Monday, February 21, 2022

Illustration Pricing Factors

Ever wonder why a pair of Levy’s 501 jeans sells for $64 dollars at Macy’s and $44.99 on, or why the same variety of Campbell’s soup sells regular price for $1.25 at one grocer and $1.45 at another? Of course you have, especially if you are a conscientious consumer. And there are understandable reasons why these price fluctuations occur. But did you ever consider how the same type of reasoning can be applied when it comes to pricing illustrations? Perhaps you have, and then again, perhaps not.

This is a true story. A number of years ago I was in a store that sold used CD’s. I noticed it was sort of a hangout for students from the local high school near by. I also noticed that none of the used CD’s had a price tag. While I was there, one of the students took a CD up to the man at the front counter who happened to be the owner. He asked the owner, “how much?” The CD was A Momentary Lapse of Reason by Pink Floyd. The owner said, “I’ve got to get five bucks for that”. The student put the CD back on its shelf. A few days later, on my way home from a client meeting, I stopped by the CD store. Since I had just come from a meeting with the Vice President of a large company, I was wearing a suit. I picked up the same CD, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and went up to the owner to buy the CD. He looked at me, then paused and studied the suit I was wearing, and said “that‘ll be fifteen bucks”. Now I’m not going to tell you if I bought it or not, but I will tell you I was not taken off guard by the incident. Although a hard lesson, there may still be a lesson to be learned here.

© 2014 Don Arday.

Tangible Factors

There are many tangible factors that influence the price of an illustration such as how large it will appear, the number of copies that make up the edition it is a part of, how many times it will be used, and for how long, etc. These tangible factors certainly provide a beginning for estimating what to charge for an illustration.

The Graphic Artist’s Guild, Handbook of Pricing and 
Ethical Guidelines includes a comprehensive section of statistics and suggestions for what to charge for illustrations that have been commissioned under similar circumstances and for similar purposes. Consulting a resource such as the Handbook for suggestions is a great place to begin when pricing an assignment.

Intangible Factors

Although the data provided in the Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is very useful, it is primarily based on tangible factors such as usage and market circumstances as they relate to the finished illustration, in other words, whether the illustration is national, regional, etc., whether it will be published singly or multiple times, whether it will be produced in a large quantity or a small one, etc.

Now what about intangible factors that may influence the price of an illustration such as those alluded to previously? Here are a few that should definitely influence the cost of an illustration in one manner or another.

Turn Around Time

Perhaps the easiest to determine reason to vary from a standard pricing model, turn around time can drastically effect the pricing of a job, and it is not only measurable but it is usually foreseeable. Here are some considerations that can affect cost.

 How fast is the turn around time for the assignment?
 Will it require an all-nighter or two to produce?
 Will it interfere or compromise other assignments that are in progress or have to occur simultaneously?
 Does the assignment have a set schedule or is it open-ended?

Scope of the Work

Not all jobs are created equal. Some may require more sketches than are factored into a typical pricing model, while others may require extensive research. Others may have a series of approval stages instead of the standard two.

 Will it require many sketches?
 Will the sketches have to be shown as comps or partially rendered illustrations for approval?
 Will more than one finish need to be provided for the final choice?

Conditions for the Work

Occasionally there are commissions that require an illustrator to work in a client’s facilities to integrate into a project workflow or to interact with a team of production people or to have their work supervised or directed.

 Will the work have to be produced in the client’s facilities?
 How many meetings will the assignment require?
 Will you be working under supervision?
 Will you work as part of a project team?
 Is there travel time or expense involved with the assignment?

Type of Client

Not all clients are alike. There are easy clients to work for and there are hard ones. There are those that will trust and respect your talent and expertise, and there are those that won’t and will try to “direct” your work and even your working method. You may even have your work subjected to decisions made by a committee.

 Will you be working for a visually educated client such as a graphic designer or an art director or for a non-visual client such as a company owner or product manager? 
 Will there be a committee of people or a single person involved in approval of the work?
 Is your client very “hands on” or mainly hands off?

Your Studio Overhead

Your cost of doing business should be factored into the cost of an illustration, which means you should know what that is. If you reside in New York City or Seattle the cost of living will be higher, which means the cost of an illustration will also have to be higher, and clients should understand that. For instance I can still buy a beer in a bar in Auburn for $3.50, but the same beer in New York City will cost me $9, and so it goes for a can of peas, toilet paper, and so forth.

 Do you have a modest overhead or a substantial one?
 Do you have a home-based studio or do you rent a separate space?
 Do you have an assistant or employees?
 Does your studio reside in a high cost of living area or a low one?
 Will you have to acquire special materials or equipment to complete the assignment?

Who You Are

Your level of experience and status as an illustrator has worth, and they do affect what you can, and should, charge for an illustration. This may be especially important if you have invested substantially in a marketing effort to reinforce or enhance your status in the field. This is the theory behind why a Jimmy Choo boot costs $1295 and an Ivanka Trump boot retails for $199. It is referred to as market forces.

 Are you just starting out or a highly experienced illustrator?
 How much are you spending on marketing and promotional efforts?
 Are you a specialist in the type of commission or subject area you will be commissioned for?
 Will you have to learn or apply new techniques for the commission?
 Are you overbooked and having to turn down work?


The fact of the matter is that all these intangible factors can’t be ignored when it comes to determining the price of an illustration. And of course, whether an assignment is worth pursuing or not. By combining tangible pricing factors that influence standardized pricing with the intangible factors that affect the actual assignment it will be possible to determine the best price for an illustration. Without a doubt, taking the considerations listed above when pricing a commission will be worth it.

Post Conclusion

If you are still wondering whether I bought A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the answer is yes, but I bought it for $8, which is what I offered to pay. I thought it was a fair price considering the size and location of the store; the condition of the CD; and demand for Pink Floyd material. In any business, whether you are buying or selling, it pays to know how to barter.

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