Applying for CIfA Accreditation as an Illustrator / Graphic Designer / Photographer / Surveyor

While you can join GAG (Graphic Archaeology Group) without joining CIfA (Chartered Institute for Archaeologists), most of our members go down this path. For graphics applications, members of GAG assist CIfA by assessing portfolio submissions. For more information on GAG’s relationship with CIfA, please visit our About page.

CIfA has several levels of membership, which you can read about here.

CIfA has competence matrices to help assess applications. When applying, you should use the general matrix, supported by the graphics specialist matrix, both available on the CIfA website. CIfA also have an Application Guide to help you put together your application.

Below is supplemental information to their Application Guide, to help specialist applicants understand the process. This text refers to the version of the Application Guide last updated in May 2020. The numbering (1.2, etc.) refers to the numbers in this Application Guide.

1 Joining CIfA

1.2 How is my application assessed?

In the case of graphics applications, where the CIfA guide mentions that your “peers” will assess your application, this includes GAG members who are illustrators and/or surveyors. For MCIfA applicants, there is a panel which consists of the GAG Assessments Officer, another member of the committee, and an outside expert. This is because your visual portfolio will form a major part of your application.

The process works like this:
1. You submit your application to CIfA and include a digital portfolio. This can include digital imagery as well as scans and photographs of physical work.
2. The Validation Committee of CIfA, who assess individual applications, ask a GAG specialist or arrange a panel to assess the application and make a report.
3. For MCIfA applicants, the GAG panel will conduct an assessment of the portfolio with the applicant, which can be a digital or face-to-face meeting. A finished piece of work doesn’t always show the thought processes and the applicant’s logic, so the assessors may want to find out more to judge, for example, the accuracy of your work.
4. For MCIfA applicants, the panel then complete an assessment form using the competence matrix, and make a recommendation to the Validation Committee about the applicant and if they sufficiently demonstrate the level they have applied for.
5. The Validation Committee then consider the recommendation in a Validation Meeting; these happen regularly throughout the year.

A further note on MCIfA applications: it should be stressed that you do not need to be a manager to achieve this level of accreditation; while such experience is relevant to meeting the criteria, it is not the only way to demonstrate the criteria. You can achieve this level as a highly experienced illustrator, photographer or surveyor regardless of management experience, since you can have a high level of autonomy in a variety of roles. The panel will assess your understanding of the industry holistically, and how your specialism fits into the profession. Read the general and the specialist competence matrices for more information.

2 Putting together your application

2.1 Understanding the competence matrix

As of August 2022, the latest specialist graphics matrix can be found here:

Read this as well as the main matrix to word your application appropriately. It is a good idea to break down the written portion of your application into the ways in which you meet specific points on the matrices.

2.2 Education and/or employed and voluntary work

Illustrators, photographers and surveyors are regularly not credited as authors. However, listing the publications that carry your work is useful to the committee. As a suggestion you could write them in the following format:

[Author] with illustrations by [Your Name], [Year], [Title]

You can, for example, list the publications you mention in your application and/or the publications you have included illustrations from in your portfolio (it is especially helpful to the committee/panel if you talk about specific pieces in your portfolio in your application).

2.3 Examples of work

Many kinds of work can be submitted. The file types that are accepted are .txt, .pdf, .doc and .docx. You may wish to submit one PDF with several examples of your work, or you may wish to submit several files. You can submit up to 5 at 6MB each in the online application
form, or send these across using a file-sharing system such as WeTransfer or Google Docs. While the Application Guide states that work should not be supplied as one document, in the case of visual portfolios this should be acceptable.

Remember that your visual portfolio is one of the main ways your work is going to be assessed, so make sure you put your best work forward, be selective, and show your range; include more than the minimum required. Ensure you make it clear which elements of the items you submit are your work; for example, if you submit a report, specify if you wrote, typeset, illustrated, completed the survey for the illustrations, etc. Also remember to be careful about revealing sensitive data by submitting your work; make sure you clear it with your company or client before submission to ensure you do not break GDPR or an embargo, for example. However, all applications are confidential and examples are deleted after use.

It is difficult to give a specific number of pieces of work that should be submitted, so use your discretion, but you can submit many different types of work, including but not limited to:

 •  Grey literature reports and/or publications
 •  Site photographs
 •  Rectified photographs
 •  Architectural / Historic Building Recording photographs and illustrations
 •  Artefact photography
 •  Finds illustrations
 •  Maps, plans, sections, and elevations
 •  Exports of survey files
 •  Graphical outputs of GIS datasets
 •  Reconstruction illustrations
 •  3D models, including photogrammetric models and digital elevation models (DEMs) (can be embedded in PDF format if the file is small enough, exported as 2D images, or sent using a file-sharing service)
 •  LiDAR imagery
 •  Graphics for public outreach
 •  Infographics
 •  Video (should be supplied using a file-sharing service)
 •  Other technical graphics/illustrations

To provide work using a file-sharing service, mention in the “Additional Information” section of your application, and email the link to

For MCIfA applicants, the type of work you submit will inform who is on the panel of assessors. You can include in your portfolio brief descriptions if they are not immediately clear, but you need to write about how your work demonstrates the four areas of the competence matrices in detail in the written part of your application.

2.4 References

Many people move into their specialism while working within one company. It can also be difficult to find two referees who have worked with you since you have achieved the relevant level of experience for the level being applied for. For PCIfA and ACIfA applicants, it is permitted to submit more than one referee from the same company, as long as at least one can comment on your competence within your specialism. For MCIfA applicants, you need to find a referee external to your employer who can comment on your specialist work in a quality assurance role, for example another specialist you might have worked with or someone from a larger body like Historic England.

You can find all the vital information about applying on the CIfA website, but we hope this guide has been helpful by tailoring CIfA’s advice to graphics specialists. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact us at or Lianne, who deals with applications at CIfA, at Good luck!