Professional Resources

AMI’s Position on Speculative Work

NoSpecAMI encourages medical illustrators and animators to engage in best business practices by entering into negotiation to secure a contractual agreement with ethical terms and equitable compensation in advance of accepting work. Accordingly, AMI strongly encourages medical illustrators and animators to avoid the risks of speculative work.

What is spec work?

Speculative work, or spec work, is any creative work created for a client as a precondition to the possibility of securing paid work. Not all unpaid work is speculative work. For example, pro bono work is volunteer work donated without expectation of payment. Speculative work is widely viewed as unethical because it compromises the professional relationship between an illustrator and a client, preys on vulnerable illustrators (especially those new to the field), and the speculative arrangement rarely realizes any profits or future work for the illustrator. In the end, the artist is simply providing free work.

What are the risks of spec work?

There are potential legal risks to both parties. Depending on the language of the speculative work agreement, legal risks can arise about the disposition of copyright and the terms of use. Speculative work agreements often have fine print imposing “work-for-hire” to transfer the illustrator’s copyright to the prospective client. It may also prevent the illustrator from
licensing that work to a future paying client.

Clients risk compromised quality. For clients it may seem like a good idea to have many artists compete for their project for free, but in reality there is a high risk of receiving low quality work. Limiting fair compensation limits an illustrator’s ability to create high-quality work. Both parties stand to lose time and money based on the speculative work model.

Medical illustrators/animators are disadvantaged by the spec model. Highly-trained professionals have invested a great deal of time, education and expertise to acquire and maintain high-end artistic skills and ensure the highest quality of accurate information is conveyed in their visual art. Without adequate compensation, continued professional development and business sustainability is not possible.

Read more:

GNSI how-art-design-competitions-exploit-artists-and-what-you-can-do-about-it


AMI Policy

Speculative work (spec work) requests are antithetical to the high standards of professionalism the AMI and its members strive to maintain. While the decision to create visual art under speculative work is ultimately up to the individual, the AMI understands speculative work devalues visual art and ultimately undermines the quality of the professional visual art marketplace. Therefore, the AMI strongly urges medical illustrators and animators to engage in fair negotiations to secure contract terms that support proper compensation and clearly define rights and usage prior to starting any work.

In order to support a healthy marketplace the AMI will not propagate unethical proposals to members under the aegis of AMI. The AMI will not promote or post job requests, notices, contests or other solicitations that are speculative, including but not limited to:

• Solicitations to complete specific assignments, free-of-charge or for a nominal fee, in the hopes of winning a commissioned project

• Solicitations to create tutorials about specific skills and techniques with the intention of monetizing the tutorial without payment to the creator

• Calls for Entry to crowdsourcing contests or competitions that seek the free usage of work, include work-for-hire terms or copyright transfers, or other unsustainable business practices, as the price of competing for recognition or a prize of some kind


Visual Strategies for Biological Data

PointsOfViewScientific communication relies heavily on graphical figure design, but training and guidelines on data visualization techniques for biological research have, until recently, received relatively little attention. In 2010, Nature Methods started publishing a monthly column (Points of View) offering researchers practical advice on scientific data visualization. This collection brings together all 38 articles published through February 2015.

Bang Wong, an AMI member and the creative director at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, authored many of the articles.

The 40-page PDF can be purchased for $7.99 at the Scientific American store.

Table of Contents:

3 Color coding. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 7, 573 (2010).
4 Design of data figures. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 7, 665 (2010).
5 Salience. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 7, 773 (2010).
6 Gestalt principles (part 1). Wong, B. Nat. Methods 7, 863 (2010).
7 Gestalt principles (part 2). Wong, B. Nat. Methods 7, 941 (2010).
8 Negative space. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 5 (2011).
9 Points of review (part 1). Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 101 (2011).
10 Points of review (part 2). Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 189 (2011).
11 Typography. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 277 (2011).
12 The overview figure. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 365 (2011).
13 Color blindness. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 441 (2011).
14 Avoiding color. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 525 (2011).
15 Simplify to clarify. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 611 (2011).
16 Arrows. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 701 (2011).
17 Layout. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 783 (2011).
18 Salience to relevance. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 889 (2011).
19 The design process. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 987 (2011).
20 Data exploration. Shoresh, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 5 (2012).
21 Networks. Gehlenborg, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 115 (2012).
22 Heat maps. Gehlenborg, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 213 (2012).
23 Integrating data. Gehlenborg, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 315 (2012).
24 Representing the genome. Nielsen, C. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 423 (2012).
25 Managing deep data in genome browsers. Nielsen, C. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 521 (2012).
26 Representing genomic structural variation. Nielsen, C. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 631 (2012).
27 Mapping quantitative data to color. Gehlenborg, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 769 (2012).
28 Into the third dimension. Gehlenborg, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 851 (2012).
29 Power of the plane. Gehlenborg, N. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 935 (2012).
30 Pencil and paper. Wong, B. & Schmidt Kjaergaard, R. Nat. Methods 9, 1037 (2012).
31 Visualizing biological data. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 9, 1131 (2012).
32 Axes, ticks and grids. Krzywinski, M. Nat. Methods 10, 183 (2013).
33 Labels and callouts. Krzywinski, M. Nat. Methods 10, 275 (2013).
34 Elements of visual style. Krzywinski, M. Nat. Methods 10, 371 (2013).
35 Plotting symbols. Krzywinski, M. & Wong, B. Nat. Methods 10, 451 (2013).
36 Multidimensional data. Krzywinski, M. & Savig, E. Nat. Methods 10, 595 (2013).
37 Storytelling. Krzywinski, M. & Cairo, A. Nat. Methods 10, 687 (2013).
38 Bar charts and box plots. Streit, M. & Gehlenborg, N. Nat. Methods 11, 117 (2014).
39 Sets and intersections. Lex, A. & Gehlenborg, N. Nat. Methods 11, 779 (2014).
40 Temporal data. Streit, M. & Gehlenborg, N. Nat. Methods 12, 97 (2015). 

Client Guide to Working with a Medical Illustrator

You have something important to communicate — a new drug, device, procedure, or research — and you need a unique image or animation with which to educate and promote your discovery. Visualizing science and medicine is our business! Medical illustrators have the medical and scientific knowledge to grasp complex scientific information, parse it down, and transmit the essence in a succinct visual message that is accurate, educational, and beautiful.

Working with a medical illustrator and purchasing illustrations, animations, or multimedia may be a new experience for you. This guide of frequently asked questions will help you understand the creative process, pricing, licensing rights, and common business practices used in the industry. The collaborative process that takes place between you (the client) and the image creator (the medical illustrator) reflects a unique synergy where science and art truly meet.

What is a medical illustrator?

Medical illustrators are highly specialized interdisciplinary professionals who have earned advanced degrees from universities affiliated with medical schools. These degrees offer education combining medical science, art, communication, and technology. Many medical illustrators maintain professional competency through board certification with a rigorous commitment to continuing education. A board certified medical illustrator is known as a Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI).

What does a medical illustrator do?

Medical illustrators are unique in their ability to create solutions that translate complex scientific concepts into clear, concise, memorable imagery. Medical illustrators are qualified to serve as content developer, producer, illustrator, designer, animator, director, and/or consultant for instructional and/or promotional materials. They produce visually driven content for print, film, television, web, interactive and mobile media, virtual reality, exhibits, demonstrative evidence, presentations, three-dimensional models, and prosthetics. They can produce new custom illustrations tailored to a client’s specific needs or they can sell rights to existing “stock” illustrations from their image archives.

Partnering with a knowledgeable, professional medical illustrator may deliver a far superior, scientifically accurate, and effective visual solution compared to that produced by a general artist with a science expert’s guidance.

How do I find a qualified medical illustrator?

There are approximately 700 members of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) and an estimated 1,200 practicing medical illustrators in the United States and Canada. To locate a medical illustrator, search by name, area, or specialization in our Medical Illustrator directory or browse and search the Medical Illustration Source Book at Many medical illustrators have their own websites with online portfolios and work with clients locally, nationally and internationally.

How are services provided?

Contacting a medical illustrator at the very beginning of a project provides great advantage in shaping content development because of their medical knowledge, understanding of technology, and artistic expertise. Words and images must be synchronous for the best communication result. A medical illustrator is a content developer and is skilled at contributing to written material as well as creating art.

Below is a general project workflow a client may experience:

A project begins with a consultation by phone, email, or in person to discuss the subject matter and requirements of the project. How will the illustrations, animations or media be used? What reference materials are available? What is the deadline and budget? What reproduction rights are needed?

A proposal is prepared for the client that includes a detailed description of the scope of work, estimate of fees, process for approval and changes, delivery dates, and a licensing contract describing reproduction rights, payment schedule, and other terms and responsibilities.

Once the price and licensing rights are negotiated, both parties sign the proposal contract and work begins. (Sometimes an advance payment may be required to begin work.) The illustrator will research the subject matter and review references, discuss key concepts with the client and/or a content expert, and begin preliminary sketches or storyboards.

Preliminary sketches or storyboards are sent to the client for careful review and correction. One to two rounds of sketch revisions are typical. Additionally, the client may need to approve motion tests, voice-over, and music sound track of an animation project. Thorough communication between the client and illustrator is crucial at this point. Errors and changes discovered after client approval of sketches may be labor and cost intensive to repair.

After the client approves sketches or storyboards in writing, the final illustrations / animations are created. If sketches have been thoroughly reviewed, changes to final artwork should be unnecessary or minimal.

Referencing for legal and regulatory review may augment images or storyboards when needed in commercialization projects.

Final artwork is sent for client review. Upon approval in writing, the high-resolution files are delivered on CD or via the Internet. An invoice is issued with the final product. Prompt payment is important as the grant of licensing rights is typically subject to payment in full.

How do medical illustrators charge?

There are no “standard” prices for medical illustration. Pricing depends on the complexity of the content, the uses and reproduction rights the client desires, and the illustrator’s experience and reputation.

Medical illustration is a service. The product is not “bought,” but the use of it is licensed. In general, the more uses = higher cost. An illustration used in a marketing campaign for a new drug has a higher economic value than the exact same illustration used in a journal article. If you have a tight budget, discuss this with the medical illustrator who can advise if it is realistic and what you can expect for your proposed budget.

Usage fees are determined by:

Nature of use: advertising, magazine, textbook, journal publication, corporate brochure, web site, medical legal exhibit, TV, live presentation, or multimedia project

Distribution format: printed, Internet, CD / DVD, app

Duration of use: one-time, months, years

Geographic area of use: US, North America, Europe, Worldwide

Exclusive or limited use

Reputation of illustrator

What usage rights do I need?

The medical illustrator will ask questions about all the different ways you would like to use the images. Based on your needs, a license and correlative price will be prepared.

Below are some sample licensing terms and definitions:

One-time Print Use: the limited right to reproduce an image only one time in printed form (paper and ink) in North America (English language). Includes the right to use the illustration at the same or reduced size on the contents page and the right to use the illustration in promotion of the publication, but only in the context of the original printed page.

Online Rights: the limited right to use the illustration in the Internet edition of the publication, but only to accompany the article or text it supports in the original print edition.

Unlimited, Nonexclusive: a grant of rights that permits the buyer use of an image or work across all media types and parameters. A nonexclusive grant does not prevent the illustrator from granting the same rights to other buyers. Unlimited nonexclusive rights may be broad or specifically limited to a media, industry, territory, or time period.

Unlimited, Exclusive: a grant of rights that permits the buyer use of an image or work across all media types and parameters. An exclusive grant allows the artwork to be used only by the one buyer. Unlimited exclusive rights may be broad or specifically limited to a media, industry, territory, or time period.

Transfer of Copyright: an assignment of copyright ownership in a work from the owner to another party. A valid transfer must be contracted in writing and signed by the owner.

For terms not listed, visit the PLUS Licensing Glossary.

Who owns copyright to the illustrations?

