Frequently Asked Questions
For Digital Artists and Freelance Illustrators
For Digital Artists and Freelance Illustrators
How Much Should A Freelance Illustrator Charge?
This is the most common question I get asked by freelance artists of all levels, and it’s an important one. I wish I could tell you that I have it all figured out, but the truth is that I struggle with this every single day.
The best answer I’ve found is: “More!”
The good news is that over the years of researching pricing and improving my portfolio and connections, I’ve been able to work up a fair pricing structure that really helps my family, the industry, and (I think) my clients as well. Overtime, you’ll figure out a groove that works for you.
Here are some tips:
Who have they worked with? If you recognize illustrators they’ve worked with in the past as well known, top-tier illustrators, then you can guess that they are not afraid to pay high prices for quality work.
How Do You Raise Your Freelance Illustration Rates?
So now that you’re established, and you’re charging far above your minimum rate (allowing you to put money away for savings), you can begin steadily raising your rate.
Freelancers don’t get cost-of-living raises, so we have to take care of that ourselves. Like everything else.
If you charge a client $500 for a logo design, and it turns out great, next time a similar client asks for a price, raise it a little. Perhaps $525? Does that sound unfair? It shouldn’t. After all, they are now asking for a quote from a more experienced illustrator, and the cost should reflect that.
Gradually repeat this until you’ve found you hit a wall (too many rejections from clients asking for quotes), and slow down a little until your portfolio and client acquisition rate improve again.
Before you know it, a year will go by and you have doubled your rate, and you’ll wonder how you could ever have charged so little in the first place.
NOTE: It’s harder to raise your rate on existing clients. I often keep the price same for existing clients, and make my price increases on new business. However, if I haven’t worked with an existing client in a long time (usually more than a year), I kindly explain the rate increase. It’s typically not a problem, because the quality of my work had also grown, and clients who are satisfied with working with you usually dread the idea of having to start all over again and find a new artist.
NOTE: If you’ve been charging the same price for a product for over a year, it’s time to raise your prices, even if by just a little bit. Otherwise, inflation is kicking your butt.
Questions to ask a client when giving a quote?
My prices vary from project to project based on a lot of different factors. Before you give a quote, make sure you have all the information first. I’ve gotten myself into trouble giving a quote on a project I thought was small, only to find out it was a monster.
Here are the questions I ask when approached by a new client:
What factors do you consider when quoting prices for freelance work?
1. Is there possible exposure in it for you?
I know, I hate that word too. But if the client has huge name recognition and an enormous following, I’d be willing to be (a little) more flexible on my pricing. However, be careful with how much you capitulate. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
BUT make sure that the exposure is written into your contract! If you are really giving them a discount, you have to make sure the client holds their end of the bargain. Make the discount contingent on them making a social media post about you, putting your name on all instances of the artwork, and/or allowing you to advertise on their website.
2. Will this project actually lead to more work?
I might be more willing to compromise with clients on price if the client will have a lot of recurring work. In the long run, you really save a lot of time (money) by working with the same client again and again.
The hard part is developing the psychic abilities to determine which jobs will actually develop into recurring work – because in reality, it is a rare occurrence, especially when working with a start-up business, who still has stars in their eyes and may not know the challenges ahead of them that will change their business plan.
NOTE: If the client asks for a lower price because they say they will have more work for you, don’t take their word for it. Instead, I offer them bulk pricing. For example, I’ll give them a break in cost if they pay the deposits for three projects up front (for example). This way, they are committing to you, and you are rewarding them for it.
While it’s not a written rule, I typically charge 10% less for bulk pricing.
3. Will this project look good in my portfolio?
If it’s something I really want to do, and I think it will turn out awesome, I will sometimes lower my price to meet the client’s budget. Especially if it fills a hole in my portfolio that I think will attract new clients.
But make sure you’re not doing this too often. If you take this project for a low price, and all it leads to is more low-price work, then you’re going to get stuck in a trap.
