Pricing (Size-based?)

Help! How do I Price My Paintings?

A few months ago I started sharing snapshots of works in progress on social media. Not long afterwards, someone I know on Facebook asked if my work was for sale, because she wanted to buy a particular piece I was working on.

It gets better: turns out she was interested not just in purchasing the canvas-in-process; she also wanted me to create a second, “sister canvas” to go with it.

Just from posting my process pics on Facebook, I had a buyer for not one, but twopaintings! Great!

The only problem? Now I was going to have to come up with a price…


I am convinced that pricing is always the hardest thing I do as an artist. How the heck do we decide what to charge? Pricing just feels like a big, black void, and one with a lot of pressure: charge too much, and they’ll run away; charge too little, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Ultimately, this spontaneous Facebook commission made me determined to set an entirepricing structure for my work, rather than just grabbing a number out of the air every time I create a new piece. Here are some of the “ground rules” I followed, and some tips that I hope will help you confidently set pricing for your own art.

Pricing Ground Rules for Painters

1) Remember: your pricing gets to change.

If, like my story above, you’ve got a client waiting to hear back about a price, know that as you become more established, you’ll be able to command higher prices. You may even raise your prices on your very next sale.

In other words, whatever you charge this one client is not set in stone, so don’t stress too much about it. Keep in mind, though, that it’s always a better business move to raise your prices than to lower them, so leave yourself some room for growth.

2) Never undercharge.

That said, leaving no room for growth is not actually most artists’ problem — most of us have the opposite issue: charging too little. Once I brought art to be juried into a show, and was horrified that one of my fellow artists was charging less for her work than it had cost her to frame it!

Needless to say, this is a big no-no. Always make sure your pricing covers your actual costs (canvas, paint, framing, shipping if applicable — unless you’re going to charge a separate, additional amount for shipping/packaging).

You also want to take into consideration how much time you put into creating your work. Emerging artists may not be able to command high enough prices to pay themselves fantastically for their actual time spent, but that’s definitely the goal for the long term!

If you’re lucky enough to work fast and loose, you can get away with charging less, because each piece just doesn’t take long to produce. However, if your style is very detail-oriented and meticulous, what another artist could sell happily for $500 might mean you’d be earning pennies per hour, which is not sustainable. Your choice, then, is to grit your teeth and charge a lot more, and/or to figure out how to offer less-expensive work (smaller and/or looser originals, prints, etc.)

Not sure if you’re undercharging? As I wrote in this post on 5 Pricing Lessons Learned the Hard Way, I have a practically foolproof gauge: resentment. If I notice myself feeling resentment about a sale, it’s a good bet I need to raise my price!

On the other hand, if my prices don’t make me feel at least a little uncomfortable that I’m charging too much, I’m probably undercharging!

Your mileage may vary with this: start to pay attention to whether you tend to undervalue or overvalue your work, and adjust accordingly.

Seasons of Yes by Melissa Dinwiddie

3) Be clear and consistent.

Of course your goal is to be paid well for your time, but the truth is, some of your pieces probably take a lot longer to create than others.

You know how much work went into each piece, but customers don’t know (and don’t usually care) how long a piece took you to create. Charging by the hour is likely to result in a lot of confusion as potential customers look at two pieces of the same size and wonder why piece A is so much more expensive than piece B.

Customers who are confused do not buy, which is why I’m a believer in clarity and consistency.

Size-Based Pricing

If you’re a painter, one way to ensure you’re clear and consistent is by using size-based pricing — either by the square inch (h x w) or by the linear inch (h + w). This makes your pricing easy for potential clients to understand, and it prevents you from charging more for pieces you’re particularly fond of, which makes your pricing seem random and confusing (and remember, customers who are confused do not buy).

With size-based pricing, you simply need to determine your current multiplier (the number you multiply by the canvas size) in order to immediately know the price for any given piece (okay, possibly with the help of a calculator…) .

If you create in a lot of different sizes, you may find linear inch pricing more sensible than square inch pricing. Why? When you charge by the square inch, the price difference between a small painting and a larger one can become astronomical.

Here, for example, is square inch pricing, using a multiplier of 2.5 (ie, $2.50 per square inch):

4×4 inches = 16 square inches x 2.5 = $40

8×8 inches = 64 square inches x 2.5 = $160

16×16 inches = 256 square inches x 2.5 = $640

24×24 inches = 576 square inches x 2.5 = $1,440

32×32 inches = 1,024 square inches x 2.5 = $2,560

I don’t know about you, but $40 seems awfully small price for a painting by someone who commands $2,560 for a 32×32 canvas.

Here are the same canvas sizes using linear inch pricing, using a multiplier of 20 (ie, $20.00 per linear inch) — as you can see, the difference in price feels a lot less out-of whack:

4+4 inches = 8 linear inches x 20 = $160

8+8 inches = 16 linear inches x 20 = $320

16+16 inches = 32 linear inches x 20 = $640

24+24 inches = 48 linear inches x 20 = $960

32+32 inches = 64 linear inches x 20 = $1,280

Neither of these pricing methods is “right” or “wrong,” but once you determine your method and your multiplier, charging by size can be a very helpful way to eliminate the guesswork, and feel confident about your pricing.

Different Pricing for Different Media?

One possible modifier to your size-based pricing structure is the media you paint with. If you only paint watercolors, or only paint oils, there’s no problem, but if you paint both on canvas and on paper, as I do, it gets a little tricky.

For whatever reason, paintings on paper tend to sell for less than paintings on canvas — even though they require framing, which is an added expense. In my case, if I were to pay to have a piece framed, my costs become much higher for a work on paper than for a canvas painting! What’s an artist to do?

