than just one file when you’re finally approved to upload!

The more variety you can show us in terms of style, subject matter, composition, etc, the easier it is for us to say ‘yes, you can draw!’.


5. Technical Stuff

While you might be able to breeze through your application with lots of minor technical issues, you might be in for a surprise when you start to actually upload.

You need to remember that the application process on iStock is only your application. We’re trying to figure out whether you have the skills and talents to submit really great illustrations. We’re not so bothered if you have some technical issues in your files, as those can be fixed later.

But when you go to actually upload, your files will be subject to a much deeper technical scrutiny. It’s one thing to be able to show that you can draw cool stuff. It’s a different ball game if you want to actually upload your vectors for client use.

Things like stray points and shapes, open paths, file formats, layers, and so on need to be neat and tidy and properly constructed for us to approve, otherwise clients will run into issues with your files. So please double check your files carefully before you submit and ask yourself, “if I was a client who’s not familiar with vector editing software, could I figure out how to use this file?”. If the answer is “no” then you should probably review your file construction to figure out the simplest, clearest, most user-friendly build you can, otherwise you could end up having your sales clawed back because upset clients couldn’t use the file they purchased.