Best Practice Guide for Union Color Designers

This guide is meant to help those working under the 21-501 Color Designer job classification in our master agreement to know what type of work falls within the scope of their classification, and what does not. Please note: Your IAP Pension Contributions are determined by your classification, NOT your negotiated rate. Studios who classify Color Designers under a different job code (eg. 21-032 Background or 21-052 Model Designer) allows most “Outside Scope” work to be assigned without consequence under our current agreement. 

For questions, please email:

Color Design Wage Scales

Within Scope

  • Working with Anti-Alias Line Art

    Although it requires working without the paint bucket tool in Photoshop, it is fine for a Color Designer to work this way.

  • Creating Color Fills

    Although this work was traditionally handled by a Color Modelist (21-500), this job position is now mostly obsolete with digital animation as programs allow Color Designers to easily do this work for themselves.

  • Comping Backgrounds and other Color Assets Together with Color Models

    It is essential for a Color Designer to be aware of the environmental colors that a character, prop, or FX will exist in, and it is often necessary to place assets together in a file to check that they all work harmoniously together. Note that backgrounds are typically kept flat and sometimes blurred on color models and may be roughly comped (as in not exactly registered) while still thoughtfully placed against a background for the purpose of reviewing colors.

  • Providing Color Options/Variations

    Directors will commonly ask to be presented with different color choices for a single model design. This is fine for a Color Designer to provide, within reason.

  • Swatching Colors

    Vendor studios rely on clear color information, especially when it comes to glows, transparencies, and blend modes that Color Designers are responsible for noting on their color models.

  • Creating Filters

    Flat color overlays that affect the entire color palette of a character or prop in special lighting situations (ie. night OLs, etc.) is the responsibility of a Color Designer.

  • Creating Gradients within a Model Design

    This is fine for a Color Designer to add.

  • Attending Review/Retake Meetings with Directors

    Every production operates differently. Sometimes these meetings are reserved for Supervisors for the sake of keeping the rest of the team productive, and on other productions the Color Designer will meet directly with their Supervisor and adjust color model by model. It is fine for a Color Designer to be in either of these types of meetings.

Gray Areas

  • Drawing Shadows, Rim Lights, Shines/Highlights

    An indication of color for shadows and rim lights is within the scope of a Color Designer’s job. But perfectly designing shadow, highlight, and/or rim shapes should be considered Character or Prop Design work, and someone who is doing this work should be classified as a Model Designer (21-052).

  • Incorporating Provided Textures or Patterns

    If these are already established and then supplied to a Color Designer (such as in the form of an overlay or stamp tool) to apply to a model, this can be okay. Although ideally this information should exist on a model design in black and white for the sake of animation. But a Color Designer should definitely not be drawing these in from scratch as addressed in the “Drawing Details” section below.

  • Lead/Route Sheets or Lighting Notes

    Sometimes Animation Checkers or Production will handle transcribing these notes, but there are cases of studios who assign this responsibility to Color Designers. As a Committee, we feel it’s most appropriate for either a Color Design Supervisor or Color (Department) Supervisor or Art Director to write these out if an Animation Checker or Production does not, given the added amount of work on top of regular color assignments that is required to complete them.

  • Converting Anti-Alias Line Art to Alias

    This is best handled by Production as issues can arise during the conversion process that can take away from doing color work. Although there are productions which provide Color Designers a Photoshop Action to be able to convert it themselves, we do not think it is ideal for Color Designers to have to handle this step.

  • Coloring Props that are BG Elements

    Designs drawn within a BG are commonly propped out when they animate. Simple props are fine for Color Designers to handle, although with the growing complexity of show styles, we are seeing cases of very complex BG elements that fill more than ½ the screen, being given to Color Designers to handle. It is up to individual Color Designers to gauge their comfort level with these assignments, and they are encouraged to speak up to their Supervisor or Director when they feel that a prop they have been assigned deserves to be paid at the Background rate, in order for it to be completed. Please see “Rendering or Editing a Background” below for more information.

  • Working in Toon Boom Harmony
  • Creating a Full Color Swatch Library for Each Model in Photoshop

    This is when every single color of a model is swatched and labeled. This goes far beyond “Swatching Colors,” as outlined above. This is, however, completely normal when working in Harmony because of how color works in that program. Although in Photoshop, this can become time-consuming and tedious work that normally would be done by a vendor studio.

  • Creating a Motion Blur

    Designing and determining the strength and direction of a blur should be handled by a Model Designer (21-052), although is often expected of Color Designers. We encourage members to gauge their own comfort level when being tasked with these types of assignments.

Outside Scope

  • Placing Color Flats, Painting, Rendering, or Editing a Background

    This is the work of a Background (21-032) Artist and is outlined in our Master Agreement as a grievable offense against a studio if done by a Color Designer not classified under the 21-032 job code.

  • Fixing Black and White Line Art

    Erasing or adding to line art, no matter how minor, should be handled by a Model Designer (21-052).

  • Cleaning Black and White Line Art

    Should be handled by a Model Designer (21-052) and/or an Assistant Model Designer (21-132), otherwise known as a Cleanup Artist.

  • Drawing Details and Adding Color Separations

    Adding additional shape information onto a design is Model Design (21-052) work. It can also be problematic for the vendor studio as they typically rely on the information provided in the black-and-white designs to create each frame of animation.

  • Drawing Cast Shadows

    A shadow shape, such as a character’s silhouette, for example, should be drawn by a Model Designer (21-052).

  • Shaped Beams of Light

    Beams that have a distinct shape (versus a soft glow) should be provided by a Model Designer (21-502). Although note: it is fine for a Color Designer to either feather or blur the edges of a shape they have been provided and to add radial gradients.

  • Drawing an FX from Scratch or Adding Shapes to FX

    This is the work of a Model Designer (21-052).

  • Painting a Fully Rendered, 3d-emulating Color Treatment from a 2D Design

    Depending on the context, this is most likely the work of a Visual Development Artist.

  • Creating Size Charts

    Should be handled by a Model Designer (21-052).

  • Color Scripts

    Usually handled either by an Art Director, a Color Supervisor (21-032) who oversees Background Paint, or a Lead Background (21-032) Artist/Painter.

  • Removing Backgrounds from Models for Shipping

    Although many productions require painted backgrounds to be placed with color models for the sake of reviewing the colors, the background layer(s) often must be removed before the file is shipped. We feel that this task is best handled by Production. Please note: It is okay to be required to be asked to save out additional files when a color model is first created or revised, with and without backgrounds, for the sake of reviewing and shipping.

  • Packaging and Shipping Assets

    This is the work of Production, although on Harmony shows, this work should be handled by a Technical Director.

  • Setting up Key Frames or Creating Animated GIFS

    This is the work of an Animator (21-012). When working in Harmony, please refer to the Harmony Best Practice Guide.

  • Doing any Work (touch-ups, shadows, rim lights, etc.) on a Storyboard

    This is the work of a Storyboard Revisionist (21-102).

  • Searching, Identifying, and Collecting Files for Reuse

    May be handled by Production and then reviewed by either a Supervisor or an Art Director.

  • Creating a Show Database of Models

    This is the work of Production.

  • Building a Color Model in Harmony from a Photoshop Color Model

Members who have been given and have done work outside of the scope of their job position when hired under the 21-501 Color Designer job classification on either a past or present production are encouraged to alert a Field Representative to the matter by using this form.