I don’t have a final answer to this question, except to refer you to the item below…

4) Do your research.

It can be useful to look around at what other artists are charging for their work: artists in your local area, and especially artists at a similar stage in their careers.

What are people charging for framed works on paper? For unframed works on paper? For stretched canvases?

The challenge here, though, is that what other people charge is likely to be all over the map. So when you do your research, be sure to take into consideration how you want to brand yourself: do you pride yourself on making “art for everyone,” at “everyman” prices? Or do you want to make your mark as a high-end, premium-pricing artist?

When artist Matt LeBlanc was deciding what to price, he looked at what kinds of art were available in his area and noticed the low-end and high-end of the market were rather saturated. The mid-range, though, didn’t have a lot of competition, so that’s the price range he decided to set on his paintings — at the time of this writing, Matt has work for sale from $50 to $900.

This kind of research worked well for Matt: he went from selling no art, to being featured on HGTV, and being one of the hottest selling artists in his area.

5) State your price, then shut up.

My most expensive moment as an artist was several years ago, when a couple flew out to California from Philadelphia to meet with me about commissioning a ketubah for their anniversary.

I’d already told them my price range, which at the time was something like “from $1,500 to $5,000” (mistake #1: never put an upper limit on your pricing!), and when they told me what they were looking for, I realized it was going to be one of the most time-intensive pieces I’d ever made.

In other words, this was a top-of-the pricing scale commission.

However, I’d never yet commanded $5,000 for a piece, and I was afraid this number, which felt so big to me, would scare them off! So when it came time to give them an estimate, I hemmed and hawed, and said something like, “Well, what you’re looking for is at the top of my price range.”

Then, instead of keeping my mouth shut and seeing how they responded, I stupidly barreled ahead to say, “…but if $5,000 is too much for your budget, I can always scale back the design to make it less expensive.”


The husband said, “$3,000, $4,000, $5,000 — it’s all the same to me. But I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, so let’s go with the middle price — $4,000.”

Yep — because I couldn’t just state my price and shut up, I lost a thousand dollars in a heartbeat. (And “scaling back the design” is a myth. It never happens!) Lesson learned.

This one is important, so I’ll say it again: state your price, then shut up. Period. Do not explain, do not apologize.

(I’ve done that too — gotten defensive about my pricing — and oh, the pain! Now I’ve learned to say, “If you like my work, this is the price. If you don’t want to pay that, you don’t have to buy it.”)

If you’re sending an email to a potential customer, “state your price and shut up” might look something like:

“For this painting, the price is $X [plus shipping/packaging, if you’re charging for shipping separately].”


“I charge $Y per linear inch, and this painting is 24×30, which is 54 linear inches, so the price is $(Yx54).”


“If you’d like to purchase it, just let me know and I’ll send you a link to a payment page where you can pay either with a credit card or your PayPal account [or whatever payment method you use]. Once I receive your payment and shipping address, I’ll ship your painting to you via [shipping service].”

[Be sure to indicate when you’ll ship — a day? a week? does the painting need to cure first? does it need to be varnished first?]”

Summing Up

The really challenging thing about pricing is that there are no hard and fast rules. Everything depends on you, your work, where you live, where you are in your career — there are so many variables it can drive us nutty!

The tips I’ve shared here have helped me get more confident with my own pricing. I won’t lie to you, pricing my work is still really, really hard, but hopefully these ground rules will help light your path as you negotiate this trickiest of areas for artists.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Illustration Contract

Having a contract is essential for any illustration assignment. But what should go into that contract can oftentimes be confusing and downright scary, particularly for those of us who are more artistic-minded rather than business-minded. In this post, we’ll take a look at a great resource to help with your contracts and discuss the different things that should go into a standard one and the reasons why.

Every illustration contract is going to be different depending on the industry it’s for. A book publishing contract, for instance, is going to have different needs than an editorial contract or a licensing contract. And contracts that you generate yourself are often going to have different language than contracts supplied to you by the client (and will usually be better for you). The goal of this post is to just discuss the standard boilerplate things an illustrator should be aware of.

So, where do we start? Well, if you’ve never drawn up your own contract or seen one before, there’s a fantastic resource available for under $30. I’m referring, of course, to Tad Crawford’s Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators.

An invaluable resource for any illustrator.

Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators has sample contracts for everything an illustrator might need, as well as a nice explanation of all the terms those contracts use. Forms include things like agency contracts, book publishing contracts, lecture agreements, model release forms, and even a nondisclosure agreement. For those of you out there who still have CD drives, the book even comes with a CD preloaded with all the forms already on it that can easily be put into your own Word doc or InDesign file to tweak to your heart’s content. Quite simply, it’s a resource that every illustrator should own and I encourage everyone to go out and buy it.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to Tad’s Confirmation of Assignmentform. Mr. Crawford himself was gracious enough to allow me to reproduce it for the educational purposes of this discussion. (And, please note, it’s not for reproduction. If you’d like to use it, please purchase Mr. Crawford’s well-deserving book.) Using this form, I’m going to go through point-by-point to explain what each of these things mean, why they’re important, and suggest some additions and tweaks that I think should be added for a basic, working contract. So let’s examine the form below and try to make sense of it all:

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.43.01 PM.png


Every contract needs an introduction that lists the date the agreement is being entered into, who the different parties are that are agreeing to it, and where they’re located. This form shows a great example of that language.

1. Description

This clause outlines a description of the work that’s being done. This is important because it will cover the full scope of the project. You don’t want to commit to doing twelve illustrations for a certain fee, only to have the client later add three more and expect you to do it for the same price. Having a clear understanding of what the project covers is vital to avoid misunderstandings and ensure the assignment stays within the agreed-upon parameters.

