Tech Talk


Technical illustration lingo and industry standards are recognizable to those who use them everyday. However, for clients that are hiring a technical illustrator for the first time, or if it has been quite a while since dealing with one, this page will be relevant to you.


Recently, I started a new website project called Brain Freeze Friday: Social Media Should Not Hurt the Head.  On the site, I am discussing all types of social media and how small businesses, illustrators and photographers can use social media as a marketing strategy for their business.

Brain Freeze Friday

In the past year, I have worked with numerous companies and individuals executing social media plans to complement their existing marketing capabilities.

Once a week, on Friday’s, I will be discussing a new social media topic (ie. blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, etc.).

Brain Freeze Topics

In addition to discussing those sites, for Illustrators and Photographers, I will be reviewing various “free” portfolio sites that are available to showcase work, in addition to a business website.

Check the website weekly or subscribe to the RRS feed to join in the discussion!


I was recently asked by some colleagues at to be a contributing Editor, sharing in my inspirations and experiences as a freelance Technical Illustrator.

Bookmark the website and check it out if you are interested in learning about technical illustration, need some inspiration or feel you have information you could share with others.

Comments on the articles are always welcomed and new articles are continually being posted!  It is a great resource for anyone in this field.


In this business, like all others, it is typical for potential clients to try to get the lowest price possible for an illustration. Price negotiation and competitive quotes are definitely apart of our business.

However, there are unfortunately others that strive to find an Illustrator to “work on spec”, meaning the illustrator does not get paid anything. To my fellow Illustrators, please beware of this terminology when you are dealing with new clients and do not fall into the trap of working on spec.

I have recently found this post on Craigslist and it is a very unreasonable request from a potential client. I wanted to post the Craigslist job opportunity here for others to become informed as to why working on spec is unfair to the Illustrator.

Recently found online in response to a similar spec job request posted on Craigslist, is the perfect response that I would only hope the individual who posted this on Craigslist should receive.

Please take time to read both if you are an Illustrator, Graphic Designer or Photographer completing freelance work. It really is in your best interest!


“I am looking for a technical illustrator to collaboratively develop a unique and copyrightable graphic representation of marine communications, navigation, recreation and safety systems that does not currently exist elsewhere.

I will then attempt to sell the rights to a marine electronics manufacturer, distributor or association which might be a simple sale of the artwork or it could involve customization to include their product line this may or may not include future business.

The sell price will be determined by the amount of hours invested and the potential revenue will be split evenly. This is speculative work only and there is no guarantee that any revenue will result from this joint effort. I will however cover any direct expenses incurred for reproduction, copyrighting, etc..

Additionally this representation, a ‘world view’, will need to be technically precise and graphically elegant. It cannot contain any of the cartoonish elements of clipart or the low resolution representations of Visio. Most elements may need to be created from examples in many different formats and the general look and feel would need to be equivalent to a high resolution rendering of a CAD drawing combined with photographic elements.

Since this would then constitute intellectual property an agreement will need to be entered by both of us before proceeding in any significant detail. The agreement will be a simple good faith non-disclosure, non-compete and only for the purposes of producing and selling the rights to the above described document and artwork.

Each party would then be free to pursue any other follow-on business that results may choose to continue and extend the collaboration. Please note that I have always conducted business honorably and have negotiated multi-$M transactions on a handshake.

The premise and potential value to a prospective company is simply this: With all other things equal the company that can clearly and summarily explain what they sell, how it works and how it all fits together in the most concise and elegant fashion usually wins the deal.

I suspect that this has not been done to date for two reasons; 1) it’s pretty damn complicated in its’ creation and 2) it doesn’t fit web centric marketing models. I must also emphasize that this is not old school thinking; printed materials still have a significant value in many places.

I’m thinking that this might be an ideal project for a newly minted technical illustrator looking to beef up his or her resume someone between jobs in this difficult economic climate. I would imagine, at a minimum, that participating in this project will allow you to expand your portfolio and potential client base or possibly increase your attractiveness to a prospective employer. What I have in mind however is annoyingly detailed and may require up to 100 hours of your time.

I have successfully done this before in other industry segments but only while in the employ of someone else and this has resulted in many $M’s in increased profits for these companies. I have also conceptualized and collaboratively developed 40-50 pg. product reference guide/mini-tutorials that had a very high retention rate. I’m now at the point where I can, to some degree, pick and choose what I do.

This is important; what I am not is an artist. While I might be able to envision the end product clearly it will not be self evident in my preliminary working documents. It will take some time, patience, creativity and vision on your part for the elegance to emerge.”

RESPONSE POSTED ON CRAIGSLIST (to similar spec work job request – Thanks to the individual who wrote this response!):

“Every day, there are more and more Craiglist posts seeking “artists” for everything from auto graphics to comic books to corporate logo designs. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of illustrative service.

