Getting started as any type of independent professional is challenging. No matter what type of work you produce, what goes into determining how you’ll charge for your time varies from person to person. Should you charge for time spent, or by experience? How much should you charge for your first pieces vs. your 100th? Do you charge less for subjects you’re good at? What about more complicated or “out of scope” work?
Knowing ahead of time what your time is worth will help you make sure you’re pricing your art in a way that is consistent and fair (to you!)
DIGITAL ART COMMISSION PRICES
The very first thing you’ll need to do when setting commission prices (no matter your experience) is to ask yourself one question: How much do I value my time?
No mistake, that’s a loaded question, but it needs to be: You’ll need to be able to calculate how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in any given work. You can make this easier on yourself by creating hard-and-fast limits (or tiers of service), but first you’ll need to establish the value of the work you’ll do inside those limits.
ESTABLISHING COMMISSION ART PRICES
Start by figuring out what you want to offer – commissions can vary from full character portraits and landscapes to just about anything your wild heart can conjure. You can also take a look around at your favorite artists and see what they’re offering (and for what price), or ask yourself what you wish you could commission someone for.
Once you’ve established what you want to do… do it! That is, go through the entire process of creating an example piece, start to finish. Let’s say you’d like to make D&D character art for tabletop fans – go roll up a character, collect your favorite references, and work until you’d feel comfortable calling the piece done. Be sure to record the time it takes you to complete this character art fully, including any research time.
Now, take the minimum wage where you live, and multiply it by the number of hours you invested in this piece of art. If you live in California and invested ten hours into this piece, the state’s minimum wage tells you that it’s worth no less than $72.50–and that’s honestly a pretty heavily lowballed price on its own. This should be your starting point.
And this is where we have to get a bit more… real.
THE REALITY OF COMMISSION PRICES
The truth of the matter is that not everyone will see your work as valuable enough to justify your commission prices. That is okay. That doesn’t mean you need to lower your prices–If you were working in a coffee shop and your boss decided they no longer wanted to pay you minimum wage, you wouldn’t just say, “No, you’re right. I’m not worth $7.25 an hour,” you’d be furious! You’d be asking how dare they say your time isn’t even worth the cost of the cup of iced coffee that you’re making!
Commission prices should be no different – so know your value and stick to it.
Remind yourself that art is a luxury item, and you’re bringing your specific expertise and talent to its creation, as well being asked to create something that the buyer either can’t or doesn’t want to make themselves–they’re paying you for all of that, on top of the actual time it takes to make the piece.
WHAT TO CHARGE FOR DIGITAL ART
Now that we’ve established a way to price out your time, let’s talk about what else goes into setting commission prices.
Let’s get a look at practical application really quickly. Francesca Harvie makes many types of artwork, with a focus on D&D artwork and character portraits. Now, she’s an educated, experienced artist, and that affects her prices, but the rubric she uses to set prices can be adapted by anyone. This menu shows everything that she considers when establishing price – such as how finished the work is, how many distinct characters are being requested, and if there are any elaborate features required; that is, there’s a direct relationship between time, effort, and cost.
Her prices encompass her:
- Time investment
- Material cost (even for digital art – wear and tear will eventually require new equipment)
- And most importantly, it accounts for Harvie’s personal value placed on her work.
These are all things that every artist should keep in mind when establishing commission prices – they each factor in, and it adds up quickly.
TYPICAL ART COMMISSION PRICES, ACCORDING TO ARTISTS
Not convinced? Let’s see what some actual, paid artists take for their work.
We’ll start with what is clearly the quintessential location for unbiased information – Twitter. In this thread, you’ll see dozens of artists discussing their original commission price vs. what they charge now that they’re a bit more established. The consensus?
New artists almost always undervalue their work.
Most comments say that they sold their early works for $5-20 per commission, but the majority of them clarified that nowadays (once they’d learned their worth), their bare minimum work starts at around $120–and can be as high as nearly $9,000 for in-depth or commercial work.
Of course, there are other reasons why an artist might underprice their art, such as trying to grow their audience or test out a new style–but many artists say it’s a lack of confidence that their work will sell at a higher price that causes them to undercharge. If this is you, know that you’re not alone–but if you’re tempted to charge under $20 for your work, think back to the coffee shop example: Surely the time and effort you put into your artwork is worth more than a handful of lattes. Also keep in mind that, while a good deal might attract a few extra buyers, low prices can make customers perceive your work as lower-quality as well. An artist might always be their own biggest critic, but make sure you’re not (literally!) selling yourself short when evaluating your art’s worth.
At the end of the day, nobody can tell you what your work is worth but you. Only you know how much you value your time, what your expenses are, and what other work you’ll need to prioritize or push back to make each commission happen. So when in doubt, ask yourself – are you worth minimum wage? Is the amount of time a client is asking you to put in matched by the amount they’re offering?
If not, don’t be afraid to remind them of the costs associated with your work and gently pitch a more realistic price. If they’re not okay with it, rest easy knowing that even if someone else doesn’t see the value of your unique creations, you do.