Art Editor

The Job and What's Involved

Art editors work in the design or art teams of printed and digital magazines. Their main job is to ensure a consistent look and feel to the pages across the publication, by bringing together the right images and copy for the audience.

Art editors work on mainstream consumer magazines such as Vogue and NME, on trade and business titles and on specialised magazines, such as those aimed at people with particular hobbies and interests.

Giving readers something fresh and exciting is essential in the highly competitive magazine market. Senior art editors play a crucial role in selecting the magazine's cover image, ensuring it looks distinctive and can attract potential buyers. The art and design team's job generally covers all aspects of layout, design and photography.

Typical daily tasks could include:

  • Laying out pages or advising layout designers, and making sure the most suitable graphics and photographs are used.
  • Discussing design and layout ideas with colleagues such as journalists, designers and editorial staff, as well as liaising closely with freelance writers, sub-editors and proofreaders.
  • Commissioning and working with freelance designers, illustrators and photographers.
  • Overseeing photoshoots.
  • Producing cover designs.
  • Setting an overall style for the publication, establishing design templates and making sure that each issue follows this recognisable look.
  • Redesigning the publication to stay ahead of the competition and respond to new trends.

Art editors at all levels, from juniors to creative directors, are constantly working against the clock to deliver the magazine's next edition. Page layouts are done on computer and, once signed off, are sent directly to press or uploaded to a website or other digital format.

In some companies, the art editor may do most of the layout design. On larger publications, they lead and train a team of designers and artworkers.

An art editor generally works typical office hours, Monday to Friday, but flexibility is important. Extra hours are often required, especially when the magazine is going to press.

Art editors work in an office or design studio, and most work is done on computer. Occasional travel, possibly overseas, to oversee photography sessions or attend meetings, may be required.

Starting salaries for trainee art editors range from around £15,000 to £25,000 a year. With some experience, salaries range between around £22,000 and £40,000.

At senior levels, top creative editors working on a major publication can earn £70,000 or more.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are more than 3,200 consumer magazine titles in the UK and around 5,000 business or trade magazines. Most employ an art editor, though it is quite common in the business publishing sector for art editors to work on more than one title.

Magazine publishers are based in major towns and cities across the UK, but the greatest concentration of jobs is in London and the South East.

Entry is highly competitive and employers expect art editors to present an impressive portfolio of work that shows evidence of creativity and innovation. Unpaid work experience, including working on student magazines or a summer internship with a publisher, can help in developing a portfolio, making contacts and impressing potential employers. The Periodicals Training Council (PTC) website offers advice on finding work experience.

Job vacancies may be advertised in the creative and trade press, such as Design Week and Media Week, and in national newspapers. There are job search sites on the internet, as well as specialist design and publishing recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

Most art editors start out in junior roles, typically as a designer or artworker.

There are no set entry requirements. However, many entrants have a Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/HND), foundation degree or degree. Graphic design, fine art, illustration or photography are the most useful subjects.

Employers want creativity above all, however, and are keen to encourage talented graphic artists from any academic background. An applicant's portfolio of work is often as important as their qualifications.

The 14-19 Diploma in creative and media can be a useful starting point.

Entry requirements to courses vary, but as a guide:

HNCs/HNDs - one A level in relevant subjects and three or four GCSE's (A*-C) or a BTEC National Diploma/Certificate in a relevant subject, along with a portfolio.

Foundation degrees - three GCSE's (A*-C) and one A level or equivalent.

Degrees - five GCSE's (A*-C) and two A levels or equivalent qualifications.

A common route is to take a year-long foundation course in art and design followed by a degree or diploma course.

Many universities also offer postgraduate courses in graphic design. Entry is usually with a degree, although experience and a portfolio may be accepted too. These postgraduate qualifications are useful for developing skills, but are not a standard entry requirement.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

In today's rapidly evolving media landscape, many magazine publishers are also exploring multimedia content, with the demand for skilled professionals, like the video editor offering, an additional dimension to the traditional role of art editor. Also junior editors are expected to already have a working knowledge of some of the software packages used in magazine publishing when they start their job. They usually begin by designing standard layouts and sourcing photographs, developing their skills, supervised by either a deputy art editor or art editor. As their skills develop, they take on more feature-based work.

Keeping up to date with trends and innovation in software is vital for anyone working in this field, so many art editors take short courses while working.

The professional organisations, including the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) offer courses, workshops and networking events for members.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An art editor needs to be:

  • Creative, with an artistic eye.
  • Commercially aware.
  • Adept with page design software including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and used to working with QuarkXPress.
  • Self-assured and confident in presenting ideas.
  • A good communicator, able to brief others clearly.
  • Attentive to detail.
  • Good at working in a team.
  • Well organised.
  • Cool and effective under pressure.
  • Able to manage budgets.

Your Long Term Prospects

Those working for larger publishers may progress from junior designer to senior designer, deputy art editor and then art editor. To reach the position of art director requires considerable experience. It is also possible to move into a managerial role or a higher-profile publication within the company's suite of magazines.

In smaller companies, promotion opportunities can be limited, and it may be necessary to move to a new company to progress.

The skills used in art editing are very transferable within the wider design or advertising fields. Successful art editors with good industry contacts can also move into freelance work or set up their own design agency.

Get Further Information

Chartered Society of Designers (CSD),
1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard,
Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA
Tel: 020 7357 8088

D&AD, 9 Graphite Square,
Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5EE
Tel: 020 7840 1111

Periodical Publishers Association (PPA)
and Periodicals Training Council (PTC),
Queens House, 28 Kingsway, London WC2B 6JR
Tel: 020 7404 4166

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Careers line: 08080 300 900

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