Readying for an Imagery Industry Upheaval: Text-to-Image AI Apps

November 2022

Above is one of many visual results for the descriptive words ”tiger on a tightrope” generated by Lexica in under 30 seconds.

The commercial creative industry is either bracing for or embracing the fast-evolving use of text-to-image AI (artificial intelligence) software such as Lexica, DALL-E 2 and many more. These dazzling text-to-image apps allow users to create original images by simply typing in a few descriptive words. The output can combine concepts, attributes and styles, such as “an astronaut riding a horse in a photorealistic style.” For existing artworks, the software allows the user to create new compositions, manipulating every visual image available.

The pain points

Skilled bad actors are undoubtedly using text-to-image models to promote societal biases, realistic imagery and faces for deep fakes, pornography and violence—much of which present legal and ethical concerns.

And then there’s an infringement on intellectual property rights when using or manipulating original works. Beyond the older, well-known works considered under the public domain category—meaning it belongs to everyone, without restriction—it’s not a safe or fair assumption that more recently created images are “orphan works.” Using existing images in a composition can result in legal woes and costly penalties. It is best to assume all existing images are copyrighted because once work comes into being and is fixed in a tangible form, according to U.S. federal law, a creator gets the copyright automatically, whether or not the copyright is wanted. Do your research on the ownership of imagery to avoid conflicts.

I recently asked a Twirling Tiger Media partner, Canada-based digital illustrator Enrico Varrasso, how he thinks text-to-image AI apps will impact a professional creative’s work and livelihood. “I only see it getting worse for creatives in our field. These new AI programs are scary impressive with the images they come up with, and they get more impressive by the year. I can see services like it becoming more popular as time passes,” Varrasso responded.

The gains

Many text-to-image models tout “free and easy to use,” and they are fun, I might add. Using the software to crank out imagery may be enjoyable for the not-innately-talented (but tech-savvy user).

Commercial and editorial work requires keen concepts and an understanding of the tone and target audience, giving professional creatives a leg up. This talent and experience may differ from hacks toying with the software because not one visual aesthetic fits all solutions. We see a stale trend now with the overuse of stock vector illustrations and photography, which offer inexpensive means to communicate visually. These solutions are cliched and repetitive, and your competitors may use the same images, thereby weakening your brand. Innovative creatives understand how to tailor a consumer’s experience to a marketing goal.

Commercial photography and illustration changed drastically in the 1980s with advanced digital technology; over time, the workforce mastered these new techniques. Text-to-image apps may become an economic tool as professional illustrators strive for efficiency to fulfill more assignments. Professional illustrators earn a modest average base annual salary of $50,099, according to Indeed.com. To this group, creating art is not a hobby; it’s a livelihood that requires cranking out volumes of work to make ends meet.

Text-to-image AI apps used by talented creatives may be a tool that leads to vast opportunities in speed and enhanced artistry, but we need to adapt now.

Thank you for reading this.

Maureen Joyce

Read “Creating Custom Content Using AI,” which covers the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) software tools that report news and design websites using algorithms and templates.