How much to charge as an illustrator

Today we’re going to talk about pricing your services as an illustrator.

Let’s get started…

Knowing what to charge for illustration services has proven to stump illustrators again and again.

  • Price yourself too high and you might scare clients away.
  • Price yourself too low and you can’t pay basic bills.

In my experience, pricing has more to do with self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth – than the “going rate”.

I’ve also noticed a lot of illustrators undervaluing themselves.

Not even taking into account their time and needs for living expenses.

That being said, most illustrators project these self-doubts by underpricing themselves. Myself included when I started out.

Determining your illustration rates is made up of three things:

  1. Your costs of doing business and living
  2. Your quality of work
  3. The value your illustrations have to your client.

As an illustrator, your income must be capable of covering your expenses and turning a profit.

As an example, I’m going to illustrate the pricing model of a fictitious illustrator.

Let’s say her name is Carolina.

Carolina is an incredible illustrator.

She’s worked for a small advertising agency as a graphic designer for the past four years but now she is ready to go out on her own as an illustrator.

She’s creative by nature, but she struggles with the business stuff.

As she sets out on her own, she has determined that it costs $900 per month to run her illustration business.

These expenses are made up of rent at a small co-working space near her home, various software, and a variety of tools and supplies. (This doesn’t include her living costs.)

Now Carolina knows she’s a good illustrator.

She’s not new to the game and she’s aware that her work is stronger because of her insights on the design process, story, and interactive media.

Exciting news!

After sending 20 introductory emails a week for a few weeks she landed her first client.

It’s a project where they need 14 spot illustrations for a popular blog.

But Carolina is struggling to price the project correctly.

Here’s what I (Chris) would tell her:

Option #1: Price based on a project rate

  • Define your base rate: This will be the foundation on which we will build your pricing. (Let’s say it’s $250/day.)
  • Estimate the total hours to finish a project: Remember, this isn’t simply creative time. This includes phone calls, emails, revisions, and final file delivery. Let’s say this project estimated at 14 days and Carolina a project estimate of $3,500 USD
  • Build in your profit: Most illustrators simply trade their time for dollars. Simply add a 10% profit margin on top of your current $3,500 bid. In this case, it would be an extra $350, bringing Carolina’s project total to $3,850
  • Negotiate the “usage rights” cost: For this example, lets just include one year of use initially on their website. After a year she can charge $250 for each spot illustration if they want to keep using the illustrations on their website.

When Carolina presents her estimate in the proposal, she’s only going to list $3850. She doesn’t have to explain how she arrived at the number.

Building an illustration business requires you to make a profit.

You need to have money to reinvest into your own business, savings, and other investments.

Strategically pricing yourself doesn’t have to be a guessing game.

Option #2: Pricing based on value

Another way to determine your prices will be to base them on the value your images are offering.

For example, let’s say you’re making a series of illustration to go on 10,000+ tins of a gourmet chocolate that sells for $25 USD a box. That’s $250,000 in sales.

Probably more around a $200,000 profit for the company after you factor in other manufacturing and shipping costs.

So does $600 for a few illustrations make sense?

Heck no!

If your illustrations help sell more boxes of chocolate by appealing to potential consumers, your illustrations are worth A LOT.

Charging $20,000+ for your illustrations AND negotiating a percentage of sales is not out of the question.

Why?

Because your illustrations are one of the main determining factors of sales.

But if you were to make illustrations for the packaging of a local coffee roaster who sells 100 bags of coffee for $20 each every month. There is no way you can charge $20,000.

Their value for your illustrations are going to be different.

I hope this got you thinking about how to price your services.

Bottom line, there isn’t a set rate of illustration.

It’s your business and it’s up to you what you charge.

Not what a pricing guide for graphic artists tells you.