In the same way that musicians control who can reproduce their music, medical illustrators control who can reproduce their artwork. Under U.S. and international copyright laws, ownership of creative works is the property of the author (illustrator) from the moment it is created in a tangible form. Ideas and facts are not copyrightable.

U.S. copyright law consists of a bundle of exclusive rights that include:

Reproduction - right to make copies of a protected work

Distribution - right to sell or distribute copies to the public

Derivative - right to make new works based on a protected work

Performance and display - right to perform a work or to display a work in public

International law protects additional rights including:

Attribution - right to be credited and acknowledged as the creator of the work

Integrity - right to prevent revision, alteration, or distortion of a work that is detrimental to the creator’s reputation

Copyright of an artwork can be sold in whole (called a transfer of copyright), or more commonly, rights may be sold separately with conditions (called licensing). A license is a contract whereby the illustrator who owns the rights, grants reproduction rights to the client to use the artwork for a specific purpose under specific terms in exchange for a fee. When the license expires, those licensed rights revert to the illustrator.

The concept underlying licensing fees is that the reproduction of the creative work produces results for the client and these results have value. The success of a product has a relationship with the quality of the creative work. Thus, the extent of rights licensed bears a relationship to the compensation paid to the creator. Each right has a value. The more rights, the higher the fee. These longstanding and well-established principles are respected and upheld by professional creators and their licensors.

Why can’'t I use the images however I want?

If you buy a book, computer software, or a music CD, making that purchase doesn'’t give you the rights to make copies of it or broadcast it to the public. That right remains with the copyright owner. Clients must abide by the terms of the licensing agreement negotiated with the medical illustrator. To use the artwork in an unauthorized manner is copyright infringement.

What if I want to use the images in ways beyond the license?

Should the original use of the artwork exceed your expectations and you wish to extend it, then you can easily negotiate additional usage rights with the medical illustrator.

But I’'ve used illustrators before who let me use the images however I want?

Perhaps they produced the artwork for you as an employee of your company or university. Perhaps you paid for an unlimited use license. There are some medical illustrators who will transfer all copyrights or sign work for hire agreements, but this is not standard practice.

The “Work for Hire” (WFH) provision of US Copyright law is a very narrow exception to the basic rule that the creator of a work owns the copyright. Instead, WFH deems an employer or another commissioning party as the creator of the work and therefore owner of the copyright. If a freelance illustrator signs a WFH contract, the illustrator becomes an employee only for the purposes of surrendering copyright, without receiving any of the benefits of employment. Therefore, most creative professionals consider WFH to be an unfair practice and many refuse to sign these contracts.

Copyright ownership is rarely necessary for clients to obtain the rights to use the creative work for their needs and is generally negotiated at a premium by creative professionals. A thoughtfully crafted license without sale of copyright can generally cover all needs the client requires.
Do I need a license to use images in a lecture, handout or a course?

It depends on whether the lecture is educational or commercial. Fair Use is a provision in US Copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission of or payment to the owner. Fair use applies to limited and “transformative” purposes such as: commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship.

The question of fair use is one faculty routinely face when teaching and lecturing. Whether you want to photocopy a journal article to distribute in your class, or use images or movies from a publication or the Internet in your lecture, it is important to determine if your use of a protected work is considered a fair use by the four-factor analysis.

The Four-Factor Analysis:

Purpose: commercial vs. nonprofit educational, degree of transformation

Nature of the copyrighted work: factual vs. creative, published vs. unpublished

Amount and substantiality: portion vs. whole work, is it the “heart” of the work

Effect: does the use harm the potential market for or value of the work

If the lecture is educational (a face-to-face classroom or a podium presentation at a national meeting) then probably yes – fair use applies. If the lecture is commercial (a sales training course, online webinar, or MOOC) then probably no –- get permission from the copyright owner. You may have to pay a licensing or reuse fee. Permissions to photocopy journal articles or excerpts of books in a classroom coursepack can be obtained through the Copyright Clearance Center or directly from the publisher. Permission to use images and movies in your lecture, blog, or article must be obtained from the copyright owner.

The TEACH Act also allows limited provisions for online and distance education, but only for nonprofit accredited educational institutions (e.g., universities) recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. Faculty should be very careful when agreeing to have their presentation recorded, posted, or distributed online. Posting of PowerPoint files on a website for download, recording of lectures at national meetings on a website for public viewing, or teaching public webinars –– these uses are not considered face-to-face classroom education, they are widespread Internet distribution. The Fair Use and TEACH Act provisions may not apply. Should your lecture contain copyrighted images or movies used without permission – you may be liable for infringement. Check your lecture and either remove copyrighted content or seek permissions.

It’'s important to remember that fair use is not a right but rather a narrow exception to the creator’'s exclusive rights. By claiming fair use of a protected work, you acknowledge that you are not the owner and that you did not seek permission.

What if I’'m required to publish my article Open Access?

Numerous funding agencies (NIH, HHMI, RCUK) require authors to publish the results of their research in an open access journal. Open access allows the public to freely read and use the published results of federal-funded research. Most journals provide open access articles under a Creative Commons license. There are 6 different CC licenses granting various derivative and commercial rights. If you want figures prepared for an open access article, tell the medical illustrator in advance so that an appropriate fee and license can be prepared for this special circumstance.


Download a printable PDF of the Client Guide

Medical illustrators, with their skills as communicators, can play a role in bringing about the best possible outcome of a disaster by (1) participating in Emergency Preparedness efforts and (2) being prepared to communicate medical information under adverse circumstances during an Emergency Response effort.

A five page document titled Introduction to Emergency Preparedness and Response in a Medical Illustration Curriculum: Communicating a Medical Emergency through Visual Imagery has been prepared by the AMI in conjunction with Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) Emergency Preparedness Project.  It is available as a pdf.

Download the "Emergency Preparedness" document in PDF format

The Association of Medical Illustrators supports professional conduct and standard business practices in the medical illustration and scientific visualization industries.

In the Advocacy section you will find topics pertaining to our mission to support the right of all creators of intellectual property to own, control and preserve their rights to those creations as guaranteed by national and international copyright laws and conventions. In the Business Practices and Business Tools sections you will find articles authored and reviewed by industry professionals. Each section offers information and resources for specific business relationships and working environments. The intent of this series is educational and adherence to the stated provisions is not mandatory.

This section contains topics pertaining to our mission to support the right of all creators of intellectual property to own, control and preserve their rights to those creations as guaranteed by national and international copyright laws and conventions.

Issues of Intellectual Property & Copyright

When an artist creates a drawing, painting, sculpture, animation or any of the myriad of other forms a visual communication may take, it is the tangible expression of an idea. Artwork is intellectual property in the same way that written work is intellectual property. A body of copyright law protects intellectual property. Current issues of intellectual properties include:

Orphan Works Legislation

The term "orphan works" describes the situation where the owner of a copyrighted work cannot be identified and located by someone who wishes to make use of the work in a manner that requires permission of the copyright owner.

The proposed changes to copyright law threaten the exclusive rights and copyright protections afforded to visual artists because each bill permits, and even encourages, wide-scale infringements while depriving creators of exclusive rights and protections currently available under the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the international TRIPs Agreement.

Reprographic Rights

Illustrators' published works earn reprographic royalties through licenses granted by copyright collecting societies to secondary rights users like libraries, institutions, corporations, copy shops and others, to permit photocopying and digitally republishing of published material anywhere in the world.

Foreign visual art collecting societies collect royalties for American illustrators, but they can't pay it to us because there hasn't been a properly chartered reprographic royalty collecting society in the U.S. to track usage and distribute the money properly. The U.S. Copyright Clearance Center claims a similar position. Some money has been returned to the US since at least 1995, but it is not reaching rights holders and is going unaccounted for. For more information visit the website of the American Society of Illustrators Partnership.

Work Made for Hire

A work made for hire is an exception to the general rule that the person who creates a work is the legal author of that work. In the case of a work "made for hire" (WFH), the employer - not the employee - is considered the legal author.


Under the U.S. Copyright Act, a work is protected by copyright from the time it is created in a fixed form. In other words, when a work is written down or otherwise set into tangible form, the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created it. Only the author or those deriving their rights from the author can rightfully claim copyright.

Although the general rule is that the person who creates a work is the author of that work, there is an exception to that principle: the copyright law defines a category of works called "works made for hire." If a work is "made for hire," the employer, and not the employee, is considered the author. The employer may be a firm, an organization, or an individual.

Statutory Definition

To understand the complex concept of a work made for hire, it is necessary to refer to the statutory definition.

Section 101 of the copyright law defines a "work made for hire" as:

  1. A work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
  2. A work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a sound recording, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. For the purpose of the foregoing sentence, a "supplementary work" is a work prepared for a publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes; and an "instructional text" is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities.

Understanding Work Made for Hire Contracts

This statement is intended to educate members of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) regarding some of the possible problems encountered in "work made for hire" (WFH) contracts. All AMI members are free to conduct their own business arrangements as they see fit. Signing a WFH contract OTHER than within a full-time employee/employer relationship may:

  • Deprive independent creators of all authorship and reproduction rights to their work, while vesting those rights in the commissioning party.
  • Treat independent creators as employees solely for the purpose of copyright acquisition, but may otherwise provide none of the traditional benefits of employment such as, but not limited to, health/disability insurance and vacation benefits.
  • Present independent creators with terms or conditions that are open to little or no modification or negotiation.
  • Provide no additional compensation to independent creators for the loss of their intellectual property rights.

Under WFH contracts, independent creators may lose the ability to receive compensation from potential future uses of their work; may lose the right to create derivative images from such work; and may lose the ability to protect the physical integrity of such work from changes and/or distortions that might affect the creator's artistic reputation.

Links for issues of intellectual property and copyright

United States Copyright Office Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act [pdf] Helpful definitions of terms pertaining to copyright and intellectual property

This section contains articles authored and reviewed by industry professionals. Each section offers information and resources for specific business relationships and working environments: self employed, salaried and those in the business of selling stock illustrations. Copyright, metadata and picture licensing system information are also included here. The intent of this series is educational and adherence to the stated provisions is not mandatory.


AMI Legal Notice and Disclaimer

Personal outreach for members of the AMI

The AMI feels strongly that our association must meet the needs of our members - through direct, personal outreach. To accomplish this goal, the Mentor Program was developed. Volunteers in this program have had leadership experience in the AMI, and provide a personal touch in answering questions about the AMI. Mentors participating in this program bring a range of experiences that they wish to share - as practicing professionals and in their leadership roles within the AMI.

The one thing that all AMI mentors have in common is their commitment to assisting our newest members in learning about the AMI, and how to access all its resources. Whether it's how to utilize the AMI Member HUB, who to contact regarding copyright law, business practices issues, public relations or many other areas of interest, mentors provide answers to questions about how the AMI functions. Mentees can find opportunities to contribute to the growth of the AMI, and learn how our organization is governed - ultimately enriching their professional experiences as well as their colleagues'.

Our AMI Mentor Program is open to all members of the AMI who are interested in connecting with a mentor and participating in the mentor program. The program provides a unique benefit to AMI members who are new to the association, new to the field of medical illustration, or simply would like to connect with a fellow AMI member who can serve as their mentor. 

The Mentor Program was developed because of concerns that we all had at some point as members of the AMI - how to get our many questions answered, and how to feel more connected with our colleagues. By participating in the Mentor program, you'll soon learn that the AMI is composed of caring, energetic and generous individuals.

For more details on the program please reach out to Jennifer Fairman, Mentor Program Chair, or email AMI Headquarters at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jennifer Fairman | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
AMI Mentor Program Chair

2017 Mentor Mixer & Collector Card Exchange


Business Practices of Self Employed (Freelance) Artists

A self-employed artist operates as an independent contractor and not as an employee of the client company. The client company is not obligated to pay benefits or employment taxes.

This complete article is available to AMI members as a PDF document in the Member Community Library.

