Craft: Color Design

About Color Design

As part of animation design departments, Color Design is the last step in the pre-production design process. The job definition of a Color Designer is to design and create color palettes for all animated assets in a production, including characters, props, and effects. In addition, Color Designers set special lighting palettes for these same assets when called for. 

History of Color Design

Historically, Color Design (once known as Color Styling), was a position within the Ink and Paint department, which included Inkers and Painters. Women were relegated to this department in the early days of animation. You can learn more about this department and the craft before it was known as Color Design at Ink & Paint: Unfiltered.

Many of the positions that were once part of the Ink and Paint department no longer exist in union animation studios, with Color Design being one of the few survivors. This position has been, and still is, female dominated. As such, Color Designers have had to advocate for pay equity with their design colleagues.

Since the inception of TAG’s Color Designer Committee in 2017, the group has achieved these changes to our master Collective Bargaining Agreement:

  • Title change from Color Stylist to Color Designer.
  • Shortened wage schedule to Journey minimum from 2 years to 1 year.
  • Moved the job classification out of the Ink and Paint section of our wage scales.
  • Added a 15% minimum rate premium for Color Design Supervisors.
  • Narrowed pay gap with the rest of the design crafts by 1/3 beginning in 2022.

Color Design Roles

  • Color Supervisor

    Functions as the Supervisor for the entire Color Department. They provide direction and feedback to Background Painters and Color Designers, and are responsible for delegating, reviewing, and approving all of their artwork. Those working in this role should be classified on their paycheck as: 21-032 Background Supervisor.

  • Color Design Supervisor

    Provides direction and feedback only to other Color Designers and is responsible for delegating, reviewing, and approving all of their artwork. Those performing these job duties should be classified on their paycheck as: 21-501 Color Design Supervisor.

  • Color Design Lead

    Can be tasked with establishing color on key animation assets or models. May also be tasked with creating style or how-to guides. Someone in this role would be classified on their paycheck as “21-501 Color Design” and not necessarily “21-501 Color Design Supervisor“, which includes a required 15% pay increase to the minimum due to the added responsibilities of a Supervisor, as described above.

    Please note: Some studios use the titles “Lead” and “Supervisor” interchangeably. The union rate you should be earning in such a role depends entirely on the work you are actually performing and not necessarily your title. If you are unsure of what your job classification should be, please email for clarification.

  • Color Coordinator

    Identifies and tracks assignments that are handed out to artists working in the Color Department. Can assist with assignment questions, relaying Director’s notes, creating Lead or Route Sheets, tracking Lighting Notes, packaging and shipping color assets, and providing reference material to Background Painters and Color Designers, when needed. This is a production role and should not overlap with an artist’s job.

  • Color Modelist

    Prepares model sheets for a Color Designer by creating color fills, or applies approved colors to model sheets as directed by a Color Designer. Those working in this role are classified on their paycheck as: 21-500 Color Modelist.

What to Know Now

Because of the pay discrepancy that those classified as 21-501 Color Designers currently experience by working under the terms of the Master Agreement, it is important to be aware of what work falls outside the scope of the craft. Any work that would normally be performed by another designer or background painter has a higher minimum rate that signatory studios must adhere to. Please refer to this Best Practice Guide if you are unsure if the work you have been assigned as a Color Designer is appropriate.

If you know or suspect you have been tasked with work that falls outside the Color Designer job classification, reach out to your Shop Steward listed here or a Field Representative through TAG’s Member Help Form.

Please note that our master agreement now includes the following language: Effective 07/10/2022, the Color Designer (21-501) classification shall not apply to background painting. In the event that an employee employed as a Color Designer believes that background painting has been assigned to the employee, the employee should promptly bring the matter to the attention of the Producer. Should the Color Designer perform background painting at the request of a Producer, the Color Designer should be paid the minimum scale of a Background Artist (21-032) for such work.