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Avoid Being a Clip Art Clone

Find unique images, modify canned clip art

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In the "Recycle Bin" column of the July 1998 issue of Windows magazine, a reader submitted two ads — one for prostate medication, the other for computer products — that prominently featured the same piece of stock photography. Amusing to us, but I wonder how the advertisers feel about it?

In 1998 when About unveiled a new front page that included some stock images of people holding magnifying glasses the same images were also being used by another online service in their banner ads and by a toothpaste company in some print advertising. No one is immune to the plague of unintentional copy cat artwork.

One key to getting your message read by consumers who are bombarded left and right with advertising is to make your ad stand out as unique, different, eye-catching. But how can you accomplish this when the key visual is associated with a dozen other products or services — perhaps even your competitor?

Use Unique Images
If you are pulling your images from some of the most popular clip art packages or from shareware and free collections on the Web then chances are that you will see the same images popping up on fliers, in ads, or gracing newsletters and Web pages.

Royalty free illustrations and stock photography are relatively inexpensive. Their ready availability is what makes them attractive and what makes it likely that someone else will use that same image. You have to ask yourself how likely it is that someone else, including your competitor, will use the exact same image and how much will it matter if they do.

  • Control your rights. If it really matters, rights controlled or rights managed images that you've licensed for a specific purpose and for your exclusive use may be your best recourse.

    The licenses may vary but it is possible to obtain the use of images with certain guarantees from the agency that material by your competitor won't turn up with the exact same image just as you're launching your big campaign.

  • Hire a professional. Commission specific images from professional artists and photographers. The cost is generally high, but the results may be worth it. But make sure that you are purchasing exclusive use of that commissioned artwork.

  • Do it yourself. Draw your own illustrations. Do your own photography.

Customize Canned Clip Art
What can you do if you can't afford custom artwork but don't have the time (or the talent) to create your own drawings from scratch? You can add a personal touch to canned clip art.

  • Change it. Modify off-the-shelf clip art. Combine individual pieces into one. Break apart images and use just parts. Stretch, shrink, flip, rotate. Colorize black & white images. Recolor color images.

  • Keep it simple. Combine simple shapes into custom images. Get the appearance of custom artwork by utilizing symbols and basic shapes to construct original images. For example, a stack of three circles with a few dots and sticks becomes a snowman. This is something even non-artists can accomplish.

  • Plug it in. Use the many plug-in filters and special effects in your graphics software to enhance or distort stock photos.

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