In general, commissioned illustration involves a client contracting an illustrator to create an original work of art or series of works. The illustrator operates as an independent contractor and not an employee of the client company. The client company is not obligated to pay benefits or employment taxes for the illustrator and has no control over the methods the contractor uses to accomplish the work [1]. The IRS has specific guidelines and defines a person as an independent contractor "if (the person for whom the services are performed) has the right to control or direct only the result of the work, and not what will be done and how it will be done or method of accomplishing the result." [2]. The term "freelance" is often used to describe such an arrangement, although some consider "self-employed medical illustrator" to be a more appropriate title.

Success as a self-employed medical illustrator does not result solely from the ability to create beautiful art. Business savvy and ability in marketing and self-promotion, pricing and negotiation, and business management are fundamental. Self-employment requires self-discipline and a commitment to professionalism. There are pros and cons to consider before taking the plunge into self-employment:


  • being your own boss
  • ability to retain ownership and control of your art
  • ability to choose the projects you want to bid on
  • flexible schedule
  • opportunity to work from home
  • unlimited growth potential
  • self-determined rate of compensation
  • direct return on investment of time, energy, and skills
  • control of project and client type
  • avoidance of office politics
  • less time commuting leaves more time for family


  • potential for isolation
  • less financial security
  • less free-time
  • constant negotiation and marketing
  • many non-billable hours
  • self-motivation required
  • bookkeeping responsibilities
  • no paid vacation or sick time
  • self-financed health insurance and retirement plans
  • self-financed conference attendance and continuing education
  • investment in equipment and maintenance
  • volatility of workflow and income means less financial security

Careful consideration should be given before undertaking self-employment. In The Business Side of Creativity, Foote offers a test of freelance potential to help determine if self-employment is right for oneself [3].

Setting Up Your Business
How a business is set up will depend on the illustrator's personal situation and business plan, and the structure of the business established will determine the legal process to be followed. With the exception of the sole-proprietorship and partnership, these requirements vary by state [7], therefore it is best to consult a local lawyer and/or accountant knowledgeable about establishing small businesses. One with experience working with similar creative small business professionals is optimal. Much information on the subject is available online and in the business section of your library or bookstore.

Legal structure.

The basic business organizational structures are sole proprietorships, partnerships (general partnerships and limited liability partnerships), and corporations (S and C corporations). The Limited Liability Company is a relatively new type of company that offers some advantages of the corporation and of the partnership or sole-proprietorship [1]. Each type has associated benefits and tax regulations.

For additional descriptions of these organizational structures AMI members may download the Business of Self-Employed PDF.

Naming your company and creating an identity.

Choosing a name for the business requires the consideration of things such as ease of spelling and pronunciation, identification of services, identification of owner/artist, originality, and availability of corresponding URLs. A sole proprietorship may operate under the name of the owner or under a fictitious name. In order to give the business a name other than that of the owner, a "Doing business as (d/b/a) form" or "fictitious name statement" must be filed with state authorities to register and protect the company's unique name [1]. A d/b/a form is also needed to establish business bank accounts and credit cards. For other types of companies, the name will generally be determined in the process of establishing and registering the company with the state.

All companies require a Federal Tax ID Number (TIN) for identification and tax purposes. The number may be obtained from the IRS promptly online or by phone [4]. A sole-proprietorship with no employees may operate under the owner's personal Social Security Number. If the company hires employees or operates as a partnership or corporation, it must apply for an Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. The EIN will be used to identify the company for tax purposes. A LLC may be identified with an EIN or the owner's social security number depending on the set-up of the company and on state regulations.

Once the business has a name and legal structure, marketing and promotion are vital to bringing in work, and thought should be given to a consistent professional image. If desired, the creation of a logo, business cards, letterhead, and other stationary can be done in-house or by an outside design firm. Local printing houses and on-line businesses provide printing services for reasonable fees. Today, websites are invaluable is establishing a company identity and providing access to information and examples of the company's services. For more on websites and promotional materials, see Marketing and Selling (tab below).

Setting up your office.

Office location will be determined by the illustrator's needs, space availability at home, working style, and personality. Creating an in-home office and renting outside office space are both viable options for the medical illustrator. Some things to be considered when making this decision include access to privacy, space for equipment and supplies, appropriate environment for client meetings, the potential for isolation, professional image, commuting time, overhead costs and tax deductions, and the ability to balance proximity to work "on-" and "off-hours."

Whether a home studio or a separate office location, investment in some equipment and services are required. These may include:

  • reference texts, models
  • computer table/drawing table, lighting, bookcases, other furniture
  • good quality chair(s)
  • computer and software
  • digital peripherals (scanner, printer, drawing tablet, copy machine, backup equipment)
  • company stationery: letterhead, business cards
  • office consumables
  • art supplies
  • bookkeeper or accountant, accounting software
  • lawyer
  • technical assistance services
  • high-speed internet provider and email service
  • designated business phone/cell phone and fax line or efax
  • internet hosting service for web presence and file transfer
  • filing system

Insurance and benefits.

Benefits including social security and Medicare contributions, retirement plans or pensions, and health, life, and disability insurance are usually provided by a salaried illustrator's employer and have significant financial value above and beyond the employee's salary. A self-employed illustrator must set-up up his or her own insurance and savings plans and should consider these additional expenses when comparing self-employed income to that of a salaried position.

For more detailed discussion of the topic of insurance and benefits AMI members may download the Business of Self-Employed PDF.

Retirement planning is key for a self-employed individual. The self-employment tax (SE tax) is a mandatory social security and Medicare tax for the self-employed. The tax is figured using Schedule SE of Form 1040. Many self-employed illustrators choose to save privately for retirement as well. Standard IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and Keoghs are all retirement savings plan options that may be utilized by the self-employed [6]. Some states offer 401K plans for self-employed individuals.

Business Management
Self-employed illustrators (whether they hire help or not) will find themselves working long hours and multitasking. Non-billable time on tasks like marketing and promotion, negotiating and writing contracts, staying up-to-date on business practices, troubleshooting hardware and software problems, paying overhead bills, keeping the books, paying estimated taxes, and even cleaning the studio must be accounted for in estimates of weekly working hours.


At start-up, consider what assets are already available and how much funding is necessary to acquire other necessary elements (hardware and software, office space and equipment, advertising, etc.). Loans or donations are possible sources of funding, but lenders may ask to see a business plan, so be prepared. Some freelance illustrators choose to establish their business slowly while still employed elsewhere to ease the financial transition. In any case, establishing yearly, quarterly, and monthly budgets is a financially prudent way to operate a business and stay afloat. Be sure to allow for unexpected costs and the slow- or downtimes that are common in self-employment.

Develop a pricing structure.

The establishment of a pricing structure for services is key, and while most medical illustrators provide a unique estimate for each particular job, some consistency in pricing structure is important. The illustrator's geographic location, overhead costs, level of skill, desirability to clients, and target market all influence his or her pricing structure.

Accounting and taxes.

Keeping a business afloat depends on managing cash flow successfully, and timely payment by clients for work completed should always be expected. This complete article is available to AMI members as a PDF document in the Member Community Library.

Projects are commonly billed in one of several ways: an advanced payment at or before initiation of the work with balance plus expenses due upon completion; periodic payments throughout the project based on time or project benchmarks (known as "progress payments"); or a single invoice submitted to the client upon completion and delivery of the final work. Partial advanced payment or progress payments are advisable for long-term projects in order to provide cash flow for operation of the business during production. A payment schedule should be agreed upon and included in the initial contract. Unless otherwise stated, the generally accepted practice is payment within 30 days of an invoice [7], but 15-, 45-, and 90-day collection times are also prevalent.

The collection of sales tax (state and sometimes local) is an issue that varies greatly from state to state and many laws are still unclear on the issue. It is prudent to consult a knowledgeable tax advisor in your state or contact your state department of revenue for a written decision on your sales tax obligations.

All business income must be reported to federal, state, and sometimes local tax authorities. Almost all self-employed illustrators will be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments throughout the year. Forms for estimating the amount of federal tax due and for filing the quarterly payments can be found at the IRS website (

An illustrator may decide that his or her time is better spent creating artwork rather than marketing or keeping track of finances. A bookkeeper, tax accountant, managerial accountant, or business manager can be hired to help run the business and the expertise may be worth the investment. It is prudent to always keep personal expenses separate and to record business income, expenses, professional fees, etc. Establishment of a unique bank account for business funds and a unique credit card for business expenses helps make a clean paper trail.

Equipment and software.

A capital budget is a plan to finance long-term outlays for fixed assets like facilities and equipment. There are established amortization schedules for such long-term investments, and tax issues relevant to the structure of the company should be considered when purchasing such items (see Lasser's Small Business Taxes). A self-employed artist working digitally should always figure the cost of keeping up to date with hardware and software into his or her business plan and should consider the expandability of equipment before purchasing.

Purchase versus lease.

If you qualify as a small business, there are several options to consider when obtaining capital equipment:
Purchasing. Section 179 of the tax code allows a small business to write off up to a predetermined value of equipment/hardware purchased per year providing that the business is not putting into service more than the IRS's maximum allowable value of equipment in that year.

Leasing. If the business chooses to lease equipment, leasing options include an operating lease and a capital lease. Keep in mind that there may be leasing fees and interest added into the cost of a lease.
As always, speak with a tax advisor concerning capital equipment acquisitions. For more information, see the IRS publication "How to Depreciate Property".

Hiring employees.

The need to hire employees is a sure sign that a business is growing beyond a one-person show. It also requires careful consideration. Can a working environment be provided for these employees? Is workflow steady enough to sustain the owner and employee(s) full- or part-time? Who will handle the added paperwork and fulfill the stringent requirements for payroll taxes? Can benefits be provided to the employee? Does the role of "boss" sound appealing?

Hiring subcontractors.

This complete article is available to AMI members as a PDF document in the Member Community Library. An alternate way to handle excess workflow or to accept a job that calls for skills not available in-house is to subcontract other professionals and colleagues. Creation of skilled teams is especially common in interactive or web-based projects. Again, consult IRS guidelines to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor (or subcontractor) in the eyes of the IRS and file paperwork appropriately.

Marketing yourself to other medical illustrators or agencies to serve as a subcontractor is also a consideration. When pursuing a subcontract, a subcontractor may be required to prepare a proposal. A prime contractor may have specific rules about how subcontractors should present and write their proposals. These requirements should be explained to subcontractors in a document such as an RFQ (request for quotation) or an RFP (request for proposal).

As a precaution, the prime contractor should be sure to hire artists as subcontractors who are registered as separate legal entities so as to avoid falling into a tax situation where a subcontractor is mistaken as full, or even part-time, employee. If a company hires an employee, it is responsible for federal, state, and local taxes and must withhold certain taxes from the employee's pay checks including federal income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare taxes, federal unemployment tax act (FUTA), and payroll taxes. For more information, see,,id=98858,00.html.

Project Management

Tracking projects.

The creation of a series of business forms for reuse will save time and promote consistent practice within the business. A standard Estimate, Proposal, Purchase Agreement (or Contract, Illustrator Agreement, Confirmation of Assignment) and Invoice can be created once and then customized for each individual project. Samples of these forms are available in the Member Community Library and in the publications Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, and in Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers.

An organized method of filing projects (digital files and paperwork) is also a time saver. Whether projects are organized by client name, date, subject matter, or style is a personal choice, but over the course of a career it is often helpful to be able to refer back to research, sketches, and/or legal agreements rather than reinventing the wheel with each project. In the unlikely event of a lawsuit, it will also be important to have records of legal agreements and reference sources or sketches. Documentation of the signed contract, invoices, record of payment, and copyright registration is invaluable. Don't forget about backing up files as well. For tracking progress and hours spent on an individual project, a Job Sheet may be useful. A sample is available in Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers.

Software packages are available (such as Clients & Profits, Microsoft Project, TimeFox, etc.) to help track projects from proposal to billing.

Tracking hours.