2. Due Date

It’s essential to have due dates clearly written for both sketches and final art, as well as any other important target dates that need to be met. While I agree with the substance of this clause, I do, however, suggest a different way of wording it. In my professional experience, I’ve never had amorphous dates about things being due a certain number of days after a contract is signed. In fact, due to the haste that the business operates in, it’s not uncommon for jobs to have already begun while the finer points of the contract are still being worked out. So I would suggest putting something simpler like:

Sketches will be delivered by _____. Final art will be delivered by _____.

Additionally, I also like to add an extra point here because sometimes art directors sit on your sketches for a long time. What happens if you deliver sketches on a Monday, expecting four days to get to work on the final art that’s due on Friday, but the art direct doesn’t give you approval to go to final until Thursday evening? That could be quite problematic. So I like to add something like this:

In order for the final art due date to be met, sketches must be approved in a reasonable amount of time. If they’re not, a new final art due date must be negotiated or an additional rush fee will be added.

That way it ensures you can do your best work without having to pull an unneeded all-nighter. Or, if you’re still expected to, at least get paid for the hassle.

3. Grant of Rights

As an illustrator, you’re not actually selling art, but the rights of reproduction. It’s in your best interest to limit the client’s rights as much as possible and retain the bulk of them for yourself. A clause indicating what rights are actually being purchased is essential and that’s what this example does. It identifies how the illustration will be used, in what territories (for instance, North America; North America and Canada; English language; World; etc.), the time period (1st printing; 4 months; 10 years; in perpetuity; etc.), and any other limitations on the rights. Additionally it also talks about exclusivity vs. non-exclusivity. As with most illustration-related issues, it’s best to limit exclusivity whenever possible, though most clients will want it while the work exists in the purchased time period so as not to have any conflicts. Electronic rights should also be more money, but these days it’s a hard fight since most clients will also expect to have some kind of web rights or e-device rights. Good luck if you can get extra cash for it, though!

I’d also add something in here about granting of rights only be given if the payment is made in full. That way, if the client fails to pay you, then your legal options are greater because you actually haven’t granted the rights. Something to the effect of:

Any grant of rights is contingent upon payment in full.

4. Reservation of Rights

This is just a simple clause to say that, if it ain’t in the contract, you ain’t giving it away. This contract shows a great example of the kind of language you’d want to use.

5. Fee

This one’s a no-brainer. Even the most basic contracts need to mention the agreed-upon fee. A note about sales tax, though: sales tax applies to goods bought and sold. As an illustrator, you’re selling reproduction rights, not the actual art itself so sales tax is rarely billed. It would only be charged if you were selling that actual art as well as the rights of reproduction.

6. Additional Usage

A standard clause should be added in all contracts to say that the client can only use your work the way it was intended. If they decide to use it for anything else, they need to come back to you and negotiate a new fee for that additional usage.

7. Expenses

Some illustrators have bonafide expenses that may be incurred with the work, outside of just the standard materials. For instance, you may need to pay for model fees if you’re a photorealistic painter, or travel expenses if you’re doing some kind of reportage work, or even font purchases if you’ll be incorporating typography into your work. If you have those kind of costs and the client has agreed to cover them, you’ll want to add a similar clause.

8. Payment

A clause like this is essential because it covers how and when your payment will occur. Standard payments are typically due within 30 days after receiving final art. It’s important to make sure that payment is due upon delivery and never due upon publication. The reason being: what happens if the publication gets delayed? For instance, you’re doing a book cover, but the author get sick and has to postpone the book a year? You could be waiting quite a long time to receive your money then. Or, even worse, the author dies and the book never gets published? Who knows if you’ll ever even get paid if you’ve agreed to an on-publication payment. Additionally, there’s also a point in here about late payments and charging a percentage fee. This is usually 1-2% and accounts for any interest you would have gained if you were able to put that money into a savings account. It’s important because the money rightfully should be yours and insolvent clients will typically try to delay payment so they can earn interest off of it. Something like that sentence guarantees against that happening.

9. Advances

For illustrations where you may get an advance fee, it’s important to have that information in the contract. Advances are particularly helpful if it’s a longterm project and you need cash upfront to keep you afloat while you work on it, or if you’re concerned about the client’s ability to pay, this can be a great assurance to make sure you at least get a good portion of the money should anything catastrophic happen.

10. Revisions

In a contract, it’s vital to ensure that you have the first opportunity to make any revisions to your art. One of the worst feelings is seeing your art published and realizing that the art director did all kinds of horrible things to it without your permission or consultation. Having a clause like this should (theoretically) prevent that.

11. Copyright Notice

Of course, you’ll want to have your copyright notice indicated somewhere near your art and a clause like this guarantees that the client does this. This helps protect you and makes sure no one infringes on your work by saying they didn’t know it was copyrighted.

12. Authorship Credit

Like the copyright notice above, it’s important to be given credit for the work you’ve done. That way, other people will know you were the person who created it and, hopefully, it will lead to more work.

13. Cancellation

Otherwise known as a “kill fee”, a cancellation clause is one of the most important things you can have in a contract. This covers the “what if” variables that come up that may cause a project to be abandoned. In a contract, it’s crucial to state the different percentages that are expected to be paid at different levels of completion should the assignment go belly-up. Usually, for final art that’s been turned in, it’s customary to be paid 100% of the fee, regardless of whether or not the client uses it in the end. Sometimes there may be a smaller percentage if the client is unhappy with the final art, but I’ve never found that to be the case, personally, as most instances of projects being killed arise from far less interesting reasons (a story being delayed because of ground-breaking news, sales and design not seeing eye to eye, etc.). If a job is killed before final art is turned in, I suggest charging anywhere from 33% – 75%, depending on the stage it’s killed. Even if you haven’t begun actual work on the assignment, taking on a job might mean you have to turn down other work in order to clear your schedule for the assignment. If the job gets killed before you start, then that means you’ve lost out on that gig, plus whatever you turned down, so you need to remember that when determining your kill fee. Additionally, as most illustrators will tell you, sketching often takes far more work than the actual final piece, so that’s something else to remember when evaluating that.

