As someone who’s been through the wringer of unpaid internships, $7.25 Missouri minimum wage, barters for work in exchange for exposure, and a number of embarrassing price negotiations, I can confirm that pricing illustration and design work is hard. I wish this article were a one-size-fits-all strategy to pricing work, but unfortunately, pricing in the art industry is dependent on a number of factors. There are also a number of different approaches to tailoring a fair figure for each client. This two-part article will focus mainly on strategies for developing commercial and privately commissioned work.

Knowing Your Worth

Even though illustrators see themselves as creators first, it’s important to recognize that a successful illustrator must also be a successful business person. Illustrators tend to undervalue their own work; often a byproduct of imposter syndrome and a lack of transparency in pricing across the board. This gets reinforced by social media showing the glamorous side of illustration and essentially the “highlight reels” of artists’ work. I see many cases of young grads and people breaking into the industry pricing themselves as novices when they should be seeing themselves as professionals. 

Often, people underestimate the time that goes into making a piece and the years of training and practice that go into honing our craft. We live in an image-heavy culture, which gives the impression that art is readily available and can be made quickly and cheaply. Education and experience are assets that affect your worth and bring you to a starting point for pricing. At a minimum, a degree in art or comparable education and work experience should bring you to a minimum hourly rate of $50.

This may seem high, but that’s the imposter syndrome talking. I know it’s a common practice in the world of personal commissions to charge far less for finished work. Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are also detrimental to the value or illustration work because the format of these sites encourages artists to undercut their prices and compete with one another to attract a stream of clients–clients that may unknowingly under-value the true cost of labor. As a result, these sites have artists churning out large quantities of work at a low price instead of managing a more forgiving workload at a fair compensation rate.

Rate Transparency

Some rates are set in stone. Not all of them are fair, but they tend to be immovable–save for an additional rush fee. You often see this in the editorial world, where media publications have lean budgets and set rates for projects with little to no wiggle room for negotiation.

Pricing for Illustrators Part 1 | Art Business Journal

To increase wage transparency, sites like Litebox’s Rate Finder and the #publishingpaidme database are both crowdsourced collections of prices to help artists determine pricing norms. According to Litebox, a grassroots initiative was created by illustrators for illustrators to create better working conditions for the industry.

“Data shows us that while there are clients who are consistent, many are all over the place in terms of payments. Publication can fall within a range of $5,000 – $80,000. The details on these deals are important for determining those prices but on the editorial side we frequently see a lot of price fluctuation for the exact same kinds of print & web jobs at many outfits. To us, rate sharing is important because it highlights those differences.” 

The Rate Finder was born out of freelancers’ collective frustration at feeling like the pricing was always a shot in the dark unless you could compare client rates with a buddy. If a budget ever feels low, you have the power to it’s within your right to negotiate with a counteroffer that feels fairer. If the artwork budget is set, it’s up to you as a freelancer to decide whether or not to accept the project. Litebox believes that sharing information, contacts, agents, pricing strategies, etc. is how professionals can protect each other and ensure that everyone gets paid fairly.

Calculating Your Baseline Rate

Most clients charge based on a project fee instead of paying hourly. Largely, this is because tracking hours is difficult and can amount to an unknown cost. Therefore, the easiest approach to coming up with a rate is:

hourly rate ✕ number of hours (sketching, final art, and possible revisions) = project price.

Don’t forget to factor in additional time for administrative work, such as preparing client presentations, taking calls, or doing research on the competitive market. 

For me, I present project proposals that attach a price to each stage of the creative process. This helps to justify the final cost and allows for negotiation if the client needs to bring down the cost. For example, my default might be two rounds of revisions, but we can alter the scope of work down to one round to shave off some of the cost. Transparency in the process helps establish trust with the client and helps them value the work you bring to the table.

Feel free to use my template for commissions!

As mentioned previously, $50/ hour is the ideal minimum freelancing rate. However, there are several factors to consider that affect your personal hourly rate.

Read part 2 of this article here!

Are you an illustrator? What pricing tips do you have? Comment below!

Molly Magnell
Molly Magnell

Molly Magnell is an overgrown child with a pencil living and working in NYC/ NJ. She specializes in creating lifestyle imagery that mixes nature, powerful women, and greenery. She also utilizes her design skills to elevate brands (like Artrepreneur!) by refining their identity through graphic design. She graduated with a BFA in Communication Design from the Sam Fox School in 2018 and Phillips Academy Andover in 2014. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Graphic Design Awards, 3×3 Magazine, and the Adobe Design Achievement Awards. Clients include The New York Times, NPR, Adobe, the Marshall Project, and Madison Square Garden.

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