Time management is key to a successful business. Keeping track of hours spent creating art (research, sketching, revising, rendering), managing the administrative aspects of the business (billing and bookkeeping, purchasing supplies, troubleshooting technical problems, managing overhead), and marketing (creating sourcebook/ad designs and mailers, researching clients, managing mailing lists, contacting potential buyers) will help the illustrator optimize efficiency. A realistic understanding of time-spent on billable and non-billable activities will also help determine a reasonable fee structure or decide if hiring administrative or artistic help is beneficial.

Creating an archive of artwork.

Archiving past projects allows the illustrator easy access to past work for licensing, revisions, and re-use of portions of previously completed work. A database of previous work allows for cross-referencing and categorizing based on keywords and other organizational methods. When notes of usages granted are incorporated, the illustrator has easy access to track expirations of rights to see which work may be available to license to new clients. In general, you can purchase off-the-shelf digital asset management (DAM) software (e.g., Extensis Portfolio, Cerious ThumbsPlus, Canto Cumulus) or build your own with database with software such as Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro. If one has an advanced website, selection of DAM software that integrates with their online web shopping cart and search functions is important.

Digital backups of current work and archives are invaluable. Various options exist: A safe deposit box offers off-site storage but may overflow quickly and be inconvenient to access. Online storage drives are another choice that allows off-site security for files. Keeping files on an external hard drive that can be detached from the computer and carried away in the case of fire, flood, or storm is another option. Media safes and DVD backups stored off-site are viable methods as well.

Tracking usage rights granted and registering copyrights.

Whether a digital database is kept or not, it is important to monitor usage rights granted to be sure that clients abide by the agreed terms and to be aware when a particular image is available again for license to a new client. Similarly, for protection of the illustrator's artistic rights, copyright registrations should be made and recorded in an organized fashion.

Marketing & Selling

Creating a marketing plan.

Marketing services is an ongoing task that should be continued during slow and busy times. A well-written marketing plan will describe how the business will attract and retain clients. Take time to think about the services offered and find a way to describe it succinctly in a marketing message or umbrella statement that defines what the company does. Identify potential clients based on the marketing message, and then make the most of available resources by determining the best way to target desired clients directly. Develop a promotional strategy including the optimal methods for reaching the chosen audience and a marketing budget that reflects that strategy, and create a timeline for carrying out the plan [10,11]. A pricing strategy will also be part of the plan.

Creating a marketing niche.

With the continuous advancement of medical knowledge and the ever-growing range of artistic techniques at an illustrator's disposal, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be all things to all clients with proficiency. Many medical illustrators choose to specialize either by market area (advertising, publishing, e-learning, etc.), medical discipline (orthopedics, neurology, surgery, etc.), or technique (Flash animation, 3D animation, pen and ink, etc.). Specialization allows the illustrator to market to clients more precisely with a consistent portfolio that shows clients exactly what they are looking for and instills confidence in the predictability of the final outcome. It allows the illustrator to be an "expert" in his or her sub-specialty. On the other hand, it is important to keep an eye open as markets change over time. Putting all eggs in one basket opens the door to risk if rates or demand drop in the illustrator's field of sub-specialty. Specialization also eliminates the variety in project type that some illustrators find alluring about self-employment.

Self promotion.

As a self-employed medical illustrator, self-promotion becomes a non-billable priority. After deciding the type of projects to pursue, the illustrator must develop a marketing message and invest time in researching new clients in an effort to secure an interview and/or commission. Personal marketing via phone calls, non-personal marketing by mail or email, advertising, and public relations through teaching, community involvement, networking, giving interviews, and writing press releases are important ways to expand clientele.

The portfolio is often the primary tool in self-promotion. Printed portfolios are sometimes still used and can take the form of a unique show portfolio, travel portfolio, drop-off book, or mini portfolio (ie. a promotional piece) [11]. Portfolio images should be tailored for the particular client and particular project as closely as possible, and the number of pieces shown should be limited. Portfolios on CD or DVD are acceptable to most clients.

Websites are popular methods of self-promotion and can deliver a broad marketing message or be organized to show a specific targeted portfolio. A site may be used as a place to send potential clients for viewing the portfolio, and/or it may be used as a marketing tool to attract the attention of new buyers. Advanced websites may offer online shopping for purchase of stock art, medical legal exhibits, and animations or models. The site's URL should be considered carefully and can be registered through one of many online companies. Web hosting services are also available through companies online for a nominal monthly or yearly fee. Some provide design services as well. If using the site to attract potential buyers, search engine optimization is crucial. Click ads and sponsored links are methods of drawing potential clients to the site.

Tear sheets of previously printed artwork and sample prints or CD/DVD portfolios for static or animated art are also useful to have on hand to send by mail to potential clients. The illustrator's imagination is the only limit on other potential promotional materials such as postcards, pens, magnets, and cards.


Participating in relevant illustration or animation directories (either printed or online) can be an efficient way to be seen by a large number of potential clients. The illustrator pays a fee for space in the directory (or on the directory website) and the publisher manages the distribution and marketing of their product to relevant markets. Collective directories of interest include the printed AMI Source Book (online version at, and the online websites Indexed Visuals (, Folioplanet (,, and the European Association of Medical and Scientific Illustrators ( which all allow the potential client to contact the illustrator directly with no middleman or commissions. For more on collective marketing and directories, see also Business of Stock Art as there is often crossover between marketing to clients for sale of stock images and for commissioned projects.

Artist Representatives/Agents.

For illustrators with several years of professional experience and a strong portfolio and consistent style, working with an artist's representative or agent may be a consideration. An artist's representative's primary objective is to sell the illustrator's work, and he or she receives a percentage of the fees (excluding billable expenses), usually 25-30%, for this service [7]. This complete article is available to AMI members in the member community library.


Submitting artwork to juried or non-juried competitions or is another way to establish a reputation, gain notoriety, and achieve visibility. Competitions of interest include the Rx Club, National Science Foundation Scientific and Engineering Visualization Challenge, HeSCA Media Festival, and Society of Illustrators, to name a few. The annual AMI Salon is judged as well and offers awards in each of its categories. Numerous web design and animation competitions exist including the Telly Awards, Webby Awards, Favorite Website Awards, Interactive Media Awards, SIGGRAPH, International Health & Medical Media Awards (FREDDIE awards), and CINE Golden Eagle Film and Video Competitions, to name a few. For deadlines and entry forms, see their websites:

Client Relationships
Compiling and regularly maintaining a client list or directory requires a serious investment of time but is a valuable asset of the business.

Medical illustrators may work either directly and indirectly with the clients that ultimately use the final artwork. Direct clients might include a physician, scientist, lawyer, art director, entrepreneur, institution, publisher, or museum. A direct client is the final end-user of the artwork. Indirect clients might be an advertising agency, design house, broker, artist representative/agent, independent art director, or employment agency. In these instances, the medical illustrator works through this third party. The illustrator may have no direct contact with the end-user of the artwork (the illustrator's client's client) and may only communicate through the intermediary party. In either case, the medical illustrator and his or her client discuss the nature of the work, design considerations, key concepts to be communicated, illustration style, and usage of the final work before beginning any project. With all clients, maintaining professional relationships is paramount to establishing continual work through referrals and long-term repeat clients.


A medical illustrator must be an ethical professional at all times. The Association of Medical Illustrators fosters ethical standards for medical illustrators. AMI Code of Ethics

Determining what to charge for your creative work is the most important and sometimes most difficult business decision for a medical illustrator. Profiting from your illustration business is essential, not only for you but for the entire industry. Businesses often fail because a) there aren’t enough sales or b) they’re not profitable due to low fees or mismanagement. Undercharging for your services not only hurts you but also your colleagues everywhere by lowering the base rate for your skills and the perceived value of medical illustration / animation services across the entire market. So, how much is your art worth? There are four factors to consider when pricing your creative work:

1)   The cost of staying in business (overhead)
2)   The nature and complexity of the work (variable costs)
3)   The intrinsic value of the work (market value and artist reputation)
4)   The intended use of the work (rights licensed)

This complete article is available to AMI members as a 16-page PDF document in the Members HUB.

For non-members, please see our suggested Pricing Resources.

Business Practices of Employed (Salaried) Artists

Sixty-two percent (62%) of the respondents in a recent AMI member survey were employed in a salaried position. These positions include academic/institutional, non-academic, and government jobs.

This complete article is available to AMI members as a PDF document in the Member Community Library.

According to the 2007 AMI Compensation and Pricing Survey, sixty-two percent (62%) of the respondents were employed, while the remaining thirty-eighty percent (38%) reported being self-employed. Of the employed artists, forty-three percent (43%) reported accepting contract work "on the side". Salaried positions come in several varieties: academic/institutional, non-academic, and government. Of the salaried respondents, there were slightly more individuals working for institutional employers versus corporations [1]. Recent graduates often choose to pursue salaried positions to refine their skills before venturing into self-employment.

Academic and institutional work settings
Academic or institutional positions include those with universities, hospitals, and non-profit organizations. Within academic positions, there are a wide range of classifications and protections of which one should be aware. In academic settings, tenure positions are often pursued. Tenure positions offer a level of protection as they carry an institutional or government distinction in which employees cannot be fired without due process. In tenure track positions, the employee is offered tenure after a certain period of waiting and after they demonstrate excellence in their field of study and teaching responsibilities [2]. Another distinction is a fixed-term or limited-term position in which the employee is hired for a defined amount of time. The limited-term positions are governed by the terms of a contract and therefore may not allow the due process protection of tenured employees. When considering a fixed-term position, one must be aware of the limitations of the position. For example, the position may be governed by budgeting restrictions that do not allow additional terms of employment. However, some limited-term positions offer an option to renew the contract for additional terms. Additionally, limited-term positions may lead to more permanent positions. It is important to be well informed about institutional policies governing fixed-term positions.


  • Some academic positions offer better vacation time and more benefits than their private sector counterparts.
  • Academic positions give access to cutting edge technology and advancements in the medical profession.
  • Forgoing a tenure track position can be used as a negotiation tool for higher salary or more vacation time.


  • The number of tenure and tenure-track positions being offered is decreasing. This may lead to less stability in the position.
  • Some institutional positions come with salary schedules that limit upward mobility on the pay scale.
  • Pay for academic positions can be lower than that of a similar private sector position.

Non-academic work settings
There is a range of options for employment in non-academic/institutional positions. Some publishers employ staff medical illustrators. Medical illustrators find employment with medical legal firms, illustration firms, and multimedia firms that specialize in information design for medical specialties. Doctor offices and law firms should not be overlooked when considering a private sector position.


  • Non-academic positions offer a higher starting salary and better opportunity for advancement compared to their academic counterparts.
  • Some positions offer upward mobility.
  • Private employment positions have a higher instance of unscheduled and performance based bonuses.


  • Non-academic positions have less vacation time.
  • Private sector have less security as compared to tenured positions.
  • Non-academic positions are more susceptible to economic downturns.

Employment with the federal government
Employment with the Federal Government as a Medical or Scientific Illustrator adheres to a pay scale or General Schedule (GS). Set forth in the Classification Act of 1949, the GS pay scale provides "equal pay for equal work". The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines titles, responsibilities, and qualification requirements for federal positions as well as the GS pay scale rating. The GS pay grade is defined from GS1 to GS15 based upon the level of difficulty and responsibility in the position. The pay grade is standardized throughout the federal system, but may include locality pay built into the scale in higher cost of living areas. An employee begins employment within a base pay grade. However, pay increases on the scale according to the number of years in service and job performance. With a first year average of 10 paid federal holiday and 13 vacation/sick, federal positions offer more paid time off than their civilian counterparts. The rate of accumulation of paid time off increases with years served in the federal system. For example, after 15 years of service, vacation/sick days accrue at 26 days per year. Federal employees may accumulate up to 30 days of vacation/sick time and carry these days from year to year. For more information see the 2008 GS pay scale at


  • These positions typically have high job security.
  • Salaries are not as susceptible to economic downturns as private sector positions within a fiscal year due to the nature of the Federal budgeting system.
  • These positions offer higher than average paid time off.
  • These positions offer great benefits with comprehensive health care coverage and pension plans.


