How to Create an Illustration Tear Sheet

Published Jun. 24th 2013


Tear sheets are a vital component of every illustrator’s promotional arsenal. They are as ubiquitous as business cards, and are kept by publishers and potential clients to quickly identify potential illustrators whose style fits a particular project.

Working illustrators will often mail their tear sheets along with some larger samples, a cover letter and a business card to publishers and other potential business clients.

If you’re interested in the field of illustration, and you don’t currently have tear sheets ready for clients, it’s definitely time to get started—here’s what you need to know:

What does a tear sheet look like?

A tear sheet is one sheet of A4-size paper containing the best examples of your illustration style. It should also include your business logo and your contact details, usually in the top left corner.

The easiest way to create a tear sheet is in a publishing program such as Adobe InDesign. You can set up a page and move elements around till you have a layout you’re satisfied with.

Before you begin, look at other illustrator’s tear sheets (you can find these on their websites or portfolio sites). This will give you ideas for the content and layout.

And keep in mind, your tear sheet layout doesn’t have to be boring and linear, one image after the other. Imaginative, dynamic layouts show off your creative style. Just make sure that any formatting doesn’t detract from the quality of your illustrations, and ONLY include the highest standard of work.

Create tear sheets focused on themes.

Most illustrators create more than one tear sheet. Each tear sheet will be focused around a specific theme or style, bringing the client’s attention to one of their particular strengths.

For example, one tear sheet might focus entirely on illustrated faces and facial expressions, to show your skill at depicting emotion and different ethnicities.

A second tear sheet might show several works in series, to show your skill for continuity.

A third tear sheet might contain illustrations aimed at a certain age group or audience (such as early readers, or tween girls). Publishers in that niche would be much more interested in these illustrations than a tear sheet focusing on a specific style, say your black & white line work.

Before sending your tear sheet to publishers. . .

Have a professional artist or publisher look over your tear sheet and give their opinion. They may be able to suggest areas where your work could be stronger or a different way of presenting an image.

Make a list of potential publishers to contact—look for companies that regularly publish in genres/styles that mesh with yours.

Whenever you find a publisher that seems like a good fit, look through their website for submission guidelines. Some will want tear sheets and illustration samples submitted in a very specific way. Make sure you follow submission guidelines very carefully, as publishers will disregard any submission that doesn’t follow the guidelines.

Once you’ve submitted your tear sheet, you have to wait for the publisher to reply. This can take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months, so spend that time focusing on finding more publishers to approach.

Your tear sheet checklist:

Here’s a quick checklist if you’re in the process of creating and submitting your tear sheet right now:

1. Have you included your business logo?
2. Have you included your name and contact details?
3. Does your tear sheet focus on one particular skill, market or media?
4. Are you using professional, high-quality paper and printing?
5. Have you had a publishing professional look over your tear sheet?
6. Have you followed the submission guidelines?

Creating a tear sheet isn’t as difficult as you’d think. . . the key is to create a cohesive theme or story in each of your sheets, and to make sure you’re targeting the right publishers. Good luck!

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