14. Ownership and Return of Artwork

Another important clause to have in a contract is one that specifies that the ownership of the artwork you produce remains with you. Remember, when selling an illustration, you’re selling the rights of reproduction, not the art itself. A clause like this also covers what happens in the event that the client damages or destroys your art by accident and specifies its value. The value given should be arealistic value and not some fantasy number.

15. Permissions and Releases

A clause like this is good to have because it ensures you don’t get into any legal hot water based on something the client asked you to use in your art that they said they had permission for, but might not have actually had. For instance, let’s say a client gave you a reference photo to include in your art and told you they had the rights to it, but it turned out they didn’t? You couldn’t be held responsible. In a lot of contracts supplied to you by clients, they’ll have almost identical language but in reverse, claiming they can’t be held responsible for anything you put into your art.

16. Arbitration

You’ll, of course, want a clause in your contracts to cover what happens should things get to a point that the legal system needs to get involved. Depending on your situation and preference, you may want things to go through arbitration or the court system. Different lawyers will have different opinions about that. Additionally, disputes that are worth less than what can be sued for in small claims court typically will not be part of this provision. It’s far easier and cheaper to sue there as you don’t need to involve lawyers or pay exorbitant court costs.

17. Miscellany

The last clause is a standard one that’s included in all contracts that covers which state laws it’s governed by and that anything that’s not in the agreement is not covered by the contract. If something is to be added or changed, it must be done so by a writing instrument (meaning, not verbal), unless it’s small potatoes stuff like revisions or expenses.


Finally, all contracts end with a space for the parties to sign and date, indicating that they’ve agreed to all the terms set forth above.

Extra things

While the above contract is great, there are a couple of other things I’d also recommend having when drawing up your own:

Tear sheets

I’d suggest putting a clause in here to guarantee that the client gives you a minimum of three tear sheets in the case of printed work. It’s good form for them to do so and looks a lot better than computer printouts in your portfolio.

Number of rounds

I’d also suggest adding a clause limiting the number of rounds for sketches and revisions, or else an additional fee will get added. This prevents certain clients from abusing you by making you do endless changes.

Final thoughts

Contracts can be very scary, but, once you know what actually should go in them, they’re not that bad. If you don’t know legal language, don’t try to use it as certain words may have legal ramifications that you may not be aware of. Instead, just use plain language and strive for clarity. Or, better yet, invest $30 and buy Tad Crawford’s book, Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators, and use that as a starting point for your own contracts.

Speaking of which, a huge thank you to Tad for granting me the right to reproduce his form on this blog for the purposes of our discussion. That was incredibly gracious of him and I (and I’m sure all my readers) am really grateful.

Now that you know what should go into your contracts and where to buy a great resource to help with them, you have no excuse to not work with them anymore!

Post by

Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

Photography Print Pricing

This article is all about the mechanics of pricing, and in particular how to price your physical products. At, our mantra is to be specific, direct and share concrete business ideas. Therefore, to accompany the discussion here in this article, I am going to use the example of an 8×10 print to illustrate the concepts. This discussion could be adapted to any physical product, however, so please feel free to use the ideas here and apply them to your own product offerings.

Some photographers pick their prices arbitrarily without real reason. They simply feel that they should be charging a certain amount, and so they just pick that number. This isn’t the best way to set yourself up for a successful career as a photographer though, as you can’t really be sure that your “out of the air” prices are realistic, profitable, or appropriate. Also, when you arbitrarily choose pricing, it also doesn’t give you any measurable or repeatable way to establish pricing for other items in your product line. You end up with inconsistent pricing that is all over the place without logic or reason.

Pricing: Influencing Factors

There are five main factors that should influence your pricing. They are as follows:

  1. The quality of your work and your finished product
  2. Your perceived value in the marketplace and the perceived value of your products
  3. How confident you are as a photographer
  4. What your competitors are charging and what the market will bear
  5. Your cost-of-goods

When looking at these very basic factors, the first three (quality, perceived value,confidence) are all intangibles and therefore slightly subjective. You can offer the best quality, present your work beautifully and be entirely confident in your ability, but all this doesn’t help you come up with a price. At best, it gives you a self-focused approach to pricing, which says “this is what I think I’m worth”, but that isn’t enough.

The fourth influencing factor on pricing (competition) is an important one to note. Of course it wouldn’t be smart to copy your competition’s pricing, but I feel it’s important to at least be aware what your local market will bear and keep that in the back of your head as your establish your own price structure. You don’t want to be so far off the line that you are looked at as being unrealistic.

While we’re on the topic of relevancy, creating a pricing structure that your local market will bear is important. As I mentioned in the article, there are so many great educational resources available to us as photographers, but you must to be realistic and relevant to your local market when making business decisions. For example, just because an established photographer from Southern California tells you in a workshop that he charges $165 for an 8×10 print doesn’t mean that you should, too. You need to be realistically priced for your area otherwise you’ll price yourself completely out of the local market.

Measurable Pricing

While there are five influencing factors on pricing (above), it’s clear to see that the only real measurable way to establish your pricing is by using the fifth factor, which takes into account your cost-of-goods. Before we go too deep into the mechanics here, I’d like to explore the concept of cost-of-goods for a minute. If we’re using an 8×10 print as our example product here, the cost-of-goods does not mean just the cost of the print from your lab. Many photographers make this mistake and don’t factor in the real costs of a product. Cost-of-goods for a product is so much more.

