Pages: of 2Next page

Battle Royale IV — Make Art, Not War

All year long, designers pit their skills against each other in the iStock Steel Cage. If you don't know the drill, it's simple: a contender creates an original design. Their opponent takes the Photoshop® file and changes it, combining the existing elements with new images to create something new. Whoever creates the most impressive, original, eye-popping artwork wins.

Every year, we bring together our seasoned Cage veterans, along with some hungry newcomers, for a marathon tournament: the Battle Royale. It's a gruelling schedule, full of late nights and countless hours tweaking layer masks and lighting effects. It isn't for the faint of heart.

Last year, 117 iStockers entered the Steel Cage and endured an 85 Day ordeal. In the end, it came down to 2 designers, and nbodine walked away with the prize: Five grand.

This year it can be you. Enter Battle Royale IV on May 28th and you could win $5,000 on Punctum Day.

Qualifying results are in

We received 117 entries for this year's Battle Royale. The judges have examined each and everyone 3 times over and the scores our in. We have announced and seeded our top 32 Tournament contenders here. Click the button below to see the Tournament chart. It shows who matches up against who.

Next Step: Battle Royale
The top 32 contenders will be announced and seeded, and then we send them into the Cage to have it out. From there it's 4 rounds to reach the final, and the chance to battle for $5,000.

If you've qualified for the next round and are new to the cage, make sure that you have 'Steel Cage Battles' checked in your Control Panel. Then watch your sitemail folder for further instructions.

Battle Royale Tournament Schedule

  • The Qualifying contest begins Thursday, May 28th. You have until May 31st to submit your entry. There will be 3 days of judging.
  • The 32 Tournament contestants will be announced and seeded Thursday, June 4th.
  • June 6 — Preliminary Round 1: 16 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow.
  • June 19 — Preliminary Round 2: 8 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow.
  • June 30 - July 5 — Long weekend break Get outside and see the sun for a few days. Maybe fire up the BBQ. You've earned it.
  • July 7 — Quarter Final: 4 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow.
  • July 19 — Semi Final: 2 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow.
  • July 31 — Final: Our Final match between the top 2 remaining contenders will consist of 3 rounds, with a 3 day time limit for each blow.
  • August 19 — Punctum Day — Winner Announced

One First Place Grand Prize of $5,000 US.

One Second Place Prize package (approximate retail value of $950 US) consisting of:

Two Third Place Prize packages (approximate retail value of $450 US for each package) each consisting of:

A special, expanded version of the Battle Elder Council will judge each of the entries in the Qualifying Contest, and then in each subsequent round. For the Qualifying Contest, you'll receive an averaged score out of 100 from all three Judges. During the subsequent rounds, you'll get a score out of 10 from each Judge. Your entry will be graded on the following:

  • Execution: The technical meat & potatoes of your blow: the isolation work, lighting, layering, and use of effects.

    Poor: You used the magic wand tool, didn't you?

    Needs Work: Edges are jagged or fuzzy where they shouldn't be. Effects aren't uniformly applied and we can see where the layers meet. You need to take more time on the details and work on your Photoshop skills.

    Average: There may be inconsistencies in where the light comes from. Isolation and masking work could be better. The use of transparencies and layer effects is a little obvious and could be better integrated. But all in all, not bad.

    Very Good: You've attempted some difficult isolation and effects, and for the most part made them work. Any complaints are minor — well done.

    Perfect: A photo-realistic, seamless effort. The viewer has no idea how you pulled this off.

  • Composition: The artistic strength of your blow: your use of space within the confines of the image dimensions, the unity of your colors, lines and shapes, and the immediate visual impact of the blow.

    Poor: Sorry, but did you look at this before uploading it?

    Needs Work: There's nothing visually exciting or distinctive about this blow. Your layout, your color choices, your tone, all need more time and care.

    Average: You've used the canvas well. Things are well laid out but not necessarily striking.

    Very Good: This is a good-looking blow. Nice design choices, strong color, and a really clear visual identity.

    Perfect: A work of art. Whether it's the intricacy of the elements, or the sheer boldness of the design, it's a thing of beauty.

  • Use of Elements: How well did you incorporate the existing elements from the previous blow?

    Poor: A complete wipe. No effort to use any previous elements.

    Needs Work: We can recognize elements from the previous blow, but things might be a bit clumsy, or poorly integrated.

    Average: Visible elements are well-integrated, but nothing really stands out in the way you've used them.

    Very Good: Not only are the elements there, but you've established some continuity with what happened before: we've got a narrative now between the two.

    Perfect: You've not only cleverly manipulated the main elements into a completely new concept, you've created some narrative continuity and found neat ways to work in radical alterations as well as minor details.

  • Originality & Creativity: Did you re-hash a haggard old cage concept, or are you showing us something we've never seen before?

    Poor: You took the original blow and put it in a picture frame. Boo.

    Needs Work: You've moved the elements around but without any real sense of why. None of the elements add up to something new or innovative.

    Average: Your science-fiction space battle is pretty good, but we get a lot of science-fiction space battles around here.

    Very Good: ... We get relatively few science-fiction Prom-dances though. Nice work on the martian spiking the punch.

    Perfect: We thought we'd seen it all, then we saw this. Outstanding.

Every year the Battle Royale attracts plenty of newbies who have yet to poke their head into the Steel Cage. If this is you, we have some pointers to get you off the ground.

  • Get to know the Cage
    Spend some time looking through the Steel Cage matches going on right now. This will give you an idea of how everything works, as well as let you see the kind of work that people do in the Cage.

    Familiarize yourself with the rules. We also have a whole list of Cage tips compiled by some of our regulars. Give it a read.

  • Working with the Seed .psd:
    For the Qualifying contest, you'll be working with the same raw materials as everyone else. Download the seed file. It's going to have a lot of different layers and elements. You may move, alter, hide, and change any of these. You may add other images as well, provided they don't break the basic cage rules: no recognizable logos or trademarks or other copyright material in other words.

    Your final product must have at least some of the original elements invovled — how much you keep and how much you change is up to you though. A 'wipe' is an entry in which none of the original elements are visible, and this will cost you.

  • Issuing a challenge:
    After the Qualifying contest, the rest of the rounds will take place in the Battle Royale forum. If you are the lower-seeded Contender, it will be up to you to issue the initial challenge.

    1. Click 'Create a New Battle' down at the bottom of the Battle Royale forum page.
    2. You'll get a pop-up window. Enter the membername of your opponent in the field. You'll get a message window (I challenge you to a Steel Cage match!) Once you send that off, the Battle will be created in the forum.


Please read the complete contest rules. They are exciting. They are a non-stop thrill ride. Honest. Mostly though, they outline who can or can't enter.

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to participate. For stupid legal reasons we just aren't able to operate contests in certain States, Provinces, and Countries. The big ones: Rhode Island, New York, Florida, Quebec, and France. Please email contests at if you have any questions about eligibility or anything else.