But what they’re NOT doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are “seeking artists”, let me ask you; How many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the services you need? A dozen? Five? One? …none?

More than likely, you don’t know any. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be posting on Craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are professional illustrators. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are SEVENTY times as many people in the IT field.

So, given that they are less rare, and therefore less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunity” to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucks” for “materials”. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even CONSIDER offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?
If you answered “yes” to ANY of the above, you’re obviously insane. If you answered “no”, then kudos to you for living in the real world.

But then tell me… why would you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;
1. It is not a “great opportunity” for an artist to have his work seen on your car/’zine/website/bedroom wall, etc. It IS a “great opportunity” for YOU to have their work there.

2. It is not clever to seek a “student” or “beginner” in an attempt to get work for free. It’s ignorant and insulting. They may be “students”, but that does not mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their hard work. You were a “student” once, too. Would you have taken that job at McDonalds with no pay, because you were learning essential job skills for the real world? Yes, your proposition it JUST as stupid.

3. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it’s one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their “portfolio”. They get to do those things ANYWAY, after being paid as they should. It’s not compensation. It’s their right, and it’s a given.

4. Stop thinking that you’re giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

5. Students DO need “experience”. But they do NOT need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the “experience” they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother’s house when they were seventeen?
If you your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of scrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

6. (This one is FOR the artists out there, please pay attention.) Some will ask you to “submit work for consideration”. They may even be posing as some sort of “contest”. These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by many artists seeking to win the “contest”, or be “chosen” for the gig, and find what they like most. They will then usually have someone who works for them, or someone who works incredibly cheap because they have no originality or talent of their own, reproduce that same work, or even just make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will NOT be paid, you will NOT win the contest. The only people who win, here, are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This is speculative, or “spec”, work. It’s risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely. For more information on this subject, please visit
So to artists/designers/illustrators looking for work, do everyone a favor, ESPECIALLY yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are “spec” gigs, or just some guy who wants a free mural on his living room walls. They need you. You do NOT need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to do work for free… please wake up and join the real world. The only thing you’re accomplishing is to insult those with the skills you need. Get a clue.”


I have received numerous emails in the last couple of months from individuals around the world asking questions about my technical illustrations and how I work.  Sometimes it is hard to find time to respond to these emails, however I do feel it is important to educate those who are trying to break into the industry.

This post combines all questions that have been asked of me by these individuals and I hope that by answering them, that a little insight is gained into why I enjoy technical illustration.



I actually began drawing later in my high school years and after that, I was doing a lot of painting – more for fun than anything.  I decided I wanted to get a degree in Illustration and potentially pursue this passion as a full time career.  I enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Arts Degree at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

In that program I specialized in the Technical & Scientific Illustration stream.  I chose technical illustration because I like dealing with numbers, learning how things are put together and work, and I’m challenged by detailed elements.

As a competitive individual, I am always finding myself challenged by illustrating something more difficult than the previous piece.  I appreciate the finer details in all artwork that I see now!



I NEVER stop marketing myself.  There are numerous ways to market oneself including:

  • Networking (ie. through events at art shows, gallery openings, online networking sites, staying in-touch with colleagues, etc.)
  • Sending out promotional mailers, eyecatching pieces, email newsletters, etc.
  • Having a large online presence so I am accessible via website searches if someone has never heard of me
  • Constantly updating my portfolio by creating new pieces when I have a little “down-time”
  • Keeping my website fresh and up-to-date (as you’ll see, I recently re-launched
New Website

Ideally, you have to find what works best for you and persist, persist, persist!!  You also need to expect marketing to cost money and understand it is a long term investment that will pay off in the future if you spend it wisely.

Sitting around never gets anybody anywhere – work rarely finds you – you need to go out and seek it!



No technical illustration is impossible, as long as you have accurate reference material.  Part of my background training is learning how to deal with difficult requests and having the ability to break the illustration down into smaller pieces that do not seem as daunting.  Every single project has the same process for me which is:

1. Research – learning about the subject matter and understanding how it fully works before starting.

2. Rough sketches – to tackle the initial thought process, potential viewpoints, layout, etc.

3. Line drawing – a refined drawing whether digitally or traditionally that is the basis for the final colour illustration.

4. Colour roughs – working out colour options that allow the illustration to communicate as best as possible to its target audience.

5. Final composite – adding all the little details that allow the final illustration to “shine”

Of course all of these steps are dependent upon how much time I get from a client to get the work done.



There is not necessarily a particular piece I have completed that stands out as my most challenging.

The most challenging piece of work is not necessarily in regards to content, but when there is a minimal timeframe to get the final piece completed.  It is challenging as an illustrator to just stop working on something.  We always want to make it better.  When you are confined by time, something else needs to lack and sometimes that is final quality.


WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? (i.e.. for an exploded diagram, would the client send you the images of the deconstructed object for you to illustrate, or would you need the actual physical object in order for you to get the projections correct?)

My design process as was listed above is: 1. Research; 2. Rough sketches; 3. Line drawings; 4. Colour roughs; 5 Final composite.

Exploded View of Febreeze Scent Stories
Exploded View of Febreeze Scent Stories

For an exploded diagram, or any illustration for that matter, it all depends on what the client is able to provide me as far as reference.

If they are a local client, I can usually get my hands on the physical object or photograph it myself for additional reference after viewing it on-site.

If the client is a long-distance client, then I tend more to get photographic reference unless they have a local vendor.  Part of my experience is also researching online for existing photographs of different viewpoints/angles of an object and creating a unique viewpoint for my client.

Either way, there is always a learning process about the item/process I am illustrating which makes the job more interesting!



I use the Adobe Creative Suite the most for software.  Personally, I don’t find it necessary to learn additional programs such as IsoDraw or Corel Technical Suite at this point for technical illustration.  However, the more software programs you know, the better, of course.

Ultimately, it is about which software you feel comfortable working in that is the deciding factor, unless a client requests a certain document type.  Both Illustrator and Photoshop allow me to produce the results that I desire for each project.



Yes I definitely do.  I could not work without it! Nowadays, investing in a Wacom drawing tablet has almost become a necessity to speed up the overall amount of time spent on an illustration.



I thinkthat depends on the person and the style of work in they’re portfolio.  (For example, you cannot apply for a technical illustration job with only a graphic design portfolio).  Of course, being educated in the discipline is always an asset.

It should be mentioned that freelancing is more of a business than it is about the illustrations.  So taking additional courses in running your own business is always an asset as well.  You must have marketing skills, drive and motivation to get things done on your own time.  Like anything, the more experience you have, the better you look to new potential clients.



This answer may require more of a tutorial to get into exact details about how I created the dirtbike or cutaway illustration.  I will try to put a tutorial together in the near future.

Phantom View of Honda Dirtbike
Phantom View of Honda Dirtbike

No, I do not use any advance plug-ins like CAD tools.  I start with alot of reference photos and I start drawing out a sketch that puts the larger components into their space (ie. wheels, frame, seat, handle bars, exhaust pipe, etc., all in relation to each other.)

Then, once the overall placement of large items is finalized, I move further into more detailed elements until the basic line drawing is close enough to completion to move into the digital realm.  The digital line drawing is then completed in Adobe Illustrator with the line tool.

The final digital line drawing is then brought into Adobe Photoshop as shapes that are then filled with the brush tool.  I use the burn and dodge tools to create the highlights and shadows.  All painting is done with a Wacom tablet.

In the end, it is the original sketch and digital linework that are the most time comsuming.  They need to be 100% finalized before painting can begin.  Painting is the fun and rather “easy” part!


Thank you to those who spent the time inquiring about my technical illustrations.  I hope my answers helped give you a better understanding into this field of illustration.

-Leanne Kroll, Technical Illustrator


There are many factors which dictate how much an illustration may cost. In order to quote on a job appropriately, I require the following information from my clients:

  • A brief description of the intended illustration, including the amount of detail required and the full content of the illustration (if known).
  • Whether the final product will be a line drawing or a full colour illustration.
  • Whether existing reference imagery and information will be provided or not.
  • Where the illustration is being used? For example, print – catalog, textbook, manual, website, or other.
  • If the illustration is to be used in print, what is the general location of distribution? Ie. national, international
  • If the illustration is to be used in print, how many copies will be printed
  • The deadline for which the illustration must be completed, as well as interim deadlines if the project is rather large.

Based on the various information provided by a client, a negotiable price will be dictated via a quote.

If you currently have an illustration project that you require, please feel free to contact me via email ( and I will answer any other questions you may have.

TALKING THE TECH – July 10, 2008

Technical illustrations are seen everywhere including magazines, textbooks, wayfinding maps, user manuals, brochures and newspapers to name a few. To help you understand technical illustrations and their potential uses, an overall knowledge of basic terminology is very advantageous. A client that can understand immediately what an Illustrator is conceptualizing, is able to allow for a better communication process from the start.

  • Vector versus Raster: A vector illustration is a drawing that can be scaled to any size and still maintain its great line quality and resolution. A raster illustration is displayed as pixels and has the potential to allow image quality to decrease if an image is scaled up.

