So you’re an artist wondering how to start offering digital art commissions!
Getting started as an independent professional is challenging, and asking for fair compensation can feel intimidating. The way you make money with art commissions differs from general art sales. The art used for (physical or digital) products is usually a subject of the artist’s choosing. Because more than one person can buy a copy, the price of these items can be fairly low. Conversely, commissioned artwork is a custom piece made for one specific buyer, and the typically higher price reflects that.
There’s a lot to consider, but we’ll review some of the most common elements and provide tips on setting your prices. Preemptively thinking about this will help ensure you’re pricing your art in a way that’s consistent and fair (to you!)
(Speaking of things to consider before you get too deep into the process! Make sure you know how to set up payment for art commissions and what your potential tax obligations are.)
How to Calculate Commission Prices
If you’re used to physical items, making the move to digital art commissions might seem daunting. But have no fear! No matter what type of work you produce, what goes into your pricing varies from person to person. There are no hard and fast rules, and most artists will use a combination of factors to price their work.
Start by figuring out what you want to offer. Commissions can vary from full body character portraits to landscapes to matching Discord icons for you and your bff, but you don’t have to accept a request for anything a person’s heart desires. If you want to stick to postage-stamp-sized pictures of frogs, that can be your niche. If you don’t know what you want to offer, look at your favorite artists and see what they do (and for what price). Or, ask yourself what you wish you could commission someone for!
Once you’ve established what you want to do, create an example, start to finish, like you would for an imaginary client. Work until you’d feel comfortable calling the piece done. Include any research time when you record how long it takes to complete this work.
Set a Base Commission Rate
Don’t know where to start at all when it comes to pricing? For a quick baseline, take the minimum hourly wage of where you live and multiply it by the time you spent creating your sample. Since many of us have experienced working for an hourly wage, this can help contextualize the amount in your brain. However, that is almost certainly a heavily lowballed price for custom artwork. After all, here in the US, the minimum wage is far below a living wage and has been for decades. The goal should be to make enough money with art commissions that they’re worth your time to offer.
A similar but better way is to figure out a rough hourly rate that would translate into the yearly salary that makes sense for your expenses. For example, an office job with a $40k salary would translate to about $19 an hour. If that feels high to you, remember that you’re unlikely to pull full 40-hour weeks the way you would in an office job. Commission work is often more sporadic, so plan accordingly!
Another benefit of researching what your fellow artists offer is that you’ll better understand what types of work go for what prices. This will help you avoid pricing wildly out of sync in either direction.
What Goes Into Pricing Digital Art?
Now that you’ve got your base hourly rate, it should be easy to answer when someone asks, “how much for commissioned art” right? But your prices should reflect more than the time it took to do the work.
Here are a few of the other things to consider when establishing your prices:
- Your experience and skill: the biggest argument against charging by the hour is that, as you gain experience, you will naturally take less time to produce a higher-quality result. Make sure your prices reflect the hard work and practice that’s made you the artist you are today.
- The type of work: A headshot or portrait likely should be priced differently from a full character sheet, depending on the level of detail.
- The medium or style: a pencil sketch is often cheaper than a fully-rendered painting. Alternatively, some artists offer discounts on new art styles they’d like to practice.
- Complicated or “out of scope” work: even accounting for more effort = higher cost, some artists add a surcharge for subjects they can do but would prefer to avoid.
- Material cost: even for digital art, wear and tear will require new equipment eventually! Include anything you buy exclusively for use on a commissioned piece in its price.
- Intended usage: is this someone’s pet portrait they want to keep as their phone lock screen, or will they be using it as the mascot for their business? Commercial use rates usually start around an additional 50% of the base price.
- Your general expenses: if commissions are a big part of your income, you need to ensure that each work you take on is worth your time. How many commissions will you need to take to pay your bills, and do you have the time in a month to do that many? (If art is your hobby or side hustle, this may be less important to you.)
Also, check out this tweet thread from 2020 for an excellent look at standard rates for professional artists in the US – Karla has also included a breakdown of what should go into your pricing and why you should feel justified charging higher rates.
Advertise Your Commissions
This means “post about it” wherever it is that your audience hangs out. Many artists provide an example rate sheet – called a commission sheet – with a summary of their commission terms and options. Some are text-only, while others include examples for each option listed. Whatever you choose, posting your commission sheet somewhere prominent on your social media (etc) is a great way to save time for artists and buyers.
Commission sheets vary in form and style, with some being downright works of art themselves. What better way to show off your graphics skills than making an attractive graphic, after all. But as long as it’s clear what a person is getting, what your prices are, and how they contact you, it’s hard to go wrong.
Digital Art Commission Sheet Examples
Wondering how to make an art commission sheet of your own? Check out these neat examples (click to embiggen!):
Over on Instagram, lumija_art uses one image cropped three times, in three states of finish, to show their options. This couldn’t be clearer when it comes to knowing what someone looking for a commission can expect. (Though lumija_art’s commissions are temporarily closed, you can still check out their CO2ign or Patreon!)
Lastly, check out this commission cost estimator that Francesca Harvie uses for her work. This interactive sheet adds up the buyer-provided elements she considers when establishing prices, such as how many characters or how quickly the piece is needed. Of course, she’s a formally-educated, experienced artist, which affects her prices, but anyone can adopt her approach.
(If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry! You don’t need to provide that level of insight to your audience. Fran’s form is fun and efficient but far from standard.)
What to Charge for Digital Art Commissions, According to Artists
In this Twitter thread, artists discuss their original commission price vs. what they charge now. The consensus?
New artists will almost always undervalue their work.
Most comments say they sold their early works for $5-20 per commission. Now that they’re more established, they set their lowest commission tier beginning in the low hundreds. Here’s another more recent thread where artists self-report what they’ve been paid for various jobs. Professional-studio pieces range from $450/day to as high as $9,000 for a single work.
The ups and downs of undercharging
Of course, there are other reasons why an artist might under-price their art. Low rates can help when trying to grow their audience or testing out a new style. But many artists say it’s disbelief 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, keep this in mind: While a good deal might attract a few extra buyers, there’s a risk. Low prices can make customers perceive your work as lower quality and low prices could actually drive them away! Everyone is their own biggest critic, but make sure you’re not (literally!) selling yourself short when evaluating your art’s worth.
Conclusion – Value Your Work
The truth is that not everyone will see your work as valuable enough to justify your commission prices. That is okay and doesn’t mean you need to lower your prices.
Remind yourself that art is a luxury item. You’re bringing your expertise and talent to a piece’s creation. You’re providing something the buyer either can’t or doesn’t want to make themselves. They’re paying you for all that on top of the time it takes to make the piece.
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, your expenses, and other work you’ll need to prioritize. So when in doubt, ask yourself: Is the amount of time a client is asking matched by the amount they’re offering?
More About Commissions
Wondering where to sell art commissions? Look no further!
While there are numerous places to sell commissions online, we noticed a lack of an easily-browsable directory. So, we made one! If you’re an artist open to commission, go ahead and add yourself: