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How to Outsource Art

Peer Reviewed by jbadams, Dragonsoulj, CRFaithMusic

game art art work outsource how to
This article is about how to outsource art works for video games.

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Many clients and friends often ask me, “we have never outsourced art work before, how should we start?” “What things should I prepare for you (the outsource team)?” Here I can share some ideas, hopefully they will be useful.

I think for a game developer to outsource art works, he can follow the steps:

  1. Sort out and make a full list of assets which should be done by the outsource team. For example, you may decide to outsource all or part of the background images, the animations, UI, etc. The background images are roughly done in two steps, line art and coloring, you may decide to let the in-house team do the line art, and outsource team do the coloring.
  2. Find reference pictures for a style/quality guide. Look for pictures of in-game quality, to show the outsource team the art style and quality you need for your game. The reference pictures could be already done pictures in your game, and could be screenshots of other games.
  3. Assign technical specifications. For example, if you outsource background images, or UI, you should tell the outsource team the image resolution you need them to be delivered in. The image size affects the labor amount and price.
  4. Write down descriptions for each piece of assets. For example, for a background image, or a UI button. Write what you want, and your ideas.
  5. Get a quote. After giving the above #1~4 to the outsource team, you can ask them for a quote. Then you can make a bargain with them. This step is important. Please don’t assign a test, before you get the quote. Chances are the team can deliver nice pictures, but you can’t afford them.
  6. Assign a test. After you get a satisfactory quote from the team, you can assign a piece of art work as a test. It’s best to be a part of your incoming game, it’s the most relevant content for a test. During the test, you can watch the team, to see their way of processing things, working speed and above all, the art quality.
  7. Proceed to the formal commission. Then if you feel the team is competent for your project, you can sign a contract with them and enter formal commission stage.

And during the production phase, there are two concerns I want to add:

  1. Whether to give some info of the storyline and game play: No doubt this info would help the art contractors to do things better. Sometimes due to commercial secret concern or other reasons, you would not like to give this information. Nonetheless, make sure the description and reference for each art piece are clear, so that the contractor will be able to deliver precisely what you want.
  2. When the game is released, share the news with the art contractors. This would give them a sense of engagement, and achievement. Next time they will be willing to work with you.

About the Author(s)

Junxue Li is CEO of Novtilus Art,a 2D art design & production company.


GDOL (Gamedev.net Open License)


Nov 20 2013 02:06 PM

Nice work, Junxue Li, on your article, How to Outsource Art.


Some mention or indication to the outsourcing team or teams about intellectual property rights?  Company's might have some reservations about outsourcing without an agreement preserving "drafts" that represent previous generations of test art as acceptable art assets based on technical feasibilities. The outsourcing teams would have rights for advertising their "product quality" to encourage more clients for outsourcing art work. This is a sensitive issue for intellectual property rights ownership.


In addition, what about contacting through students at a Art University or Art College about conducting outsourced art drafting? This would be highly feasible for some companies on a tight budget, but they can accommodate student artists later by additional agreement in a substantial contract if a product is produced for the market.

Nov 20 2013 09:12 PM

Hi Numenor. Typically, the right of intellectual property(IP) is stated clearly in the outsourcing contractor. That all the IP belong to the client. You can store the art you developed for internal use, for example, educate the newbies. But you can't use the art in any way. If you want to show case the art on your website, you should first get written permission from the client.

And about using student. We hired student in local art institutes, on part time basis. But we have had bad experience that we don't do it again. True, students are cheap, but they are less experienced, and hard to manage. They always need time to attend class and write thesis, that they can't give steady work. 

Nov 28 2013 01:28 AM

As a small team, we've always outsourced art. You've more or less described our process :)

I'd like to give some advice: chances are, you already know people that can do some form of art (draw, compose music, etc). If you are happy with the artists that you work with, ask the for references for other kinds of assets (e.g. you've worked with a graphics artist and you need a sound engineer towards the end of the game). Chances are, they've already worked with/know other people, and if you've involved them in the project, they'd be glad to help you.

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