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Uploading vector illustration to sell as stock can be rewarding both creatively and monetarily. Some artists sell their work on many microstock sites, while others remain exclusive at one. Part of the appeal of microstock is the potential to sell the same item to many buyers. In this regard, being a successful stock illustrator is in large part a numbers game – the more files you have online, the more sales you can make.
Each upload must pass a review to meet the technical, aesthetic and legal requirements of the agency. If these standards are not met, the file is rejected. In this article we outline some top tips to get your acceptance rate up so you can spend more time creating – and selling – new items.
1. Know the Requirements
This is the number one thing you can do to increase your acceptance rate. In fact, you shouldn't upload a single item until you've read the site's submission requirements. Most sites have extensive training materials, knowledge-bases or support centers. They also have online forums in which other contributors exchange information and offer assistance. Be careful not to trust everything you read in the forums, however. Older threads may contain outdated info, and like everything else on the Internet, microstock forums are prone to hearsay and misinformation. Search for threads related to your question and look for consensus. Better yet, seek out answers from admins or forum moderators. But before you upload, read the rules!
2. Use the Right Format
Most microstock sites use EPS version 10 as their standard format for vectors. EPS10 is compatible with just about every vector software out there. This means a buyer who may not have the latest version of Illustrator, or one who uses Inkscape or Corel Draw will be able to open and edit the file. Most sites allow you to upload other file formats as extras, but an EPS is the minimum requirement. To save a native Illustrator file as EPS10, simply go to Save As from the file menu, then choose EPS from the format drop-down menu. In the next dialog, choose EPS 10 from the Version drop-down.
You can find out more selling vector in EPS 10 format via Tuts+.
3. Choose Effective Keywords, Title and Description
In order for buyers to find and purchase your items, they must be tagged with relevant keywords. On most sites, it is up to you to provide those tags. The operative word here is "relevant." Do not try to spam the keywords with unrelated terms. Using the tag "corporate" for an illustration of a horse will not get you more downloads, and may incur a rejection. The reviewer may delete non-relevant keywords, which only makes more work for him or her, and you don't want to do that, do you? Similarly, keep your titles and descriptions appropriate to the image. In the item’s description, always list the file types included in the download. It's also a good idea to describe the item's level of edit-ability, and whether it contains things like transparency and gradient mesh.
4. Close Open Paths
Check and double-check your vector files for open paths. Most sites require all filled shapes to be closed. You can find out about why open paths are an issue and most importantly how to fix them, here on Tuts+.
5. Check For Copyright Issues and Trademarks
It should go without saying, but make sure everything you submit to a microstock site is your original work. Uploading someone else's files, or those you find on warez or freebie sites, is a copyright violation and will likely get you banned. Don't risk it. Some sites also prohibit uploading an item you created from a tutorial. Even though you may have physically drawn the file yourself, if you did so by following a step-by-step tutorial, it's not exactly your original work.
A trademark is a symbol, word or phrase that represents a company or product. You cannot, for example, sell the Apple logo as part of an icon set, or upload a drawing of a particular sports car. Most sites will not let you use brand names in your items' titles, and famous slogans may also be prohibited. Anything you might associate with a product or brand is likely trademarked. For example, the stitching pattern on the back pocket of a pair of blue jeans is trademarked by the apparel company that makes the jeans. Some famous buildings, landmarks and works of art are also protected. Do your research before uploading.
If your illustration contains an identifiable human face, most sites require you to supply a signed model release. Similarly, you cannot upload images of famous people. This includes entertainers, professional athletes, politicians or anyone else who earns their living from having a public presence – even if these people are no longer alive.
The exception to the above rules is when selling stock under an "editorial only" license. And editorial license differs from a regular license in that the image can only be used in an editorial context. For example, a newspaper article on the new iPhone may feature an illustration of someone using that product. A magazine opinion piece may use a portrait of a world leader. If you plan to upload to sites that offer an editorial license, read the terms carefully before submitting.
5a. Upload Your Source Material and Process Files
Some sites require vector artists to provide proof of originality in the form of source material. For example, if you create a vector silhouette, some sites ask that you upload a small JPEG of your original source. So if you created the silhouette from a photo, that photo must also be your original work. You can't use a photo you found online or in a magazine, for example. In the example below, both the photo of the scooter and the image used to create the texture were uploaded with the vector. Check the requirements for each site.
6. Check Your Font Licenses
If you use text in your file, especially if the item is meant to be a template and the text is editable, make sure the fonts you use come from a reputable source and they are properly licensed. There are many wonderful free fonts out there, but just because they're free to download, doesn't mean they're free to use as you wish. The font's designer may only allow you to use the free version for personal use, that is, not in a product you plan to sell as stock. Stay away from fonts you find on warez sites. They may not work with your system, or worse, may cause damage in the form of a virus or other malware. If you're unsure about a font, read the license.
7. Delete Unused Panel Items and Empty Layers
It's a good idea to get rid of superfluous layers, swatches and other panel items. While this alone will probably not result in a rejection, it's just best to eliminate clutter. This will also make it easier for the buyer to edit the file, and will reduce your overall file size (if only slightly). Get into the habit of deleting unused swatches, symbols and graphic styles. Illustrator comes with a action that does just that. Open the Actions panel and click to play the action called "Delete Unused Panel Items" (check this). You can even assign a keyboard shortcut to the action to play it with the press of a key.
Need further help in how to organize and save your vector files?
8. Do Not Use a White Background Object
There's no reason to place a white-filled rectangle below a vector illustration. Since vectors are object-based, their paths define the boundaries of the image. Any vector placed in a layout, whether it be print or web, will allow the background to show around its edges. If you include a white background, it may have unintended consequences for the designer who buys your file. They may want to place the illustration on a colored background, or use the vector paths as the edges of a text wrap. A white object below the illustration will interfere. And someone who wants to simply place the file in their layout may not have the skills to edit the vector and remove the white rectangle. Microstock sites vary when it comes to this rule, but it's a good general rule to follow in any case.
9. Unlock/Unhide All Objects
Before you save the file, be sure to unlock and unhide all objects. Buyers, especially novice users, may be confused by objects that appear to be un-editable because they are locked. You should also unlock all the layers in your file, for the same reason. You don't want your buyers to be frustrated when they try to edit the file and have to go through all the layers and unlock them. To make this step an easy part of your workflow, you can create an action, with a hotkey, that performs these steps.
10. Close and Re-Open the EPS
This should be your final step before uploading. It's one more thing to do, but taking this easy extra step will help you find most problems before you upload. Simply save your EPS file, then close it and re-open it. View the file in Outline mode. If any gradients have broken up, or if any objects have become rasterized, you'll be able to see these at a glance. Raster objects will show as rectangles and can also be found in the Links menu.
Nobody likes rejections, especially ones that are easily prevented. By taking a few extra steps before uploading, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration in the long run.