  • These positions operate within a political arena.
  • Promotional opportunities may be limited and capped within the GS pay scale.
  • Job descriptions are very specific and reaching beyond the scope of the position may be difficult.
  • Applicants must pass through the merit system, which frequently screens out well-qualified candidates. [3,4]

Employer Responsibilities
It may come as a surprise to those new in the workforce that employers are not required to provide retirements plans; medical, dental, and vision insurance plans; life insurance plans; or paid time off (PTO) such as vacation, holidays, or sick leave. However, most companies and institutions do offer these non-mandatory benefits to remain competitive with other employers. The lack of federal requirement for the aforementioned benefits may account for the wide variety of benefit options offered by businesses and institutions. [5]

Employers are required by federal law to provide the following benefits to employees:

  • Time off to vote, serve on a jury, or serve in the military.
  • Abide by workers' compensation guidelines.
  • Pay state and federal unemployment taxes, which provide for unemployed workers.
  • Comply with the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Follow state requirements for short-term disability programs if required in the state.
  • Withhold employment taxes (FICA) and pay employer portion of employment taxes. This gives employees access to federal retirement and disability benefits. [5]

To qualify for the required benefits described above the individual must be classified as an employee of the company or institution not an independent contractor. The differences between these distinctions are discussed in detail below.

For more information regarding employment regulations please see the Department of Labor's webpage on employment law compliance see

Independent Contractors vs. Employees

Tax law requires that employers make distinctions between individuals who are contract independent contractors and employees of the company. Employers must "withhold income tax, withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to an employee" [6]. In contrast, employers are not expected to pay or withhold any taxes on payments to independent contractors [6]. To determine if an individual is and independent contractor or an employee, employers must consider the amount of control they have over their employees. Areas of control they must consider are: behavioral control, financial control, and degree of independence.


An employee is an individual who performs a service for a company, and the company has control over what is produced and how it is produced.


Independent Contractor. An individual is classified as an independent contractor if the payer (or client) controls the result of the work performed not the means and methods in which the contractor produces the end product. Additionally, the independent contractor may be performing services under contract for multiple clients. These positions are typically referred to as freelance (or self-employed). See Business Practices of Self Employed for more information on freelance employees.

Your client, an art director for a Pharmaceutical company, has control over the way the final illustration may look. The client approves sketches and the final color artwork, but the client does not determine the hours in which you work on the project, the software you use, or what other project you work on simultaneously.

Statutory Non-employee.

According the Internal Revenue Service's Publication 15a: There are two categories of statutory non-employees: direct sellers and licensed real estate agents.

For the categories of Common-law employees and Statutory Employees please see full document Business of Employed Artists and the IRS website

Compensation structure

Salary vs. Hourly

Hourly wages and salary are two ways employees may be compensated. Hourly compensation applies to part-time employees, interns, or contracted workers. When an employee is paid per hour, other benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans may be limited. When on salary, compensation remains constant regardless of number of hour worked per week. This typically translates into higher compensation due to the expectation that one will work until the job is done. As discussed further in the overtime section of this chapter, although some employers offer it, creative professionals (such as illustrators and designers) are not legally entitled to overtime payments. The same exemption applies to hourly wages; therefore, unless a position is a contract or part-time position, it should come with a salary [7].

Contract Work

As a contracted employee of a company, one may work for a company or institution for a distinct length of time or over the duration of a particular project. Depending on the individual's classification as an employee or independent contractor, he or she may be entitled to the required employment benefits that are described above. Non-mandatory benefits may be available with contract positions; however, this depends greatly upon the agreement. Independent contractors, as discussed earlier, are not entitled to any benefits from the contracting company so it is important to understand the nature of the employment arrangement. In the academic sector, these contract jobs may be referred to as limited-term positions, and they can come with non-mandatory benefits defined within a contract. Illustrators may be considered onsite freelancers (and employees of the company) who receive limited benefits, but all work produced is owned by the company that employs them. Copyright implications for these positions are discussed further in the work-for-hire section of this chapter.


Most medical illustrators are considered part of the creative professional labor force and are exempt, and therefore, not entitled to overtime payments according to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) [8]. To be considered exempt from the FLSA's overtime pay regulations, one's job responsibilities must satisfy the following:
The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis (as defined in the regulations) at a rate not less than $455 per week;
The employee's primary duty must be the performance of work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor [6].

Some employers still offer financial compensation for overtime worked as an option to their employees. More commonly, employers offer compensation time in which employees are allowed to take paid time off for hours contributed toward overtime.

Additional Pay

Potential for additional pay beyond salaries offers great incentives to employees. Incentive programs that create a measurable performance-based bonus structure reward illustrators for meeting performance goals. Unscheduled bonuses can also be offered to employees. These bonuses may correspond with holidays and are mostly determined by employee performance, the company's profits in a particular year, and/or company policies.


An illustrator may be granted a percentage of the profits of his or her work. When negotiating a salary for a position, one should consider royalties as another personal revenue source to discuss with a potential employer in lieu of a higher salary.

Health benefits

Health Insurance

Health insurance plans fall into one of two categories; indemnity plans or managed care plans.

Indemnity plans involve reimbursement of health care costs without restrictions on who provides the care. Under indemnity plans, the amount and type of reimbursement varies with each plan. Some plans reimburse for the entire cost of the procedure or service, for a percentage of the service, or for a particular dollar amount per day for a specific amount of time (hospitalization).

Managed care plans involve agreements between the insurance company and specific health care providers. These agreements usually involve predetermining prices for services provided and negotiating discounts on the basis of volume. There are three types of managed care plans: Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), Point Of Service (POS). All three types of plans offer financial incentives to use approved network doctor and hospitals [9].

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

HMO plans are based on a monthly fee and services are "prepaid." If the policyholder stays within the HMO network, then the monthly-prepaid fee covers all qualifying healthcare services. The insured is required to choose a primary care physician (PCP) who is his or her initial health care contact. If the PCP feels that it is medically necessary, they then refer the patient to a specialist within the HMO network. If a policyholder uses a provider outside the network, most HMO plans require that they cover a portion of the health care cost [10].

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)

The PPO network administers healthcare only to a specific group of people. PPO plans pay for healthcare services as they are delivered. PPO insurers will reimburse the healthcare provider or the insured for the cost of the procedure. The cost of these services is arranged previously between the insurer and the healthcare provider. The insured may be responsible for a co-payment. The healthcare providers may file insurance claims on behalf of their patients [9].

Point Of Service (POS)

A POS plan also requires the policyholder to choose a Primary care physician (PCP) that refers the insured to a specialist within the POS network. There is typically no deductible and only a small co-payment associated with the plan when using a provider within the network. If the insured uses a healthcare provider outside of the POS network, he may be responsible for a deductible of several hundred dollars and the co-payment may increase dramatically to cover a percentage of the cost of the service [9].

Other health benefits to consider that may or may not be included with an employer's general health coverage plan are prescription drug coverage, dental insurance, and vision coverage.

The following additional types of insurance are included in the complete document in the member community library. Business of Employed Artist

Short-term Disability (STD) Insurance [11].
Long-term Disability (LTD) Insurance
Long-term Care Insurance
Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA)
Health Savings Plans
Health Savings Account
Flexible Spending Account
Medical Savings Account
Health Reimbursement Arrangement
Cafeteria Plan

Retirement Plans
Retirement plans are vehicles of investment that allow employees to set aside a percentage of their salary to save for the future and defer taxes. To participate, the employee agrees to set aside a fixed percentage of their gross (pretax) salary. In many cases, the employer will reward the employee's efforts by kicking in an additional 25 to 100 cents for every employee-contributed dollar up to a certain level. This free gift is called the "company match." It is something employers do to encourage workers to save, or as part of their general benefits program. Employers get a tax incentive from the government to do this because the government wants people to save for retirement. Typically, contributions made by the employer are subject to vesting rules. Some companies require that an employee work for a certain number of years before the "match dollars" become his property. This is incentive for the employee to stay with the company. Employee contributions made to the plan are always the employee's property and can be rolled over to a new plan when he changes jobs.

Employers may offer a variety of retirement plans including 401k, 403b, pension, stock options, etc.


A 403(b), or a tax-sheltered annuity plan (TSA), is an employer sponsored tax-deferred retirement plan. Those eligible are employees of academic and some non-profit institutions. 403(b) investment holdings grow tax-deferred until the earnings are withdrawn, then the retirement income is taxed a regular income [16,17].


A 401(k) is a tax-deferred employer sponsored retirement savings plan to which employees may contribute a portion of their pretax income. Income taxes are deferred on the contributed income until withdrawal. Just as in the 403(b) plan, holdings grow tax-free until withdrawal, at which time they are subject to regular income taxes [18].

Roth 401(k)

A Roth 401(k) is a new type of contribution to the 401(k) retirement plan that allows employees to contribute gross income to their 401(k) retirement plan. The Roth contribution is held in a separate account and withdrawals from the account are not taxed. It allows employees to designate some or all of their contributions each year as Roth contributions. One may contribute to a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k) in the same year as long as the total contribution does not exceed the maximum allowed for that year [19].

For more information on retirement plans and tax implications, please visit the website of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at

Traditional Pension Plans

A traditional pension plan is a guaranteed monthly or yearly post-retirement income offered by employers. The amount of the annuity is typically determined by years of service [20]. Employers may require employee contribution to the pension program in the form of salary reduction (and therefore tax-liability reduction).

Stock Options

As an added benefit, some employers offer stock option incentive programs. Stock option programs provide employees with the opportunity to acquire a certain number of shares of company stock, at a fixed price, for a predetermined amount of time. These may be one-time offerings or a long-term program that is ongoing. Stock options are typically reserved for the executives of the company, but there is a greater trend toward providing stock options for general employees [21].

Other benefits

Paid Time Off (PTO)

Paid Time Off (PTO) provides employees with an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate. Employers may offer PTO in the form of vacation time, sick leave, personal days, and holidays. The FLSA does not legally require employers to offer compensation for time not worked, so employers are not obligated to offer PTO. Therefore, PTO varies greatly from one employer to the next. Academic employers are typically much more generous with PTO than their private sector counterparts [22].

Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles certain qualified employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. During the time off, medical insurance cannot be canceled. FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. According to the FMLA, "qualified employees are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of time off for any of the following reasons:
  • for the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
  • for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition

To be eligible, an employee must have worked for the company for at least 12 months and accumulated a total of 1250 hours of work in that 12-month period. The employee must work at a location of the company that employs 50 employees within 75 miles" [23].

Life Insurance

In addition to heath insurance, some employers offer group life insurance coverage and disability insurance as additional benefits. Life insurance benefits provide a monetary compensation to an employee's beneficiary in the event of accidental death or death from natural causes.

Employer Sponsored Childcare

Employer sponsored childcare is a benefit in which employers provide childcare in one or several of the following forms: on-site full-time childcare, backup childcare, vacation or summer childcare [24,25]. This benefit decreases absenteeism and may provide wage savings to employers [26]. Employer sponsored childcare is not as common as dependent care expense accounts which allow employees to reserve a portion of their pre-tax salary to pay for childcare.

Training and Professional Memberships

Employers may offer a wide variety of educational reimbursement opportunities. Employers may provide reimbursement for training courses and college classes that update work related skills or simply foster personal growth. Many academic employers provide a wide range of tuition forgiveness or reimbursements for classes taken at their institution by employees and dependents. Academic employers may also reimburse tuition from classes taken at other institutions.

Employers may also have room in their budgets to pay for professional society membership dues and attendance at annual professional meetings. It is important to be aware of these options and inquire about an employer's policies.

Copyright agreements
The 1976 Copyright Act acknowledges that once a work has been "fixed, written down, or otherwise set into tangible form" it is protected by copyright, and that author of the work possesses the copyright [27]. This is the general rule, but there is an exception under US copyright law for "works made for hire". Under the "works made for hire" provision, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright [27].

