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How do I Become a Colorist?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A colorist is an art professional who applies color to various forms of artwork. The most common types of colorist jobs involve cartoons, motion pictures, and comic books. In order to become a colorist, you must usually attend an accredited art school, or learn to use the necessary software programs needed to perform the job successfully. The actual requirements for entering this field vary based on location and individual employers.

Originally, colorists worked using hand-drawn cartoons on sheets of paper and coloring items using special coloring pens. This practice has been largely replaced by the use of computer software which allows the colorist to make changes and enter new colors more easily. The software used is often very complex, so in order to become a colorist you must learn to use these programs correctly. You can do this either by attending a formal art school or by purchasing the software and practicing on your own.

Although a formal college education is not always required in order to become a colorist, you should be aware that if you self-teach you may be limiting your job opportunities. Some companies may only hire those who have graduated from a known school, while others will look at your body of work samples to make their decision. If this is a risk you are willing to take, you can begin your career by purchasing the appropriate software along with manuals and books which teach the craft.

If you do choose to attend an art school or university, make sure you visit several potential schools before making a decision on where to get your education. You may find a good school by asking professionals in the industry where they got their training. Former students may also give valuable insight into a school’s programs. Ask anyone you talk to about how challenging the coursework was, and find out if he or she was successfully able to become a colorist upon graduation.

Once you have graduated or fully learned your craft, you can find work by checking the classifieds in your area and by calling local employers who hire colorists. Find out what it would take to be hired, whether or not you need work samples in a portfolio to be considered, and how many samples are required. To create samples for your book, draw your own pictures using the appropriate software or do pro bono work for companies or publications to gain experience.

Make sure that your portfolio is professional in appearance. Your book of samples will be the first thing most employers notice about you, so it’s important to do your best. Choose your best works and place them in the book first. Leave out early artwork if you have enough samples without them. You should also buy a professional art portfolio from an art supply store in which to display your work.

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