This is a useful article for both artists, and people looking to commission/buy art, specifically in the realm of comics. If you happen to be a writer looking to hire an artist, or perhaps you are an artist who’s been approached by someone looking to hire, its good to know what the sort of baseline is when you are deciding on how much to charge, or conversely, how much you can expect to pay.
Obviously the more popular and in demand an artist is, the more they tend to, and can charge for their services. Specific styles or skill levels may also lead to increased charges.
But what’s the baseline for professional work? Its a tough question, especially for artists, as generally speaking, not a lot of professionals advertise their page rates to the general public.But fortunately there are some guidelines out there. The kicker is that you might be surprised at how the prices are divided amongst services.
If you are new to the industry, you should be paid SOMETHING. You should NEVER EVER work for free. Especially if you want to make a living off your art. If you are a writer looking for an artist, take this into account. You need money to exchange hands if you want a contract to be valid, and if you want a good artist, you’d better get some cash saved up to pay them.
The ASA (Author’s Society of Australia) offers a very nice PDF off their site to anyone who cares to look that gives a really good guidelines for professional pricing specifically for comic artists. Of course this is going to vary depending on who you are, where you are, and what you’ve done in terms of professional work, but Austrlia’s pricing is not so far off from the US or Canada’s rates generally speaking that you can’t use it as a sort of base line.
You can break down the pricing for general comic work into several categories. These are:
- Concept work
Most of these items, while its more common to see in professional, big company type circles, used to be done separately. These days, particularly small shops, expect artists to do it all… for a fraction of the price.
Each artist works at a different pace, and if you want to figure out your price based on hourly rate for example, get yourself a timer. Time yourself penciling a page. Take the hourly wage you’d like to get for penciling and multiply it by the number of hours it took you to do pencils. So for example, if you want to get paid 15$ an hour to pencil, and it takes you 3 hours to pencil, you should charge at least $45 a page for pencils.
As a guideline, most professionals are getting paid more than $100 per page on a pencils and $75+ for inking. If you are an amateur, getting paid about half that, 50$ is pretty damn good just for pencils alone. But chances are you won’t be doing just that. You will at least be expected to provide finished inks at least. Most independent buyers expect that much on a project, so you need to figure in your inking time as well. If it takes you 3 hours to draw, and then 2 hours to ink, to get $15 an hour, you’ll need to charge $75 per page.
I highly encourage artists to NEVER charge less than minimum wage for their hourly rate when they are figuring out their prices. If you are going off the hourly as a way to figure out base prices. For the US, $7.25 is a very common minimum wage, so I suggest you round it up to $8 at least. Even at $8 an hour, your page rate should be $40 a page, assuming you spend 5 hours total on it. This method of figuring out your base really depends on tracking and making good use of your time. If your time is highly variable, you might need to use another method.
Another pricing strategy some amateurs/aspiring professionals take the base professional rate and half it as a way of figuring out their base price to break in and slowly raise their prices as they fall into more demand.
You may be tempted as an artist to under charge, and under value your skill. The fear of being denied a job because of charging a decent rate is a huge reason why artists don’t get paid well. DO NOT UNDERCHARGE for your skill level. It devalues your work, and devalues every other artist’s work too. Try to stay in line with other artists of your skill and resume level, and what you need to charge to cover your bills and make a living.
You should also, as an independent contractor, consider your equipment when you set your prices. If you are working traditionally, you need to add the cost of your materials into your prices. This might result in an extra $5 tacked on to each page, or if you need to factor in how much you paid for your tablet, computer, and software, maybe its another $10.
Lettering and Coloring should generally be separate line items and price for that service should be negotiated separately. People have a mentality these days, largely enforced by the consumerist ideals of Costco and Walmart that the more you buy, the bigger the discount. This isn’t true of artisans. Just because you buy seven paintings, doesn’t mean you get a discount. Just because you want an artist to do all the work, doesn’t automatically mean you get a discount. It might be more cost effective to go with one artist simply because their rate is lower than another artist, but it does not mean they need to drop their standard rates for whatever they do just because you are getting all your services from them. Artists are not Walmart or Cosco. We do not make stuff in bulk. You are not buying toilet paper here, nor are you, the artist, selling toilet paper. You are selling art, skill, and talent. Remember that.
Digital coloring, like penciling/inking, is generally pretty pricey as coloring (at least good coloring) takes a while. Professionals get paid about $100-200 a page. If you are charging in the per hour way, and it takes 5 hours, then it should be $50 a page. If you happen to love coloring maybe it takes you less time. Or maybe if you hate coloring, you want to charge more because its not doing something you particularly enjoy or takes you a long time. You may also want to tack on a charge depending on the complexity of the page. Starting with a base of $50 and subtracting a bit if you are really fast or love to color, or adding if the page is really complex or it takes you a long time, is a good way of figuring it out. Don’t forget the material costs.
For lettering, the price is pretty low generally speaking. Even professionals are getting around $35-$50 per page. Chances are you can just tack on $20 to the total price of a page for lettering and unless you are a typography guru, its probably not worth more. Obviously unless you’ve got some serious credibility as a comic letterer, its not going to probably be a huge charge. Its also not that hard. A lot of writers will do this themselves and save the money.
Concept art is generally done on a piece by piece basis. Copyright may or may not reside with the artist in this case, so its good to have something in writing, and be properly compensated if you surrender copyright under work for hire or any other contract. A good base is $50 to start and go up from there depending on factors such as complexity, color, number of figures, etc. I would note that book illustration is a totally different field and is not covered under concept work. Concept work is generally rougher than most finished illustrations, which tend to demand higher prices. Again the ASA offers a nice little glimpse at some base rates to consider when figuring out pricing for inquiries of that nature.
Ultimately, its up to the artist to decide their worth. But when you do, stick to your guns. Its hard to remember sometimes, considering how undervalued artists are, that we DO offer a service that is valuable. Our skill can make or break a project and more often than not, we are left holding the bag, or busting our ass for little to no pay. DO NOT let this happen to you. Do not work for free, do not let them promise to pay you later, remember, its up to THEM to figure out how to get their money back, not you. You do the work, you should get paid immediately. Its that simple.
Don’t work on spec. You’ll regret it later. Every. Single. Time.