  • An example of knowing the difference between vector and raster comes in handy when: An illustration is commissioned by a client to be a ¼ page spot in a magazine, at 4 inches wide. This illustration is produced as a raster image at that size. Then, years down the road, the same client would like to put that illustration on the side of a bus. The illustration will have to be re-created! If it was originally created completely as a vector illustration it would be no problem to make it 50 times its original size. However, because it was such a small size to begin with and rasterized, it would not look good when scaled up to such a large size. A professional illustrator will know whether vector or raster format is more suitable to your final project, so do not hesitate to ask for advice if you are unsure.
  • Types of Technical Illustrations: There are numerous types of technical illustrations and a solid understanding of the views they produce will allow you more freedom when conceptualizing your final image.Various views include orthographic, isometric, oblique, perspective, exploded views, phantom and cutaway views.Each type carries its own benefits that suit the outcome of an illustration, but most of the time the type utilized is dictated by what information needs to be shown to the viewer.

  • What is an orthographic drawing?
Orthographic of Cab Over Truck
Orthographic of Cab Over Truck

Orthographic drawings are represented by a straight-on view of an object that gives a general description of the overall item. The most common views of orthographics include top views, side views and front views, etc. An example of typical orthographic drawings is elevations of architectural buildings.

  • What is an isometric drawing?
Isometric of Dump Truck - Full Colour Vector
Isometric of Dump Truck - Full Colour Vector

Isometric drawings are a type of three-dimensional illustration. Isometrics are easier to draw then perspective drawings, due to every line being parallel and at 30 degree angles. Utilizing orthographic drawings as the basis of information to create an isometric, the illustration is developed by projecting objects at a 30 degree angle. Isometrics are great for a quick alternative to a three dimensional drawing.

  • What is an oblique drawing?

Oblique Drawing of a Computer Lab
Oblique Drawing of a Computer Lab

An oblique view is similar to isometric in that it is a quicker 3-dimensional illustration than a perspective drawing. Oblique is entirely based on 45 degree lines with a 90 degree vertical. Due to the fact that obliques are so quick, they require a forced depth and shortened height otherwise they would look incorrect. Obliques are rarely used by professionals as they look inaccurate to the trained eye and as a Technical Illustrator, one is always striving for perfection.

In the above classroom illustration each desk and workstation is exactly the same in scale, unlike a perspective illustration which would have give the illusion of 3-dimensional space.

  • What is an exploded view drawing?
Exploded View of Febreeze Scent Stories
Exploded View of Febreeze Scent Stories

The majority of exploded views are used to depict parts of an item and are usually found in owners’ manuals or resource books. As the name suggests, all of the parts of an object are expanded out so they can be depicted in relation to each other. This allows a user to see the inner workings of a machine without taking the machine apart. It also allows for ease of repairs if the user understands how the components work together. As a client, you should expect detailed, concise exploded views that are easy to understand as a finished piece. Far too often exploded views are cluttered with too many arrows and poor labelling which take away from the intended depiction of the object. Complex exploded views usually contain a legend indicating the part name as it is numbered on the illustration.

  • What is a phantom view drawing?
Phantom View of Honda Dirtbike
Phantom View of Honda Dirtbike

A phantom illustration can be used on something very simple to extremely complex for greater comprehension of the object. It is essentially a ghosted illustration that allows the viewer to see the shell of an object as well as certain items contained inside the shell. Phantom views are likely completed as full colour renderings in order to maximize the information provided.

  • What is a cutaway drawing?
Cutaway of a Power Washer
Cutaway of a Power Washer

A cutaway view is similar to a phantom view, however with a different finished look. As the name suggests, the illustration literally has the outer walls cutaway from the drawing to show interior elements. As an Illustrator, there are numerous stylistic options for dealing with the appearance of the cutaway line. The difficult part of the cutaway is the initial conceptual decision of what angle to show the object at in order to cutaway and depict the most important information to the viewer.

  • What is a step-by-step process illustration?
Steps on How to Put a Fan Together
Steps on How to Put a Fan Together

Step-by-step Illustrations can usually be found with items that need to be put together by the consumer, as well as in product manuals. These illustrations must be very concise and detail exactly how to put a product together. If there is an error in the illustration, the consumer may put the product together improperly. In that regard, the Illustrator must have a sound knowledge of how the item works as well as how it is put together, allowing their job to become hands-on in this respect. Depending on the amount of detail required for this type of illustration, either perspective or isometric or orthographic views may be utilized.

Now That You Know:

Using this terminology as a basis in technical illustration, how is it that you will know which view is the best for your project? To a certain degree, industry norms dictate which view to use. For example, if you were to show a product piece as it would be put together, you would show it as an exploded view.

Numerous factors also direct the view utilized for the piece. Items such as the amount of detail to show, where components sit in relation to each other, the target audience for the piece, the timeframe required to complete the illustration, reference information available, etc. all contribute to the decision of what view the final illustration should be shown in.

Hopefully this information has been helpful in your understanding of technical illustration and you are able to better decide which type of illustration will convey your information the best. Feel free to email me or post a comment if you have questions or would like further information.

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