4. When is the deadline?
If they don’t want to pay your full price, they shouldn’t expect to be on the same schedule as the clients who are paying your full rate. I’ve taken projects at a lower rate, with the understanding (in writing) that I would only work on it in between other projects.
How do you find work?
This is something I’ve been working on for years, and unfortunately, I don’t have a very simple and easy answer.
Work and time!
I think the important thing to remember is that it takes a lot of time. Each year I do this, I make more connections with clients, and get referrals or repeat customers, so my pool grows larger and larger each year. I’m all the sudden at a really comfortable stage where I have enough repeat and referral clients that I don’t need as many new clients as I did before. This means that I can choose which new projects to take – which means I can charge higher prices and the work I produce is better, because it’s usually something I enjoy, and I have more time to spend on the artwork. However, it was not always this way.
Diversify Your Portfolio
The best practical advice I can give is to build a portfolio that appeals to as many markets as possible, while still maintaining a focus. I have so many different types of projects on my desk at one time (album covers, t-shirt designs, book covers, packaging designs, logo designs, and even children’s books) that if one area starts getting slow or under-priced, it doesn’t affect my total workflow.
If your entire portfolio is filled with album covers, potential clients will assume that’s all you do, or want to do, and won’t bother contacting you with something else. It’s important to remember that clients aren’t artists, and can’t visualize the way we can. If you think your artwork would look great on a beer label – don’t assume that your client will agree… show them!
Market Yourself Everywhere!
Another piece of practical advice is to put your artwork in as many different types of places as possible. I put my work on online portfolio sites, on social media, on my website, in newsletters, and (just recently) postcards in the mail. I do so many things that I couldn’t tell you exactly which ones work better than others – I just know that doing all of them works in aggregate, so I just keep doing it. However, don’t underestimate the substantial amount of time all this marketing can take.
Find Your Niche
There are some markets that are just over-saturated with artists, and what happens very quickly is that the prices plummet because the competition is so fierce. It’s my opinion that album covers and band art in general is one of those markets. It’s okay to compete in these markets, but it might not be a good idea to rely on them entirely. Search out markets that need artwork, but don’t have a mob of artists hanging out backstage.
If you find a niche that you make a great product in, you’ll quickly be known for it in that community, and it’s much easier to rise to the top.
Work For Yourself
If things are really looking bleak, I highly recommend taking time to create your BEST artwork just for yourself. Do something that you really love, and that you know you will excel at, while also keeping it from getting too specific (so that it will appeal to many people).
If you do a few great pieces of artwork, and mock it up on a product, people will pay attention. Most clients that I’ve met don’t care so much who you’ve worked for – it’s all about the quality of the artwork. A lot of the most popular pieces in my portfolio were things that I created for myself.
Early in my career, I made the mistake of freelancing in the dark underworld of freelancing on the very bottom. I did a lot of crappy projects for even crappier pay. NONE of that stuff is in my portfolio now, and most of it just led to more crappy work. What I should have been doing was creating a beautiful portfolio and getting better. I feel that I could have skipped the whole bottom-feeder stage.
Did You Go To Art School?
I did not – I studied Advertising and Marketing actually. But I took a lot of art classes in High School and College, and have taken countless online classes, and watched probably a million hours of YouTube tutorials.
There are times when I regret not going to art school. But I still was able to arrive at the point I wanted to without art school, and without the debt.
If you are in the middle of making this tough decision, make sure you talk to a lot of art school graduates to get their feedback, and make sure to research the heck out of the school. Some art schools out there are nothing more than drop-out factories.
Should I do fan art?
I get asked this question a lot about whether it’s ethical, profitable, and/or strategic to create fan art instead of original concepts.
There’s so much I could say about this, but in general, I try to avoid doing fan art, unless it’s a really clever (even if just to me) parody and a unique interpretation of the concept using my style.