Cost-of-Goods is defined as the direct costs involved in producing a product or service which usually includes labor and materials.

It’s important to note that cost-of-goods includes labor. Many photographers don’t factor in their time when establishing their pricing, and that is a sure way to notmake a living with your photography business.

What does an 8×10 print cost?

Let’s go back to our example of an 8×10 print.  Let’s walk through the process of producing an 8×10 print for a client, from start to finish, and see what is really involved:

  • First you spend 10 minutes retouching the image in Photoshop to make sure it’s perfect.
  • You spend a quick minute cropping and sharpening the image for the size of print (8×10) ordered by your client.
  • Now that the image is ready, you spend 3 minutes to order the print from your lab via the ROES software, choosing the right paper stock, finish, shipping option, and so on.
  • The print costs $3.50 from your lab.
  • The shipping charge to get the print from your lab to your doorstep is $6.50.
  • When you get the print in to your studio, you spend 3 minutes unpacking it and inspecting it.
  • You package up the print in a museum-quality arrival sleeve, a beautiful box with tissue paper, a “caring for your print” card and wrap it up with ribbon and a beautiful bow. All of this goes into a custom-printed tote bag with more tissue paper. The cost of your packaging is about $5.00 and it takes you roughly 5 minutes to package it up.
  • You spend a quick minute writing the e-mail to your client, letting them know that their print is in and ready for pick up, and you propose a time for them to come in.
  • When your client comes to pick up the print, you spend 10 minutes chatting with them, making sure they’re happy with the print and talking about their next session.

That sounds fairly average, right? I don’t think that this is an unrealistic workflow. If anything, it may be underestimating some of the time calculations, but let’s go with it for now. Let’s calculate what actually went into the print.

Labour and material costs of an 8×10 print:
33 minutes total time and $15 total hard cost

If you’re a full-time professional photographer and are hoping to make a sustainable living from your business, let’s put your annual salary at $60,000, which I think is more than fair. We have 50 weeks of work (2 weeks vacation) and 40 hours per week, which calculates out to $0.50 per minute, calculated as such:

$60,000 annual wage
÷ 50 working weeks
÷ 40 hours per week
÷ 60 minutes per hour
= $0.50 per minute wage

If our per-minute wage is $0.50, and we put a total of 33 minutes into the 8×10 print, then that means our labour cost of the print was $16.50. Add to that the $15 hard cost, this brings our total cost of the 8×10 print to be $31.50.


So far we haven’t taken into consideration any other ongoing fixed expenses such as utilities, taxes, equipment, education, and so on. The PPA benchmark surveyrecommends that a home-based studio operates a business model of 35% cost-of-goods, meaning that your variable expenses (cost-of-goods) should be 35% of your total revenue. The remaining 65% is eaten up by fixed costs and business profit.

Therefore, if we’re operating under a 35% cost-of-goods model, we must mark-up our costs by 2.85 (100 ÷ 35 = 2.85) to arrive at a final product price that:

  1. Covers our hard costs
  2. Pays for the time that went into creating the finished product
  3. Leaves room (65%) for overhead expenses and business profit

This means that we need to multiply our 8×10 cost of $31.50 by 2.85, which gives us a final product price for an 8×10 print of $89.78.

Let’s stop there for a minute. Many of you may be saying that $90 for an 8×10 print is outrageous and that you couldn’t sell a piece of paper for that much in your area. That’s ok. You’ve just hit on the other “influencing factors” that we discussed earlier:

  • Confidence – you don’t think it would go over
  • Perceived value – you feel that it’s just a piece of paper
  • Competition/Market – your area wouldn’t support prices that high

These are important discussions to have. Maybe with these three influencing factors, you have come to the conclusion that somewhere in the $65 price range is more appropriate and realistic for your 8×10 print price, and that’s ok. That just means that you need to price other similar products in your line-up (i.e. 16×24 prints) to have a higher mark-up so that it’s balanced with the lower mark-up on this product (8×10 prints).

There still ends up being some guess-work with using the factors of confidence, perceived value and quality to adjust your prices, but at least using the cost-of-goods pricing model, you have a foundation to start off with.

Action item:

First, calculate what your per-minute wage is (annual salary ÷ 50 weeks ÷ 40 hours per week ÷ 60 minutes per hour).

Determine your labour costs by recording how much time goes into the production of the finished product and multiply that time by your per-minute wage (above).

Determine your material costs by adding up the hard costs associated with the product (printing, shipping, packaging).

Add the labour costs to the material costs to determine your total cost of a product.

Multiply your total costs by your mark-up of 2.85.

Adjust your price if necessary to be in line with your quality, confidence, perceived value and local market area.

This process might seem tedious, but it is crucial to the long-term success of your photography business. Repeat this process for each and every one of your products and services. If you don’t want to do it manually, we’ve designed a great pricing calculator here that will do it all automatically for you.

Photography Assignment Invoice

Photography Assignment Invoice Form

In the sample form below, the text in italic is a description of what information you should put in each location. An invoice is always specific to each job, so you should view this as a checklist or crib-sheet rather than absolute instructions.

Many invoices are now delivered electronically. It is suggested that you output each invoice as a multiple-page PDF when delivering forms to your clients and utilize the last page for your boilerplate terms and conditions.

Put your name and contact information at the top of the page. A logo is good to use for a professional look, but make sure your name, address, phone, email, and web site are clearly visible. You may also want to list your EIN or SSN number on this form — your client may need this number to process such things as a purchase order or payment.







