Vector Newbie Tips for Microstock Applications

In the iStockphoto Critique Request Forums, we often see illustrators confounded after their contributor application was declined.  As an administrator on iStockphoto, 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!

Read more about the importance of style here.


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.

Read more about gradients here.


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.

For a list of files to avoid when applying to, click here.


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

When your application samples are rejected on iStock, you will be forced to wait before you can upload again. The wait gets longer and longer the more frequently you’re rejected. So, make sure you take 20 mins BEFORE uploading new samples to go over the file with a fine toothed comb. You’ll kick yourself if your file was artistically fine, but had one little open shape in a background layer. For more information on iStock’s technical standards check out the Illustrator Training Manual.

I’m sure many, many more tips will come to mind in the future, so stay tuned for updates!

© 2009 Jennifer Borton


3 thoughts on “Vector Newbie Tips for Microstock Applications

  1. Dixie Haynes says:

    I know this is an old post. I just wanted to say thanks for the great tips.

  2. Socrates says:

    I need to to know if the Vector images which can be accepted are now 10.0 eps illustrator files, then do they need to be A18? If so, how do you make files saved that way if 10.0 files are saved automatically as A19 files?

    10.0 always comes up as a 3.1 level.

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