Work for Hire Statutory Definition:

Section 101 of the copyright law defines a work made for hire as:

a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. For the purpose of the foregoing sentence, a "supplementary work" is a work prepared for a publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes; and an "instructional text" is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities [27].

How to Determine if a Work is Made for Hire

Whether or not a particular work is made for hire is determined by the relationship between the parties. This determination may be difficult, because the statutory definition of a work made for hire is complex and not always easily applied. That definition was the focus of a 1989 Supreme Court decision (Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730 [1989]). The court held that to determine whether a work is made for hire, one must first ascertain whether the work was prepared by (1) an employee or (2) an independent contractor.

If a work is created by an employee, part 1 of the statutory definition applies, and generally the work would be considered a work made for hire. IMPORTANT: The term "employee" here is not really the same as the common understanding of the term; for copyright purposes, it means an employee under the general common law of agency. This is explained in further detail below. Please read about this at "Employer-Employee Relationship Under Agency Law."

If a work is created by an independent contractor (that is, someone who is not an employee under the general common law of agency), then the work is a specially ordered or commissioned work, and part 2 of the statutory definition applies. Such a work can be a work made for hire only if both of the following conditions are met: (1) it comes within one of the nine categories of works listed in part 2 of the definition and (2) there is a written agreement between the parties specifying that the work is a work made for hire.

Employer-Employee Relationship Under Agency Law

If a work is created by an employee, part 1 of the copyright code's definition of a work made for hire applies. To help determine who is an employee, the Supreme Court in CCNV v. Reid identified certain factors that characterize an "employer-employee" relationship as defined by agency law:

  1. Control by the employer over the work (e.g., the employer may determine how the work is done, has the work done at the employer's location, and provides equipment or other means to create work)
  2. Control by employer over the employee (e.g., the employer controls the employee's schedule in creating work, has the right to have the employee perform other assignments, determines the method of payment, and/ or has the right to hire the employee's assistants)
  3. Status and conduct of employer (e.g., the employer is in business to produce such works, provides the employee with benefits, and/or withholds tax from the employee's payment)

These factors are not exhaustive. The court left unclear which of these factors must be present to establish the employment relationship under the work for hire definition, but held that supervision or control over creation of the work alone is not controlling.

All or most of these factors characterize a regular, salaried employment relationship, and it is clear that a work created within the scope of such employment is a work made for hire (unless the parties involved agree otherwise) [27].

Examples of works for hire created in an employment relationship are:
  • An interactive flash animation created within the scope of his or her duties by a staff illustrator for XYZ Medical Illustration Corporation.
  • Medical Illustrations created by a staff illustrator for publication in the textbooks published by the publishing company that employs her.
  • A script written for use in an online training module for XYZ Interactive Design Company by a salaried interactive designer on its staff.
  • A brochure design created by a staff designer of XYZ Design Company for promotion of an upcoming product launch.
  • A web design created by the salaried staff designers of XYZ Interactive Design Company.

Copyright Implications for Employed Artists

The closer an employment relationship comes to regular, salaried employment, the more likely it is that a work created within the scope of that employment would be a work made for hire. However, since there is no precise standard for determining whether or not a work is made for hire under the first part of the definition, consultation with an attorney for legal advice may be advisable [27].

Additional information on work made for hire can be found at the following:
US Copyright Law [PDF]
Work Made for Hire Circular [PDF]

Moonlighting policies
There is a wide range of policies related to "moonlighting", or non-work-related freelance. A few of the options to consider include: no moonlighting, moonlighting allowed only with non-competing clients, unrestricted moonlighting, and freelance through an employer. It is important to be open with a potential employer if one wishes to moonlight and to inquire about their policies during the interview process.

Non-compete agreements
Under provisions of non-compete agreements, employees are not allowed to work with clients previously associated with the employer for a specified time after employment with the company. Additionally, employees are not allowed to work for a direct competitor of the company for a specified amount of time after leaving employment. Non-compete agreements may also apply to moonlighting policies of current employees, preventing the employee from working with clients of their employer on a freelance basis.

Work environments
There are many things to reflect on when considering a position. One criterion to consider is the work environment and how it may affect personal comfort. Do the other employees appear happy? What is the employee retention rate? Is there a sense of camaraderie amongst the employees? Are there other medical illustrators on staff who may provide professional support?

Dress Policies

There are a variety of dress policies in the business world. Some illustrators may not work directly with their clients. Therefore, casual dress, such as jeans or shorts, in the workplace is accepted as a company standard. Others may consider business attire (sport coats, ties, and slacks) the only option for the company's employees. Some companies may feel that business casual attire (collared shirts and khakis) is acceptable to maintain a professional environment. The best person to look to as an example for dress is one's supervisor. By following his/her lead one will be sure to avoid breaking the boundaries of acceptable dress. In certain work environments, how one dresses and carries oneself is as important as the quality or work done [28]. If this is an important incentive for choice of workplace, be well informed to make the best personal decision.

Client interaction

There are likely established procedures within the company governing client-illustrator interaction. Some illustrators are granted direct access to clients and experts, while others may work through an intermediary. There is a wide range of options and the type of work that is produced largely determines these policies.

Performance Parameters

It is always a good idea know how job performance will be measured. Look for a clearly defined job description so that job duties are clear. Additionally, regular performance reviews are the best way to know where one stands. Some employers offer a once-a-year review and may include a salary increase if the review is favorable. It is more common for new hires to have more frequent reviews. For example, after initial hiring, there may be a review following a three-month probationary period while the employer and employee are "testing" the fit. After that, it is not uncommon for a new hire to have a six-month review. Each employer is very different. It is important that one is informed of the employer's policies on performance reviews and salary increases.

Flexible Schedule

Some work places offer flexible time to accommodate employees' schedules. There are sometimes hassles such as high-traffic commutes and inflexible daycare centers to consider. Some employers have the freedom to offer flexible schedules; so don't forget this as an option when juggling work and home life.

Intangible benefits

In addition to the standard benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, employees should be aware of intangible benefits offered by certain employers that may greatly add to workplace satisfaction.

Job structure affects day-to-day interactions. Getting along with supervisors and team members increases job satisfaction. When considering a position try to meet the people that will affect day-to-day operations.

The level of independence one is given may affect employment decisions. What is one's preference on teamwork or working alone? Do employees assist in decision-making or have decisions dictated to them?

The opportunity for advancement is another intangible benefit that can add to job satisfaction. Does the employer offer opportunity for upward mobility in terms of promotions or salary increases?

Physical environment is another factor that affects job satisfaction. Is the office space ideal for creative work? Some illustrators must have an ergonomic computer setup to safely work at their computer for hours. Is the employer willing or able to work to create a safe environment? Another thing to consider is the frequency in which an office updates computers and programs. While this may be a "small perk", it is always nice to have current software and hardware that can keep up with processing demands.

The business of stock art involves licensing artwork that was previously created and is therefore "in stock." For illustrators trying to maximize their assets and diversify their business opportunities, stock art offers an attractive option for making additional money on artwork beyond the original commission fee.

This complete article is available to AMI members as a PDF document in the Members HUB.


Stock art is the business of licensing artwork that was previously created and is therefore "in stock." The stock image market includes all forms of visual imagery such as photographs, illustrations, 3D models, animations, and videos. The existing artwork may have been created for a prior assignment or may be self-generated work that is available for reuse or licensing by the copyright owner. The selling of reuse rights has long been common practice for medical and commercial illustrators and photographers. Normal anatomy or "base art" depicting an organ or disease can be re-licensed or combined with other illustrations to make a new customized derivative work of art. By reusing their existing art, illustrators offer clients options when their deadline prohibits commissioning original artwork. This business model is only available to the artist who retains copyright ownership of their art.

Fueled by the increasing demand and availability of stock photography, the growing market for stock art has changed the way illustrators market and price their reuse rights. These changes are not without controversy. Some artists argue that glutting the market with stock art that is priced significantly lower than new commissions decreases the fees and overall number of new commissions they receive. Other artists argue that re-licensing stock art at near or equal value of a newly commissioned work allows them to capitalize on their available resources, increase visibility of their work, and potentially leads to new commissions.

For illustrators trying to maximize their assets and diversify their business opportunities, stock art offers an attractive option for making additional money on artwork beyond the original commission fee. Understanding pricing and licensing practices is important not only to increase revenue but also to protect the health of the artist's business and the profession. For clients accustomed to assignment pricing and dealing directly with illustrators, stock art offers an attractive option for finding immediately available and affordable images. Stock art and commissioned art should be complimentary rather than competing markets [1].

The sale of stock art can occur directly from the artist, the artists' representative, or through a stock agency. There are two ways to buy and sell stock art: Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty Free (RF). The basic distinction between the two stock licensing models is that Rights Managed is a license defined by USE, whereas Royalty Free is a license defined by UNIT [2].

Generally speaking, RM commands higher license fees per image, but generates less volume. RF generates higher volume, but on average smaller license fees.

Rights Managed Stock Art

Rights Managed (RM) licenses are for a specific USE and fees are based on the particulars of that use, e.g., size, distribution, and type of media. It is a pricing method where the illustrator is compensated proportionately to how an image is used. The bigger the use - the bigger the fee. The "managed" aspect of RM means that all uses are recorded and a history of sales is available to aid clients in future buying decisions. Since all uses are known, another benefit of RM is the option for clients to license an image with some degree of exclusivity, such as by category or geography for a specified time period, thus preventing a competitor from using the same image. This pricing model reflects the accepted standard for assignment pricing as well, where creative fees are also largely based on usage. Clients understand and respect this business model where image price is tied to value received [2].


  • RM images can be purchased with exclusivity for a specific time, type of project, or market region. For example, if an author's book is titled New Treatments for Back Pain that image will not be able to be purchased or used by any other author that is writing a book on back pain, ensuring the client a unique image.
  • Clients pay only for the usage rights they need based on the print run, market, size, printing period, exclusivity, and other factors. For example, the cost for U.S. rights is less expensive than worldwide rights.
  • RM images are generally higher-quality artwork with regards to aesthetic, creativity, and a more focused and targeted message.


  • Clients may be disappointed to find that the image they want is unavailable for purchase because it is being used somewhere in the country for a similar book.
  • Clients can only purchase the images for a limited time, usually a specific printing period (e.g., 1 to 3 years). If they want to use the image to print additional copies after that time, they need to reapply to purchase the rights to the image again and pay again.
  • Images can only be purchased for one purpose. If a client purchases them for a book cover, they cannot use them independently for websites, posters, or other promotional materials. They can, however, use an image of the book cover within a promotional piece.
  • Prices are not fixed - they will vary for each image and will depend on many factors such as print run, market, size, printing period, and other factors.
Royalty Free Stock Art

Royalty Free (RF) licenses are based on UNITS and the fee is essentially a standardized purchase price for that unit. A unit could be a single image, a collection of images, or a subscription period allowing unlimited access to images. It is a pricing method where the illustrator is compensated proportionately to how many times an image is sold. Introduced in the early 1990s, RF stock made a significant impact on the photography and illustration industries. An RF license grants clients virtually unlimited usage rights, so that the same image can be used by any company for any use with few restrictions - all for a one-time price [2]. Originally marketed as "clip art" collections with a number of images provided on CD, most RF images are now sold individually online. RF profits are heavily weighted toward the agencies and distributors, while the artists make a very small share of the overall revenues. Illustrators who produce RF are generally compensated with a flat fee, plus a small percentage from each disc or image sold, usually well below 10%. While RF's original stated purpose was to provide more basic images to low-end clients who had very small budgets, this segment of the industry has now evolved to compete with high-end imagery for high-end clients. In addition, the growth of RF has had profound effects on the Rights Managed segment as well by its overall effect of devaluing images and lowering stock prices [3].


  • Once purchased, RF images are owned outright and can be used as many times as the client needs - not just on the book cover, but also on the website, bookmarks, and promotional materials.
  • There is no time limit on the use of the image.
  • RF images are a one-time fixed cost. Costs vary depending on the size of the image purchased and the resolution.