Job Number/Purchase Order:


Assignment Description: Be as clear as possible to avoid misunderstandings. Make sure to include location, number of images produced or delivered, subjects that were photographed, and any special requirements of the job. Be as detailed as possible in this area. This is your place to shine and show the added value that you brought to the client.


Licensing Agreement: The following usage license will be granted upon payment in full of this invoice.

Use precise language here — this is the actual license outlining the use the client is purchasing. Use the PLUS recommended terms and order for listing the licensing specifics.

  • The Parties: Licensor (photographer) and licensee (client) and the end user (if different than the client).
  • Media Permissions: The central element of the license description. An accurate description of the media in/on which you will permit your client to use the image, and the extent to which your client may use your image in that media. This should include: media, distribution, placement, size, versions, quantity, duration, region, language, exclusivity.
  • Constraints: In addition to listing the Media Permissions, also describe any limitations that further constrain your clients right to use the image within the stated media.
  • Requirements: State any requirements or obligations that are placed on your client under the license. Examples include a Credit Line Requirement and the Credit Line Text.
  • Conditions: State any additional terms and conditions applying to the license. We suggest the use of the ASMP terms and conditions copied onto the back of your estimate or invoice documents, or included as an additional page in electronic versions of those documents.
  • Image Information: Quantity and description.
  • License Information: It is often helpful to note the Transaction Date, the client’s purchase order number and other relevant information on your invoice.

Make sure the licensing language used for a specific assignment is consistent on all forms.

All other rights, including but not limited to self-promotion usage, reserved.


Fees: Some photographers separate out their Creative and Licensing Fees, some combine them. Review the ASMP paperwork share to get ideas and pick a system that works best for you. For help in calculating your fees, see the ASMP Licensing Guide.


Expenses: The formatting of the expenses on your invoice should match the formatting on your estimate.

This section will include,but is not limited to:

  • Equipment rental
  • Digital processing fee
  • Proofs or web gallery
  • Retouching
  • Master digital file
  • Repurposed digital files
  • Prints
  • Archiving
  • CD or DVD burning
  • FTP
  • Assistants
  • Models
  • Casting director
  • Wardrobe, prop or food stylist
  • Hair or makeup artist
  • Location scout
  • Carpenter
  • Set designer
  • Permits
  • Hotels
  • Airfare
  • Mileage, tolls, parking
  • Car rental
  • Customs and carnets
  • Gratuities
  • Meals
  • Tips
  • Messengers or shipping
  • Props — purchased or rented
  • Backgrounds
  • Location rental
  • Wardrobe
  • Catering
  • Trailer rental
  • (e.g., tape, bulbs, gels)


Subtotal: This is the creative fee, licensing fee and expenses combined.

Sales Tax: Put the sales tax here, if applicable, as required by your state. If you do not know, talk to your accountant.

Total: This is the grand total of fees, expenses and taxes.

Less Deposit Paid: Most photographers set some sort of deposit policy, such as: jobs over a certain dollar amount require a deposit; or all jobs require a 30% deposit; or all first-time clients require a 50% deposit.

Balance Due: Set a policy and put it in your paperwork. The two most common policies are “Balance due in 30 days” or “Balance due upon receipt of images.”


Subject to the terms and conditions attached hereof.

Pricing Your Work

Pricing Your Illustration Work

Pricing Your Illustration Work

Pricing your work is one of the most stressful things to do in the business of illustration. Asking for too much money may cause the client to walk away, but asking for too little will leave a lot of cash on the table that could have been yours. So, how does an illustrator determine an appropriate fee for each assignment? Let’s examine the criteria you can use to help decide a fair and honest payment.

Before delving into the nitty-gritty, I want to address a couple key points. Firstly, your value. There are clients out there who will try to deceive you into working for tiny (or nonexistent) budgets under the guise that art is fun and, therefore, shouldn’t be worth a lot. Or they’ll throw the word “exposure” at you, telling you that it will be great for your portfolio. That’s all garbage. As any illustrator will tell you, making art is hard work. It not only requires the skill, craft, and brainpower to accomplish each assignment, but it also takes years of experience to get to that point. If it was easy, clients could do it themselves. Since they can’t, recognize your value and never be scared to demand fees that are appropriate for your work and turn away others that aren’t.

Another point that needs to be addressed is that the illustration world is not a vacuum. The way you price jobs doesn’t just affect your fees, but every other illustrator’s fees as well. If you continually undercut other illustrators that will eventually just lead to a race to the bottom as clients look at your budgets as the new norm. So, it’s very important to charge a price that’s reflective of the effort and skill it takes to create an illustration for the vitality of the industry.

So, now that we’ve gotten that preamble out of the way, where do we begin with this confusing topic? Let’s talk about what actually is bought and sold when an illustration is commissioned and what factors come into play when considering pricing.

Pricing Criteria

The key thing to understand when pricing illustration work is that it’s not a service like painting a house or selling a widget. Illustration is all about rights and usages. What you’re trading isn’t actually your art, but the rights to reproduce it in various formats and media. As such, the more rights and usages a client wants, the more money your illustration is worth. I like to think of this as a direct correlation between eyeballs and dollars: the more eyeballs that could be potentially exposed to the work, the greater the dollar figure should be. With that in mind, the basic criteria that affect illustration pricing are:

Size and Location

Where is the work going to appear? Is it going to be on the cover of a magazine or the inside? How big will the illustration run? In order of highest fee to lowest fee, it should be:

  1. Full wraparound cover
  2. Front cover
  3. Back cover
  4. Spread
  5. Full page
  6. Half page
  7. Quarter page
  8. Spot

The same could also hold true for a website (above the fold, below the fold, full-width, etc.).


