Freelance Illustration Pricing: The Complete Guide to Pricing Your Work

On the one hand, we’ve all had clients determined to pay you as little as possible on principle (or nothing, in exchange for “exposure”). These customers send shivers down your spine and you feel the immediate urge to walk away. And yet, other companies generally seem decent, and you really want to work for them, but the salary they offer makes them feel like they’re undervaluing your services.

However, negotiating your rates can be tricky when you’re not sure what the “right” market rate would be. So, in this article, we offer some tips on how to set your rates and where the right balance is.

1. Charge for usage, not time

The first point to make is that you’re not alone: ​​almost all illustrators struggle with pricing. And that’s because you can’t just base your price on how long you spent on a piece. It’s about what the company will do with it next.

“Pricing illustration is difficult because it’s not just a service – it’s the potential for businesses to reuse work to make a profit,” says the artist and illustrator Kendyll Hillegas. “That’s why terms of use are important and why broad commercial use has a much higher value than limited labor use.”

Prices can vary so much from market to market and customer to customer, which is part of what makes it so tricky. “But a good rule of thumb is that the more your work is seen or reproduced, the higher the rate should be. For example, if the illustration is to be printed once in a magazine, that would be a lower rate, between $250 and $ 400. If it appears on the front of a package, however, you’ll be looking at between $1,500 and $4,000 instead.

It is also about How? ‘Or’ What illustration will be used. For example, you’d want to charge more for editorial illustration for a magazine if it’s for the cover, as opposed to a quarter-page inside. You should also consider geography (will the magazine appear in one country or globally) and how often the magazine is allowed to use the illustration, e.g., in future editions, spin-offs , directories and related marketing materials.

In short, different usage will incur different charges, and while there are no set rates for all of this, the key is to be consistent and charge for usage rather than time.

As art director and illustrator Tim Easley explains: “A piece that takes a day is worth more to Coca Cola than a lemonade stand, so charge accordingly. That doesn’t mean you can’t also charge for your time – for example, if you’re not sure of the final number of concepts will be used – but this should be separate from usage fees.”

2. Find the right number

But beyond the principle of invoicing for use over time, how do we actually arrive at a figure? “If you’re not entirely sure, quote high rather than low,” Tim suggests. “And if you don’t have an answer, or if the answer is not positive, negotiate.”

He adds: “It is also acceptable to ask the client what their budget is. Often he just tells you, and you can work around that rather than trying in the dark. And it is acceptable to contact well-established illustrators. for their advice too; most people don’t care!”

In addition to usage, other factors can influence what you charge. This can include the size of a customer (you would expect to charge a global brand more than a small local store) and whether you were working on short notice (in which case you would add an extra charge for the inconvenience). Plus, of course, the amount of work the project will actually entail.

“I would say think carefully about how long it will take you and use that as a base, including everything from emails to sketches,” says the illustrator Emmy Smith. “A big client is going to pay more than a small business, so don’t be afraid to ask for more. Go upstairs and then you can meet in the middle if needed.”

That said, we’re assuming here that the customer will ask you what you’re charging. It is often the case, however, that they will approach you upfront with their standard rates. In this case, the same principles apply: either accept the position, or refuse it outright, or politely ask if there is room for negotiation.

Above all, never underpay just to try to get the job, says the illustrator Marco Bevilacqua. “Base your costs on what you’re worth,” he advises. “If you want to build a ‘sustainable’ career in illustration, underpricing and overworking will only lead to disillusionment.”

It’s so important to make sure your customer understands the usage and why you’re charging for it. This way you can both justify your price and build your confidence by asking for that higher price than you are worth.

3. Know your worth

While following the above principles sounds great in theory, in practice even the most talented and experienced illustrators crumble in the face of opposition and end up working for less than they should. So knowing your worth and sticking to your guns is just as important to getting your rates right as anything else.

“Don’t work with people who won’t pay your prices,” urges Tatiana Bischak, an illustrator and designer specializing in brand-centric artwork. “We respect people by paying them what they’re worth because underpaid people are in poor health, stressed and not functioning well. Customers who don’t understand this will bring more stress and you won’t have any problems. money to deal with it.

“Charge as much as you can and add taxes,” she continues. “Track your projects over time, so you have a rough idea of ​​how long tasks are taking you, then apply an hour to it. Factor in meetings, changes, and hang-ups when you do this. A zero.”

It’s as important as quoting the right price to explain to the customer why it’s good value. As an artist and illustrator Marc Leary says, “It’s so important to make sure your customer understands the usage and why you’re charging for it. That way you can both justify your price and build your confidence by asking for that higher price than you’re worth. “

4. Calculate revisions

Also, make sure that when you quote, the customer (and you) know what they’re getting. For example, it doesn’t usually mean endless versions of an illustration until the client is satisfied. But unless you specify, they can assume it’s exactly what he understands.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding and price undercutting, I think,” says the designer Berenice Howard-Smith. “There’s a huge misconception that all designers should illustrate, especially in publishing, and illustrators get criticized on cost. And process too. I’ve always worked with pencil sketches and digital or watercolor endings, but almost always the changes or rebriefs are for the endings, and you have to explain why it pays off.”

For this reason, freelance illustrator Danii Pollehn
recommends: “Always specify the number of revisions included and add a kill fee to the contract. This has saved my life so many times. I always add usage rights and in my confidence add another 10 at 20% on top of everything to be able to negotiate.”

5. Check the prices of other illustrators

Another essential way to make sure your prices are correct is to check what other illustrators are charging. That doesn’t mean you should charge exactly the same: some illustrators will always claim more money due to their level of experience, the quality of their work, and the “name” they’ve become. But it will at least give you a good idea for setting your own fees.

Illustrator pricing surveys are popping up all over the web and Twitter all the time, though they’ve been rare since the pandemic. So currently the best approach is just to ask other illustrators.

Some may politely decline, but the community is friendly, and we expect most to share if you approach them with the right degree of diplomacy. Tatiana leads by example. “I charge on average between $700 and $1,600 per illustration,” she says. “Most were $9,000; it was extremely complex, made up of 30 smaller illos, and they made gigantic changes in the final stages of the illustration. I should charge more. »

Do not panic. You don’t have to respond to your customers right away, so give yourself time to think things through first.

6. Raise your rates over time

Illustrators agree: the more you work over time, the better you get. And ipso facto, you should increase your prices regularly. “Whatever you charged last year, add 5% more for inflation,” says finnie the cat, freelance illustrator and designer for animation. “Then top it off with a bonus for the experience and skills you’ve gained.”

Creative advice Fred Creative I agree. “Raise your daily rate by £25 for each new job,” they recommend. “Tell your regular customers a 15% increase every year. If they complain, agree to reduce it to 10%. But the biggest tip is to make sure you deliver projects as if it were every time from a new customer.”

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you might agree to lower your fees to meet a client’s budget. But like Chris Page of jelly london points out: “If you do, always put the discount on a separate line in your quote. Then when they come back and say, ‘You did this for X last time’, you can remind them of the discount you granted and say you have to charge the full fee this time.”

Finally, the most important piece of advice we can give you is: don’t panic. You don’t have to respond to your customers right away, so give yourself time to think things through first. “Let the customer know that you’re going to create a quote based on the information they provided, and it can take a bit of time,” says the illustrator Marco Bevilacqua. “Anyone who commissions artwork knows it can be complicated, so they’re usually very understanding when it comes to a bit of a delay.”