  • Because anyone can purchase RF images and use them multiple times, the client's book may not be the only one out there with that image on the cover.
  • There is no way to know if someone is using the same image for the same type of book as yours.
  • Newly released and popular images are highly purchased and can over saturate the market.
  • Because of its inexpensive availability, branding or visual consistency is often overlooked from one message to the next. This most important aspect of a long-term investment in visual branding can only be protected in RM images.
Clip art & Rights Free

Clip art images differ from stock art in that they can be altered cropped, retouched, and used by the buyer in any way imaginable. Some clip art is public and available for free. Clip art is often offered in vector format and used in newsletters, presentations, and web graphics. Some agencies commission work-for-hire collections, e.g., LifeArt and Mediclip. In this model, illustrators are given a flat fee for the entire collection; copyright of all images is owned by the agency. Some illustrators receive royalties on CD sales and name credit.

How to Sell Stock Art

Artists interested in reselling their art must make individual decisions about the best way to market and manage their image inventory with regard to control of fees and usage, time spent negotiating and fulfilling orders, and record keeping.

Individual illustrator websites

Many artists today have websites describing their services, experience, clients, portfolio, and stock art available for resale. These websites range in complexity from simple portfolio style sites with email or phone contact to fully enabled ecommerce sites with digitally fulfilled shopping carts. Competition for artists trying to sell their medical art on the Internet is fierce. A general Google search for 'medical art' returns over 114,000,000 results, making it unlikely that clients will be lured to one's individual website without the aid of other promotional methods such as click ads or sponsored links. A site that is highly unique, precisely targeted, and well marketed will fair better.

The ability to get as many images seen online as you can with no middleman. The artist keeps 100% of the usage fees.

The artist must market and maintain their website themselves or pay an Internet host for this service. The artist must handle all record keeping, paperwork and contracts, invoices, delivery and protect themselves from unauthorized use; or pay office staff to manage these transactions.

Artist representative websites

Artist representatives may sell stock art on behalf of artists as part of the traditional artist-agent agreement, e.g., American Artists Rep. Inc., Shannon Associates. In this model, the agent negotiates the terms and fees for stock in the same fashion as new commissioned work. Artist representatives have well-established connections with clients and art directors and typically have higher trafficked websites than any individual illustrator.

The agent markets and maintains the website. The agent handles all record keeping, paperwork and contracts, invoices, delivery and protects against unauthorized use. The rep releases the artist from administrative responsibility allowing more time to create art.

The artist must split the profits with the agent, who takes a commission of 25% to 50% of the fee depending on the artist-agent contract.

Stock directory (artist-managed) websites

Buying space in a collective directory such as,, or offers an online presence with the ability for clients to be directed to the artist via email or the artist's own website. For a yearly fee based on the number of images listed, artists partake in "collective marketing" of their images to potential buyers. In this model, illustrators communicate directly with clients, negotiate their own license fees, and keep 100% of the usage fee.

The artist gets the draw to their images from the critical mass of other illustrators' work and the marketing from a printed catalog. Much more advertising can be purchased collectively than by individual artists. The artist deals directly with the client, negotiates the usage rights, sets their own prices, and keeps 100% of the usage fees.

The artist handles the administrative responsibilities of record keeping, paperwork and contracts, invoices, and delivery; or pays office staff to manage these transactions. The artist pays an annual listing fee based on the number of images listed on the website.

Stock directory (semi-managed) portals

The newest concept in marketing stock art is the e-commerce enabled web portal such as or They offer artists an automated shopping cart, payment, and delivery of their stock images 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The artist sets their prices based on different usages, often from a recommended range. For complicated uses, the agent negotiates the fee with the client. Portals will, generally, not offer art direction, market analysis or as much negotiating of usage fees as stock agencies [3].

The artist gets the draw to their images from the critical mass of other illustrators' work and online marketing. The artist has some control over their fees. Artists who don't have office staff to handle calls, negotiations, and delivery, but want a higher percentage of sales than those derived from traditional stock agencies.

"Off-the-shelf pricing" structure does not take into account the many variables that can effect price. Since sales are automated, there is no direct artist-client interaction. The artist must split the profits with the agent, who usually takes a commission of 25% to 50% of the fee depending on the contract. Marketing is conducted via the Internet with no printed catalogs. Some portals require exclusivity for a time period. The artist pays an annual listing fee.

Stock houses or agencies

While we commonly call these entities "agencies", it is actually a misnomer. Legally, an "agent-artist relationship" means that the agent is contractually bound to act in the best interests of the artist to represent and market their images with a fiduciary responsibility. Most agencies have switched to an "image exclusive" type relationship, where only individual images, rather than the artist, are exclusive to and represented by the agency. This reduces the obligation of the agent to the artist, yet also allows the artist freedom to develop relationships with other agents and marketing outlets [3].

In this model the artist grants the agency the right, usually exclusive, to resell existing images to specific markets for a certain length of time (usually 2 to 7 years) for a fee determined by the agency. Agencies typically handle scanning, key wording, marketing, and negotiating in exchange for a higher percentage split than the web portal model, ranging from 40% to 60%. Stock agencies market images through catalogs, directories, direct mail, CD-ROMs and Internet. Most sales are made online and are digitally fulfilled. The stock agency and the artists usually split the profit of whatever the agency sells. Most stock agencies have separate distribution contracts for their RM and RF collections with different royalty rates, terms and protections. RM contracts have traditionally offered royalty rates of 40 to 50%, RF contracts offer less than half of this rate, generally 20% [4]. Royalties for foreign or "out of territory" licenses are even lower, since local sub-agents typically receive commissions of 40-50% of the gross license fee off the top. Illustrators earn only 25-30% of the gross sale.

Fees for catalog participation may reduce royalties. Catalog fees are usually taken out of the sales of a particular image being charged for. Some agencies have taken the fee out of any sales or are offering artists a lower percentage on all future sales in exchange for no catalog fees. Many artists feel that catalogs are basically a marketing avenue that drives buyers to the agency's website and, therefore, they shouldn't be paying to be included in catalogs at all.

The stock house offers the artist potential for high volume sales, handles all paperwork and transactions, and leaves the artist more time to create while the agency does the selling.

The artist does not determine the fee or usage, pays a higher commission per sale than a traditional artist-agent agreement, and fees are generally lower than the artists would negotiate themselves. Fees for catalog participation may reduce royalties.

Illustrator Advisory

Stock [in the hands of stock houses] means, "Honey, I shrunk the fees" [5]. In March 2002, the Executive Board of the Illustrators' Partnership of America (IPA) issued the following Stock House Advisory [6]:

Although many stock houses represent themselves as "agencies" for illustrators, we want to make the following observations:

Your agent's job is to represent the interests of you the artist.

Your agent should see that you, the artist, get the best deal you can get for your services at the best price.

Your agent should NOT sell your work for below market prices unless so directed by you.

If any "agency" representing themselves as such regularly under prices your work and insists on controlling the terms of its sale, then you must consider that the "agency" is acting as your "agent" in name only. That "agency" may at any or all times choose to act as a COMPETITOR, using your work to obtain a share of the illustration market for themselves, perhaps at your expense.

We are opposed to any stock "agency" taking a larger commission from any artist than a standard artists representative would take for the same or similar transaction. We believe that because stock "agencies" do not represent artists as individuals, they should take a lower percentage of sales than a standard artists' representative would take for similar transactions.

We are opposed to any stock "agency" selling rights to any art at below-market prices.

We believe each artist has the right to be consulted about each sale of rights to his work.

We believe no stock "agency" should control the rights to any artist's work.

We are opposed to non-disclosure clauses in stock "agency" contracts.

We are opposed to automatic rollover clauses in stock "agency" contracts.

We acknowledge that each artist is an independent contractor and is free to do whatever he or she wants with his or her work. But as a professional organization, we would be remiss not to declare our opposition to certain controversial business practices that have grown up over the last decade.

Beginning artists and those considering stock should study the issue carefully. Stock houses spend millions of dollars promoting themselves. Don't sign contracts with a stock or clip art house without getting the facts.

For Clients: cost vs. quality

A word on generic stock imagery: not all images sold as stock are generic. But the bulk of it is. While generics can work in some situations, it never replaces the exceptional, specific and unique communications that result from a creative collaboration between artist and art director [7]. Dealing directly with the artist avoids "middleman" markups and gives clients the unique option of customizing images or commissioning new artwork. Research shows that investment in high quality imagery significantly improves the effectiveness and overall success of your marketing, promotional or educational materials. Generic imagery is largely unable to communicate specifics of your unique scientific discovery, new drug or device. Stock houses define excellence by market research. They throw a lot of pictures on the block, see which ones sell, then push artists to do more of the same. The process guarantees mediocrity. Individual artists can do better.


  1. Stock Artists Alliance. Understanding Stock Licensing Models (white paper), 2004.
  2. Stock Artists Alliance. Educational Outreach Program, 2003.
  3. David Sanger and Betsy Reid. Stock 101: Licensing Models. Keywords Magazine, Issue 1, Stock Artists Alliance, 2006, pp 12-14.
  4. Brad Holland. The Stockman Cometh. Communication Arts Magazine, 1998
  5. Board of the IPA. Stockhouse Advisory, 2002
  6. Cathleen Tolke. The Effect of Stock Houses on the Illustration Industry: A 2003 Report.

When an artist creates a drawing, painting, sculpture, animation or any of the myriad of other forms a visual communication may take, it is the tangible expression of an idea. Artwork is intellectual property in the same way as words or music. Intellectual property is protected by a body of copyright law reserving to the creator certain rights and privileges designed to encourage further creativity by rewarding that creator financially as long as the creator makes his or her creation available to society. In this manner, through self interest, individuals and groups are encouraged to create new ideas, art, inventions and so on that, in turn, benefit society.

Medical illustrators are in the business of creation and in order to pursue their careers must be aware of the copyright laws governing the publication of their work and of their rights and responsibilities under these laws.

The publication Chapter 6: Copyright Protection of the Medical Illustration Business Practices booklet is available to members in the Members HUB.

Copyright Registration

The rights that the artist, as the creator, possesses upon creation of a piece of work and that are confirmed by the registration of the copyright with the Copyright Office, are stated by the law as follows: "The owner of a copyright has the exclusive rights to reproduce the work, sell and distribute the work, prepare derivative works, [and] perform the work publicly." The term of copyright is the life of the owner plus seventy years. The term of institutional copyright and copyright of works made for hire is ninety-five years from publication or one hundred years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Registering copyright is a fairly simple matter, and is clearly explained on the Copyright Office website. Go to the Copyright Office website, and click on Register a Copyright The methods of filing are described there with links to the appropriate forms and information about deposits and current filing fees.

Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) filing is the preferred method, and allows you to submit the form and deposit requirements electronically with options for electronic payment.

Select the category to find out more about registering Visual Arts, Audiovisual Works, or Photographs and special requirements for published, unpublished, and groups of works.

If you are registering for the first time, read the eCO Tips, eCo FAQs, and eCO Tutorials located on the right sidebar on the Copyright Website.

Metadata provides a way to protect copyright of digital imagery by embedding ownership and contact information directly into digital artwork files.

First issued in 2008, the AMI Metadata Whitepaper has been updated and reissued in 2016. The paper is a call to action for the medical illustration profession to immediately adopt metadata-embedding practices to protect copyright and reduce potential orphaning of digital imagery.

Orphan Works legislation and other proposals come at a time when there is already immense pressure on artists, as copyright holders, to protect their intellectual property due to the digitization and online distribution of their images. Other visual artists organizations are advising their members how to protect their copyright and avoid potential orphaning.

Over 80% of stock and news photographers regularly embed metadata in their image files. In contrast, a recent AMI member survey found that less than 50% of medical illustrators embed metadata in their image files. These statistics are alarming because it means illustrators are at greater risk of infringement, lost revenues, and orphaning.