How will the work be used? As background art on a TV show? For a wine bottle label? For a CD cover? Different usages will command different fees. Remember the dollar to eyeballs ratio when pricing your art for a particular assignment.


In what geographical areas will the illustration run? Will it be hyper-local (like your small-town newspaper) or worldwide? Typically, you’ll start with national rights which should be cheapest (besides regional rights) and add more money for each country/language that the client wants to use the work. All world/all languages should be worth more than just North American English. With internet work, though, it’s tricky since the whole world can access it. Page views may be a better gage in that instance and you could adjust your rate depending on the popularity of the site that commissions you.

Time Limits

How long will the illustration run for? For editorial, this is normally the first printing. For books, it may be ten years or the entire life of the book until it goes out of print. Other clients may want your work to be used in perpetuity. The greater the time frame the client wants, the greater the fee.


Are you allowed to resell this image to other clients either in different markets or even the same market? Reselling can be an additional revenue stream, so the more exclusivity a client wants, the higher your fee should be.

Black and White vs. Color

Color work takes more time than black and white work and, thusly, should be charged a higher fee.

Number of Copies

If it’s a book, what is the first printing run going to be? If it’s a magazine, how big is the circulation? If it’s merchandising, how many copies of the item will your illustration appear on? The more copies out in the world, the higher the fee should be.

Additional Rights

You may do an illustration for a book cover and the client may also request that they have additional rights to use it for marketing, to remove the illustration from the cover and use it separately to create an author website, to be able to pull pieces from it and use it on the interior, to have the option to use the same illustration on the paperback cover or international editions, etc. For each additional right the client is asking for when they commission you, you should be compensated accordingly. Occasionally, clients will also try to do an all-rights buyout where they get everything for one price. If that situation arises, you need to seriously consider a much higher fee, as the client will be able to use your work for any purpose they want and that could be a lot of lost income.

Work for Hire

Speaking of all-rights buyouts, we should also talk about Work for Hire. Some clients will try to commission you under a Work for Hire agreement. What this means is that they will own all the rights to the work, including the copyright and maybe even your original art in some circumstances. Your name may not even be associated with the image. In a Work for Hire agreement, your fee should be considerably higher to account for these things.

Size of the Client

Some companies are mom-and-pops; others are giant, soulless mega-corporations. I’m sure you can imagine which one has more money to spend on illustration and should be charged accordingly.

Location of the Client

America seems to have a much healthier illustration budget than other countries. If you find yourself doing a lot of international work, take into consideration that their budgets may not be as robust.


You should also consider the man-hours you’ll have to spend on any proposed assignment. It’s helpful to keep track of your hours to start with, just to get a handle on how long things typically take (keep in mind non-art related tasks too, like emailing back and forth with clients, looking for reference, going to meetings, etc.). Once you’ve figured out your man-hours, review the proposed budget and break it down into a projected hourly fee. Are you getting paid well enough or are you barely making minimum wage? If it’s not what you need to make the illustration worth doing, then you should suggest a more reasonable fee to make it worthwhile. While you don’t want to charge hourly for illustration (flat fees are typically preferable), you want to make sure that, at the minimum, you’re getting a breakdown that works for you.

Rush Fees

If a job comes in that requires a lot of work in a very short time frame (a rush job), you can also charge a rush fee for it. This would be a higher fee to compensate for the crazy late-night hours you’re going to have to put in to make the super tight deadline for the client.


You may also be entitled to royalties on certain projects. Perhaps you’re illustrating a children’s book or providing art to be used as part of an app that your work will be based around? Most assignments won’t have royalties attached to them, but for the ones where it’s standard, you’ll want to have the highest royalties you can. Typically, in that instance, your “fee” will actually end up being an advance against those royalties. If that’s the case, it’s well worth noting that a lot of projects won’t ever make back their advances so you want to get the highest advance possible since you may never see another cent.

Applying This to the Real World

OK, so now that we’ve reviewed what factors go into an illustration fee, let’s discuss how to actually price a job. There are basically two ways to evaluate pricing:

  1. The client has a standard fee, which you may want to negotiate
  2. You have to invent your own fee

Clients’ Standard Fees

Many clients already have a standard fee for their assignments and will present that to you when commissioning work. In some cases, there’s a bit of leeway to negotiate higher rates, but it won’t be astronomically larger than what they initially offer. Client fees are a pretty good way to get a barometer on the rates that are out there. The more work you do, the greater exposure towards budgets you’ll get which will give you better insight into whether a prospective client is giving you a fair offer or trying to lowball you.

When a job comes in, compare the proposed fee and rights they’re looking to get to other assignments you may have done for similar-sized clients. If it matches up closely, that’s a solid indication that they’re within what’s typical of the market. If not, then you’ll want to negotiate for a higher rate. If you haven’t done a lot of client work yet, at least this will give you a good jumping off point and you can factor in everything that was discussed above to determine whether or not their offer is fair and, if not, what kind of fee it should be closer to.

This is, by far, the easiest way to figure out pricing. But, what do you do if the client wants you to provide them with a fee out of thin air or you have no idea whether or not the client’s budget is realistic?

Coming Up With Your Own Rates

If, instead of offering a fee, a client asks you to come up with your own rates, that’s a lot more difficult and nerve-wracking. The first thing I’d suggest is, rather than giving the client a number, see if you can get a little information about what their general budget is. The reason being, whomever puts out a number first is going to be at a disadvantage. It’s far better to know a client has $10,000 than to come up with your own number and say $3,000. That’s $7,000 that could have been yours! Clients know this when they’re asking you to create a figure. In their heads, they’ve already got a budget they’re looking to come in at and are hoping you’ll underbid yourself and they’ll save money. So try to push to get them to give you some indication or range of what they’re looking at. If they’re unable to, then you’ll have to come up with your own fee. Don’t feel too lost, though, if that’s the case as there are some good resources at your disposal:

The Graphic Artist's Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is a great resource.

