It costs about $7,000 to become a certified forensic artist... is it worth it?

There are two types of forensic art certification: one is offered by the IAI (International Association for Identification), and the other by commercial art instructors.

Let’s talk about the IAI first.
One look at the IAI certified forensic artist roster raises some serious questions. Since there are over 400 forensic artists working in the United States, why are only 21* of them on this list?

Maybe it’s the cost: if you want IAI certification, it will run you upwards of $7,000.
First, you will need to complete 120 hours of training…but not just any training. You have to take classes from IAI-approved trainers (FYI: two of those instructors wrote the certification rules). Each 40-hour course runs $1000, add another $1000 for expenses (airfare, hotel, rental car and meals), and you’re up to $6000.

Then, the testing fee is $400, and the required reading material is $250. But get this: the required books were written by the two instructors who also require you to take their classes. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I just see this as a money-making venture for the instructors.

What about the certification offered by non-IAI forensic art instructors?

Those classes are about $800-$1000 each too, and it will likely cost another $1000 for all the extra expenses, unless you live in the same city the class is taught in. One popular course requires a basic class, then an advanced class, then a week-long certification class. So, again, we’re at the $3000 to $6000 range depending on where you live.

What do either one of these certifications get you?
Well, it’s possible that IAI certification will help you qualify as an expert witness if you ever need to testify in court. I think it’s doubtful that the commercial certifications will be recognized at all, because there’s no independent, recognized authority that validates it.

I used to be certified by the IAI, but the process didn’t have the conflict of interest issue it does now. When the board members who taught the classes and wrote the books changed all the rules to benefit themselves, I dropped my membership and IAI certification.

Of course, if you want to be certified, that’s a whole different ball-game.
I used to care deeply about it, and at one point it was very important to me. No more.

Basically, the only reason you will ever need to be certified is if your agency mandates it.
Then yes, of course, get certified. You’d be silly not to!

*Out of the 25 US-based forensic artists, four are retired and no longer doing casework.