In short, the white paper calls upon medical/scientific illustrators and animators to:

  1. Embed critical copyright and contact metadata into your digital files
  2. Place a visible copyright mark on your published work and watermark your online portfolios
  3. Sign your work legibly with full name (not initials)
  4. Register your work with the copyright office
  5. Register yourself with online artist registries and keep your contact information up to date

Within the white paper are step-by-step instructions on how to create metadata templates and how to apply contact, copyright, and licensing metadata using the File Info in Adobe Creative Suite, Creative Cloud and Bridge applications.

To learn more about metadata, please visit

Creator applied metadata is not permanent and can be automatically stripped out by "save for web" functions and on upload to file sharing and social media platforms. To check which platforms preserve versus strip metadata, see IPTC Social Media Sites Photo Metadata Test Results 2019

PLUS Registry

The PLUS Coalition has developed a Registry that will help users / clients to identify and contact creators, rights holders and institutions. The Registry aims to minimize the impact of any future orphan works legislation by serving as a resource for a diligent search to locate and contact a creator.

Register for a free listing to allow anyone in the world to find and contact you. Go to and click Create an Account.

The Registry is in Beta and not fully functional. It will be populated in phases. The first phase is listing artists and businesses. Once the Registry is populated with rights holders, PLUS will add the remaining modules supporting registration and search for images and image rights information. Finally, they are working on integration with API and DAM systems, licensing platforms, and other applications.

While your membership and listing in the Registry are free, you may optionally become a Supporting Member”. You will receive a PLUS Member ID, uniquely identifying your business. 

AMI members can download the PLUS Registry FAQ in the Members HUB.

Picture Licensing Glossary

Picture Licensing Universal System (PLUS) is a system designed to simplify and facilitate the communication and management of image rights. It defines licensing language and provides a foundation for building and managing license data. Efforts are being made within the global visual arts industry to standardize licensing models through digital rights management. In 2006 the PLUS Image Licensing Standards were approved for worldwide use by all industries involved in creating, distributing and using images.

The Licensing Metadata Panel Suite includes full licensing vocabularies and allow the input and display of multiple layers of metadata representing multiple media uses associated with a single license.

The system does not standardize fees or pricing. Nor does it create rigid forms or contracts. It is purely a system to define licensing language and provide a foundation for building and managing license data. Browse the Picture Licensing Glossary and learn more about Plus Packs at

Information and resources useful for clients and creators of medical illustration and animation.

Contracts, Licenses & Business Forms

The process of establishing a business relationship takes a variety of formats from oral communication via meetings, phone, and casual email exchanges to simple written letters of agreement or formal contracts. A written document is testimonial to the professionalism and commitment of each party and serves as a resource to define the scope of the project and the terms and conditions of the agreement. The use of a written agreement is always advised.

Contract Basics

Most written agreements cover the basic elements of a project: scope of the work, specific art services required, deadlines, fees, payment schedules, ownership of work product, and transfer of licensing rights. Some also include additional boilerplate clauses addressing additional rights and other legal provisions. A written agreement should be established before work is initiated. A contract signed by both parties becomes proof of what was agreed upon and prevents misunderstandings later.

Determining how formal a contract should be is a decision every medical illustrator / animator needs to make relative to the project at hand. A wide variety of written agreements can be used to express the project terms and conditions including purchase orders, proposals, estimates, confirmations, letters, and contracts. Often, it is the type of client or size of project that influences the formality of the agreement. Generally, if a job involves a lot of money, time, overall complexity, or any combination thereof, it should be protected with a comprehensive contract. For many situations, however, short letters of agreement and simple forms may be sufficient. An illustrator must weigh the likelihood of disputes and the risk of nonpayment when deciding how comprehensive the written agreement should be.

Contracts versus Licenses

A contract is an exchange of obligations and is enforced under state contract law. A license is a permission to use someone else’s property (usually with particular restrictions) and is enforced under federal copyright law, not state contract law.

Most typically for medical illustrators, a contract is used to establish the obligations (e.g., scope of work, deadline, payment terms) of each party when a client engages an illustrator to create original work (commission). The contract likely will include a license as well, which grants the client usage rights of the created work under particular circumstances and with specific limitations.

A medical illustrator may issue a license (without further terms for scope of project or obligations) when he or she simply wishes to license usage rights to existing work (stock) to a client.

Contract Terms and Conditions

Agreements often consist of project-specific terms that define scope of the work as well as boilerplate clauses that protect a business in the event of a dispute or lawsuit. Boilerplate clauses can generally be reused on every contract, as they are not specific to the particular project.

Medical illustrators should understand these clauses, when to apply them, and what options are available when negotiating terms with a client. It is wise to seek professional legal guidance on any contract the illustrator considers to involve a high degree of risk. Issues at risk could be such things as amount of money, investment of time, extent of copyright licenses or transfers, or project size.

Special Copyright Issues in Contracts

When writing and negotiating a contract, issues of work-for-hire, all-rights or buyout clauses, termination rights, cancellation / rejection fees, and assigns have serious implications for ownership and use of the creative work. Additionally, when writing a usage license the wording should be clear and concise, preferably using standard definitions and PLUS terminology so that the client is clear what uses are being granted.

Full article including Sample Contracts, Licenses, and other Documents

These topics and more are discussed in detail in the complete article, which is available to AMI members as a PDF document in the Members HUB. Additionally, members have access to sample contracts and license agreements that have been reviewed by an intellectual property attorney and can be downloaded and customized to meet your business needs.

Other Resources

AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services

Association of Illustrators Contracts

Columbia Law School

These resources reflect a variety of viewpoints on pricing practices available to the medical illustrator / animator. AMI does not take a position on the most appropriate approach for pricing nor the rates that should be charged for creative services. AMI is committed to antitrust compliance and believes that competition is the fairest and most efficient mechanism of economic regulation.

Salary & Pricing Surveys

Whether you're a seasoned pro or a recent graduate, you want to have a profitable career practicing the art of medical illustration, animation, and interactive design. Surveys are part of the AMI's continuing mission to provide information to our members about salaries, pricing, and business practices. We listen closely and try to synthesize current market and business conditions to share with the profession as a whole. Awareness of changing trends in pricing and business practices helps AMI members with business planning in declining or emerging markets.

The AMI Compensation and Pricing Survey Reports are available to members in the AMI Members HUB.

Not a member? Join Now and get access to business tools, community, inspiration, and more...


Other Salary Resources

The Creative Group Salary Center

VitaminT / Aquent Salary Guide

UX Professionals Association

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook


Other Pricing Resources

fotoQuote Pro software by Cradoc.

AIGA. Setting Rates.

American Society of Illustrators Partnership. Collecting Reprographic Royalties.


Recommended Books

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, 7th edition. New York: Allworth Press, 2008

Foote, Cameron S. The Business Side of Creativity. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010

Piscopo, Maria. The Graphic Designer's & Illustrator's Guide to Marketing and Promotion. New York: Allworth Press, 2008

Raugust, Karen. The Licensing Business Handbook, 7th Ed.  New York: EPM Communications, Inc., 2004

Poltorak, Alexander I., Lerner, Paul J. Essentials of Licensing Intellectual Property. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004


AMI Sourcebook 33

Medical Illustration & Animation | MEDILLSB.COM

A complete guide to the world's leading biomedical, life science and natural science artists

Our Searchable Portfolio Platform and Printed Sourcebook introduce art buyers, healthcare marketers and thought leaders to the most talented artists working today. They have the scientific training and knowledge to understand your challenge, your choice of media and your audience. What is not seen here is the collaborative process that takes place between you and the scientific image creator. These brilliant individuals offer a depth of knowledge and commitment to scholarship that reflects a lifetime of learning. Their unique ability to communicate with research scientist, physician, attorney and layman allows an assignment to have dimension, life and humanity. Their ability to draw, paint, photograph and to harness visual computing technology translates thousands of words into powerful, engaging images.

If you need to hire a biomedical image-maker, look no further than these professional resources!!

Source Book Editor:
Rachel Bajema

Source Book Editorial Board:
William M. Andrews
James Archer
Kimberly Battista
Allison E. Burke
Marie Dauenheimer
Jennifer Fairman
Peg Gerrity
Keith Kasnot
Maya Shoemaker
William Westwood

The Source Book and the companion website are produced and distributed for the AMI by Serbin Creative, Inc.
Art Buyers: Do You Qualify for a Free Copy?


In the AMI Member Community, members can designate a specialty area in their member profile. AMI Members can also search for an area of expertise and connect with other AMI members for consultation. The following list represents areas of expertise in various business, technique and biomedical subject matter in which some AMI members specialize. Members can log in to the Member Community to begin a search.

Business Specialties

Advertising Media
Biomedical Research
Biotech Manufacturing
Broadcast/Film Media
Corporate Structure
E-Commerce Services
Entertainment Media
Entertainment Services
Ethics/Legal Issues
Freelance/Running a Business
Higher Education/CME
HMO/Managed Care
Hospital/Lab/Clinical Care
Human Resources/Employment Issues
Medical Communications
Medical Device/Product Manufacturing
Medical Legal Services
Pharmaceutical Manufacturing
Project Management/Collaboration
Publishing Media
Sales Training

Biomedical Subject Specialties

Cardiovascular Surgery
Cell Biology/Microbiology
Dental Medicine
Family Medicine
Forensic Medicine
General Surgery
Geriatric Medicine
GI Surgery
Gynecologic Surgery
Internal Medicine
Molecular Biology
Occupational Therapy
Ophthalmic Surgery
Oral Surgery
Orthopedic Medicine/Prosthetics
Orthopedic Surgery/Arthroscopy
Pediatric Medicine
Physical Therapy
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
Psychiatric Medicine
Radiology/Radiographic Imaging
Reproductive Medicine/Andrology
Respiratory Medicine
Sports Medicine
Vascular Surgery
Veterinary Medicine

Technical Specialties

Biomedical Visualization


2D Animation
3D Animation
3D Modeling
3D Rigging
Texturing and Surfacing
Grant Writing
Graphic Design
Health Hazards
History of the AMI Profession
Information Architecture (IA)


Interface Design
Project Management
International Work

Online Networking:

Blogging (Blogger, Wordpress)
Social groups (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc)
Portfolio building


Line Art
Tone Art


Information Architecture (IA)
Interface Design
Project Management

Application Specific (2D)

Adobe Acrobat
Adobe After Effects
Adobe Dreamweaver
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Indesign
Adobe Photoshop
Corel Painter

Application Specific (3D)

Autodesk Maya
Autodesk Mudbox
Autodesk 3DS Max
Maxon Cinema 4D
NewTek Lightwave 3D
Pixologic Zbrush

The Vesalius Trust

logo-2Established in 1988, the mission of the Vesalius Trust is to provide leadership and funding for the advancement of education and research in visual communication for the health sciences. The Vesalius Trust was founded under the direction of the AMI Board of Governors, and is a non-profit public foundation (501c3).

The Vesalius Trust Board of Trustees is composed of volunteer members, most of whom are current or past members of the AMI Board of Governors. There is no general membership to the Vesalius Trust. The Board is an international, multidisciplinary group serving as a volunteer leadership resource for Trust activities and programs. The Friends of the Trust is comprised of dedicated individuals who recognize the importance and potential of the Trust and who contribute financially to it.

In 1989, the Vesalius Trust assumed responsibility from the AMI for managing and awarding scholarships in medical illustration. The Trust awards several grants and scholarships yearly, for medical illustration students and professionals.

Dr. Frank H. Netter Award

The highest professional award given by the Trust is the Dr. Frank H. Netter Award for Special Contributions to Medical Education. This annual award recognizes a person or persons who have recently developed visually oriented educational materials with either proven or potential impact on the way health sciences are taught and/or practiced. Additional information about the Netter Award and application requirements can be found on the Vesalius Trust website.

In addition to the Netter Award and student scholarships, the Vesalius Trust has funding commitments to provide Continuing Education grants, support to the AMI for its annual meeting, and support to the AMI Archives.