If you’re completely grasping at straws, The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelinesis the go-to book for illustrators and designers. Inside, it lists most of the kinds of jobs a graphic artist might receive and offers a range of prices that the particular job has been known to pay. Sometimes these rates are extremely helpful. Other times, the range is so vast that it doesn’t do much good. Still, for a general idea, it’s a great resource and a must-have.

Another great resource, of course, is the illustration community. You can’t beat having a network of other professionals whom you can turn to for advice. Your friends will often be your biggest allies and will be able to give you insights on any areas that you fall short. If someone does a lot of work with books, for instance, and you’re mostly editorial, they’ll have a better grasp of what the going rates are should you get offered a cover.

Some Scenarios

OK, so let’s apply all this information to some scenarios that will give you a little more insight:

Scenario A

A small alt-weekly newspaper wants you to do a cover illustration for $300. They’re looking for first printing North American rights + internet. Their circulation is around 40,000.

Initially, this doesn’t seem like the greatest deal. You look at your hourly breakdown for this assignment and realize it’s going to take you probably 20 hours to do, which comes down to $15/hour. That’s not a lot for your skill. Additionally, it’s a cover and shouldn’t covers pay more? However, there are some trade-offs. Perhaps you haven’t done a lot of professional work before and this could get your foot in the door? Perhaps the art director is offering you a lot of freedom in exchange for their small budget? One other thing comes into play: you do a little digging around and realize that this is a pretty typical budget for an alt-weekly of this size. So they’re not trying to lowball you; it’s just a field with small budgets. Now taking all of this into account, it might not be the worst deal in the world for a young illustrator to take—particularly if you’re just starting out.

Scenario B

An ad agency comes to you for an illustration for their client, a huge shoe company that everyone knows. The agency wants one image that they’ll be able to use on bus stops, subways, billboards, magazines, online, etc. In fact, they want to be able to use it everywhere and for everything. It’s a Work for Hire agreement. Their budget is $4,000 and it will only take you a couple days to get it done as it’s relatively simple.

Wow, that sounds pretty great, right? $4,000 for a couple days work? That’s $2,000/day! You should be jumping at that! Well, not so fast. Remember, illustration isn’t about the man-hours, it’s about the rights and the usages and this client wants a lot of them. In fact, they want everything. You won’t even have your copyright anymore. Additionally, their client isn’t some unknown brand; they’re a huge corporation that’s extremely well-known and doing quite well. Reconsidering all of that now, does this offer seem good or does it seem like, perhaps, the client is trying to get a lot more from you than they’re actually offering to pay? This one may need some serious negotiating.

Scenario C

A small book publisher comes to you, looking for you to illustrate their cover. They’re going to have a first printing of 10,000 copies. They’re looking for North American, English language rights, plus digital so they can put it on e-readers. Time limit is ten years. Hardcover. Healthy deadline. They also want to be able to use the illustration for any marketing or sales-related purposes in regards to the book. However, they haven’t offered you a fee and are requesting that you give them an estimate.

This one’s a bit tougher, since you have to be the first to offer up a fee. Let’s examine a few things: Firstly, the rights that the publisher is asking for are typical of what most book publishers would want so they’re not trying to get anything over on you. In fact, they’re less rights-grabby than most who have been veering towards World, all languages. So, not bad. Also, the deadline is nice and long, which means you can squeeze it in here and there when you have time, which is always nice. But how do you figure out the fee? The first thing I’d consider is if you’d ever done any other work in that market and compare. Look at the rights and budgets for those previous assignments and start off by giving them something in that ballpark that you feel good about, but may be a little higher than you’d settle for. This way, you’ve got some room for negotiation. If you’ve never done any work in this market, though, that’s when you should ask friends or whip out your Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. That will help give you a number to submit. If the client balks, then you can negotiate a lower fee. If they jump on it, you might have come in a bit low. If they run away in terror, never to be heard from again, you may have come in way too high. But, at least it was a starting point.

So, as you can see with these scenarios, there are a lot of factors that go into pricing your work. For every job that comes in, you’ll want to review and decide what makes sense for you given all the criteria we’ve discussed.

Final Thoughts

If all this is stressing you out, don’t worry too much. The longer you do illustration, the more you’ll get to know the budgets that are out there as well as your own comfort level for doing certain kinds of work. Eventually, you’ll arrive at a place where you know you won’t even pick up a pencil for a certain amount. Once you’ve hit that part of your career, it’s a lot easier to price jobs because you’ll have set minimums and will feel more confident arguing for higher pay, knowing what the market will bear and what your value is within it. You’ll also learn from trial and experience. If you find that clients are too often rejecting your fees, that means you’re probably overbidding and need to adjust your horizons. If, instead, clients are eager to say yes right away without any negotiation, you’re probably underbidding and need to give yourself a raise. The best place to be is somewhere in-between.

The main thing to remember in this whole discussion is that rights are what you’re selling and you want to retain as many of them as possible. The more rights the client wants and the more exposure your work will have, the higher the fee should be in exchange. It’s all about that ratio of dollars to eyeballs. When in doubt, err on the side of asking for too much. The worst that can happen is the client comes back to you with a smaller offer. Or they run for the hills. And if that’s the case, maybe the job shouldn’t have happened anyway. You deserve to be compensated fairly for your work, the years you’ve spent learning how to create it, and the unique skill set you offer that makes you valuable to the marketplace.

Post by

Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.