Love your work Kelly. I’m interested in how an illustrator charges for commissions. If you work freelance it’s hard to know where to start putting figures on a creative process. - Joanna

Hey Joanna!

Thanks so much for your question, this is always something that I struggled with when I started out, and should definitely be something that we all chat about more in the industry. I believe that if we are all a lot more open about charging and appropriate levels for projects then we will find that overall our pricing and licensing charges will be a lot more level and we will in turn find that clients respect our charges more (as they won't be so out of line with the last guy). There are many ways that people like to charge for things, some people have flat rates for things (such as editorial pages), but there are also things you need to keep in mind when you figure out your pricing. A lot of the time pricing is a game of trial and error when you are just starting out, it does get easier once you have some clients under your belt, but in the meantime here are some main things to consider:

  • How long do you think the illustration will take you (including revision rounds)
  • Where will the image be used?
  •           Online
  •           Billboards - Outdoors, Advertising on cars/buses
  •           Above The Line -  Newspaper ads, Magazine ads, packaging, P.O.S
  •           Below The Line - Internal print (eg staff newsletters), Mailers, catalogues
  • How long will it be used for?
  • Will it be used worldwide, or just nationally/locally?
  • Who is the client?
  • Do you want to do this job?
  • Do they have a budget in mind?
  • How much is your rent, what costs do you need to cover?

These are things I ask myself and/or my client with every brief that comes in. It is important that you ask these questions before you suggest any kind of price to a client, never quote until you have a full idea of their brief requirements and what you are getting yourself in to. Let me elaborate on each of those points a little more for you below.

1. How long do you think the illustration will take you (including revision rounds)

Most artists work to either a day rate, or an hourly rate. I prefer to work to a day rate personally because once you do research and emailing etc, nothing much ends up squeezing in to an hour these days. When I initially think about a job I compare it to things I have done in the past and how long they took me. When I consider my time I not only think of the time I am actually drawing, but all the phone calls, emailing, research and revisions too. When I quote my rate I always tell the client how many revisions are included, and I only ever charge an hourly rate if they need to go over that revision allocation. (For example, I quote for three revision rounds, they need five, I charge the last two revisions at $150 per hour) *. 

2. Where will the images be used? For how long, and where?

Usage is an important thing to consider, a small image being used for a Christmas card at a local cafe would cost much less than the same image used on a billboard for one year. Why is it more expensive? Usage charges are related to the value the client receives due to the exposure of your image, while 50 people may get that Christmas card, thousands may see that billboard and so it has more value. The same image can be many different prices depending on where it is used, so avoid charging a flat rate and always tell your client in writing what their usage allowance is for the price they are paying.

3. Who is the client?

This one is important as Mary making a children's book would not have the budget of Coca Cola, every job needs to be considered individually, Mary would probably decline your quote if it is $20K +

4. Do you want to do this job?

May seem like a weird question, of course you want work right? Sometimes when you get approached for a job it may be amazing, but with a smaller budget, so you may do it for the joy/portfolio benefits/exposure. Sometimes you may be approached with a job that sounds difficult, or in a busy period, so you may wish to charge higher for late nights and stress (just quietly, not line items on a quote!). Occasionally you might get approached for a job that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, but you might want to put a high price on it, maybe they will say yes and the money will make it great.

5. Do they have a budget in mind?

People very rarely come to you and say I have $x can you do this? If you can ask them up front they may not tell you, but if they do it can save you a lot of time with paperwork, quoting and decision making. Just ask.

6. What are your day to day costs? 

An obvious thought, but something we easily forget. If you have no idea where to start with rates, maybe figure out how much you spend, would like to work and need to generate to survive in a year. Check out the Base Fee Calculator on the AIPA site to get started, it's tailored for Photographers, but is a helpful starting point.

So let's talk the dollars, because that's what you want to know about right?

When I was working as an account manager in general artist rates would start at around $600 a day for a young emerging artist, these would fluctuate up to around $1000ish per day depending on the project, and of course client. * (excluding usage).

More experienced artists, or artists with a very specific style or high demand style would range between $1500 - $2500 per day excluding usage, depending on client.*

Story board artists would charge per frame depending on if colour was included and the complexity of the frame (usually from $160 - $700 per frame).

In saying this, sometimes you do the maths and it comes in too high, or too low for what you feel comfortable with - take these as guidelines, not rules. Sometimes you may prefer to have a dollar amount in mind for each illustration and just work from there.

Once your day rate is calculated based on these outlines and the client the usage is then considered. As a general rule usage should be calculated as a percentage of the day rate/ creation fee. (drawing time)


Creation fee = $1000

Usage           + 20%         (online 6 months for example)

Total fee       = $1200

If you are looking for specific numbers I would recommend reading Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines and convert the currency to your local currency for some general monetary standards.

*Important note : Editorial often has flat rates across the board (give or take) so in general you will find that a magazine will just have set rates no matter what. It is up to you to negotiate with them if you feel the work involved is of more value/effort than what they offer.

Hope that helps!

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Photographer  -  Jamie Nelson