What is a Production Artist: A Comprehensive Guide

production designer

Ahh, the production artist – a vital yet often overlooked role in the world of graphic design. These detail-oriented designers step in during the final stages of a project and they thrive on balancing, refining, ordering, and color-correcting visual designs that have already received a first draft. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the role, it’s because the production artist’s duties are often lumped in with those of graphic designers. However, the production artist does exist as a distinct, standalone position, especially in larger organizations that have sizeable creative teams. 

As a starting point, you can think of them as the creative department’s ultimate perfectionists. 

But there’s much more to the role than that! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll be taking a look at production artists’ duties, required skills, salaries, and more. 

Let’s dive in!

 

What is a Production Artist?

In simple terms, a production artist is a creative professional who handles the final stages of a design project. They fine-tune the work of their team’s graphic designers, ensuring that they are ready for publication. Because of this, they often work closely with a company’s art directors, graphic designers, and occasionally video editors. 

 

Production Artist vs. a Graphic Designer

The boundaries between a production artist and a graphic designer are not always black and white. The responsibilities of these two positions often intertwine, and – in smaller companies – can combine under one unifying job title, typically just “graphic designer.”

However, in a more traditional sense, the difference between a production artist and a graphic designer is rooted in their area of focus during a project. 

For example, graphic designers are responsible for conceptualizing and designing a project from scratch. Meanwhile, production artists are responsible for applying the finishing touches to a project and making sure it is fit for publication. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different duties between a production artist and a graphic designer:

 

Production artist:

Refinement: Fine-tuning designs to ensure their visual elements are balanced, well-aligned, and colour-corrected

Preparation for publication: Optimizing designs for the mediums in which they will be published

Quality control: Double-checking the designer’s specs to ensure that they meet industry standards

 

Graphic designer:

Concept development: Creating initial concepts for visual designs, often in collaboration with a team’s art director

Design creation: Utilizing various design tools and software programs like Adobe Photoshop to bring concepts to life

Content integration: Integrating the brands’ various assets, including images, text, and other elements to create cohesive on-brand visuals

 

Skills and Requirements for Becoming a Production Artist

To be a successful production artist, you’ll need three things: a deep foundational understanding of graphic design, exceptional technical skills in industry-standard software, and a thorough grasp of both digital and print publication processes. 

Of the above list, it’s the third aspect that really distinguishes production artists from graphic designers. They must have an expert understanding of file formats, colour management, image sizing, and other prepress requirements and they must be knowledgeable in how each differs from medium to medium.
In short, to excel as a production artist, here are a few must-have skills:

• A foundational understanding of the key principles of graphic design

• High proficiency in industry-standard design software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Canva

• Exceptional attention to detail

• A thorough understanding of both digital and print production processes

• Ability to work effectively under tight deadlines 

 

Do you need to go to school to become a production artist?

A degree or diploma in graphic design, such as the one offered at Toronto Film School, can give you a massive headstart when it comes to launching your career as a production assistant. 

While formal education is not mandatory, the comprehensive learning, networking opportunities, and resources provided by institutions like Toronto Film School can give you the competitive edge required to break into the creative industries. 

Potential Salary for a Production Artist

According to Talent.com, the average salary for a production artist in Canada is $59,456 per year or $29.87 per hour. More senior production artists, however, often reach six-figure incomes. 

It’s also worth noting that salaries for production artists tend to vary quite widely based on a myriad of factors. These include both a production artist’s overall experience and expertise, as well as the nature of the industry in which they work. Production artists working in high-demand niches like tech or film and television tend to make higher salaries. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is another name for a production artist?

A: In some industries, production artists are referred to as graphic production specialists, layout artists, and prepress technicians. 

Q: Do production artists need to know how to draw?

A: Though not required, being able to draw is definitely considered a plus for any production artist. This is because they will be consistently working with the final versions of many different types of designs including illustrations. 

Q: Who is higher on the creative department hierarchy, an art director or a production artist?

A: Typically the art director holds a higher position than the production artist. Art directors oversee the overall creative direction of a project, while production artists focus on its technical execution. 

Bringing It All Together

Ultimately, a career as a production artist can be deeply rewarding. But it does require a unique combination of technical skills, theoretical knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, a personal temperament inclined towards perfectionism.

So, if you love design and art and have always considered yourself a profoundly detail-oriented person, then a production artist could easily be your dream job. Regardless, having a firm grasp of the differences between a production artist, art director, graphic designer, and other design professionals is an excellent starting point.
Now, get out there and start perfecting some designs!

Oh, and one more thing!

If you’re interested in breaking into the creative industries – as a video game developer, perhaps? – then sign up for Toronto Film School’s industry-focused newsletter, Insider Advantage.

Packed with exclusive content and useful industry insights, Insider Advantage is essential reading for anyone looking to make their mark in Canada’s creative industry.

Niko Pajkovic

Niko Pajkovic is a marketing copywriter at the Toronto Film School. He’s also an academically published author whose research focuses on algorithms, AI, and their intersection with film and television. Niko holds an MA in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Hon. BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. His freelance bylines include Film Threat, Independent Australia, Film Matters Magazine, and Film Cred.

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