If you’ve spent any time looking into creative careers, you’ve likely come across the job title of a production artist. It may seem like a pretty self-explanatory title—someone who produces art—but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Put simply, production artists are the creative professionals responsible for carrying out the execution of a design concept. These essential members of a creative team are the “doers” who run with a designer’s creative vision to ensure all creative deliverables are produced on time.
If you’re interested in graphic design, but the idea of brainstorming theory and brand concepts sounds a bit too philosophical for you, take a look at the job duties and outlook for production artists—you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find!
What are the job duties of a production artist?
A production artist assists teams in the production of graphic material, packaging, display and advertising projects, and more, according to The Creative Group. They may collaborate with graphic designers to format artwork, make sure everything is in its correct place prior to printing, as well as collect, process and upload files.
While an art director will oversee the entirety of a project and direct the theoretical and creative direction of a piece, the production artist is in the trenches making the art happen. They are also responsible for troubleshooting problems that may arise with a piece and coming up with creative solutions to make sure things happen the way they’re supposed to.
“Production artists should be accurate, fast, good listeners and patient, as they often complete the last step in a rushed process,” explains Karen Ferry, a web designer and project manager at Lutron. “They should have mad skills in Adobe Suite and solid design skills.”
With a keen eye for detail and the technical know-how to get the job done, production artists work with a variety of design programs (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.) to make sure artwork is production-ready and projects are on time. They also must have strong typographic skills, layout skills, organizational abilities and excellent file-categorizing prowess.
Where do production artists work?
You can find production artists anywhere you find graphic designers and art directors: Design agencies, advertising firms, marketing departments and more. If there’s a creative team present, a production artist is a helpful addition, as he or she can make sure the work actually happens and free up designers and directors to brainstorm the proper creative path.
The great thing about a creative career is that you can apply it to nearly any field of interest. All companies need branding and design work completed—which means plenty of opportunities for production artists to work with new or interesting clients.
What’s the salary like for a production artist?
According to The Creative Group’s 2017 Salary Guide, production artists with one to three years of experience reportedly make $37,250–$54,250 a year. With three or more years of experience, they’re reported to make between $50,250–$70,750 a year.*
It’s clear that education and experience make a big difference for this type of career, so don’t push aside the opportunity to gain more knowledge and on-the-job background in this line of work. The more you can add to your portfolio and present to potential employers, the more likely you’ll be to walk away with job security and a salary that increases as time goes by.
What’s the job outlook for production artists?
Demand for strictly production artists can be difficult to gauge. The line between what constitutes being a graphic designer and that of a production artist often gets blurred, particularly in smaller creative teams where much of the production work still falls on a graphic designer. With that said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 1 percent growth in employment from 2014–2014 for graphic designers.
While the growth projection numbers are certainly below the national average, they only tell part of the story. A good portion of the BLS’ projection comes from a decline in demand for graphic design employment from traditional print publications, while digital design is seeing a substantial uptick in growth. Designers would be wise to brush up on at least some web development skills like HTML5 and CSS to match employment trends.
How can you become a production artist?
Most employers prefer that candidates in a graphic design field have at least a Bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS. A formal education can certainly help you get your foot in the door, but don’t underestimate the importance of a well-rounded design portfolio. While you’re working toward completing your degree, seek out production artist or graphic design internships that provide an opportunity to supplement your portfolio with professional work examples.
One of the best ways to make a breakthrough as an inexperienced designer is to rely on a personal network. You can build that network by joining professional organizations like the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), who often host events for design professionals to learn about industry trends and meet others in the field.
Ready to get started?
While it may be possible for a highly talented and ambitious person to land a job as a production artist without a degree, it’s certainly going to be a lot harder for that person to prove their worth and know-how without educational experience.
If you’ve got your heart set on a design career but still don’t know if college is the right way to get there, learn more about how a Graphic Design Degree can help in our article, “Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It or Worthless?”
*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.