There are legal and ethical questions involved to be sure that make me feel a little uncomfortable when engaging in fan art. And to be honest, I’ve never had an interest in treading ground already travelled. Does that mean I never do fan art? Definitely not. But I just don’t make it the foundation of my portfolio.
In my experience, fan art will get you fans (which are wonderful), but creating original work and concepts will get you clients, and the clients ultimately are the ones that pay the bills in my situation. Also, from a financial standpoint, it’s much easier (because it’s legal!) to resell or repurpose original artwork than artwork based on someone else’s property.
That being said, it’s hard to deny that there is always a fandom boost you get from creating artwork based on a brand that everyone is already familiar with. It’s much more challenging to get people excited about a concept they aren’t familiar with – so prepare for a fight!
And lastly, I’ve unfortunately had countless artists and companies steal my artwork, so I have a bit of a perspective on what it feels like to be on the other side.
Can I get your artwork tattooed on my beautiful body?
So you want to get my artwork tattooed on your beautiful body? Wow, man, THANK YOU! What a flattering statement.
Before you do, I kindly ask that you pay a small licensing fee of $35.
PURCHASE THAT LICENSE HERE:
I support my entire family (most of which are cool people) with my illustration business, and every little bit helps. This is a pizza and beer night for us (pizza for them, beer for me).
Here’s what you get:
Some tips for getting the best result:
Guys, let’s face it, we’ve all seen some really bad tattoos. Here’s how to avoid that:
These recommendations were lifted from the very talented artist Chris Ryniak:
How did you design your website?
I built the website in WordPress with a theme by Kriesi (http://www.kriesi.at/) called Enfold.
I strongly recommend WordPress, because it’s fairly easy to update, and has great SEO.
I also strongly recommend paying for a high-quality theme (mine was only $55), that has a lot of support, rather than trying to get a free one to work. You’ll spend so much time trying to get a crummy theme to do what you want, it’s just worth using a free one.
What hardware do you use for digital painting?
Most of the artwork that I do is digital. I used to draw and ink on paper, scan the artwork in, and color it in Adobe Photoshop. But when I finally purchased a Wacom Cintiq about five years ago, I switched to a nearly 100% digital workflow. I sometimes enjoy drawing on paper more than working digitally, but I find working digitally a necessity as a freelancer because it’s faster, revisions are easier, and producing a print-ready file is easier.
Tools I use:
Do I need a Mac or PC for digital art?
What are your computer specs for digital painting?
I use a machine that was top of the line in 2012 – but it still holds up great.
1TB SD Flash Hard Drive
If you can afford it, go for the Solid State hard drive. The speed it adds is incredible – much more of a boost than adding RAM. I had one installed in 2015, and it was like getting a whole new machine.
What software do you recommend for digital art?
What traditional art tools do you recommend?
I often draw on paper whenever I can for practice and exploration, and am trying to bring traditonal art back into my workflow when I can.
I like Koh-i-noor pencils, because they have a nice hard lead that lasts a really long time, and can be sharpened with a razor blade without breaking.
Prismacolor Col-erase pencils are great for drawing in a color that can be later removed in the computer. For example, I draw in a light blue, ink over top in black, and then once I scan in the drawing, I remove all the blue lines in Photoshop by using the Hue/Saturation adjustment. No erasing!
The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen is THE best brush pen I’ve ever used. It feels just like drawing with a sable brush, but with the portability and convenience of never having to dip in a bottle of ink. Plus – it’s refillable! And reasonably priced too.
Faber-Castel PITT Artist Brush Pens are great because they have a strong felt tip that can get a little bit of line variation if you press harder or softer. They come in packs of a bunch of different sizes. Get the pack, you’ll need all the sizes.
Nib pens (hunt 104 nib) – These take a lot of practice, and I don’t use them as much as I used to. But they are usually what most comic book artists use to ink (when inking traditionally).
When inking on paper, when I’m not using the Pentel Brush pen, I also like using the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Sable brush (size 2 usually). Excellent quality brush that lasts a long time, and keeps a strong point. It’s great for drawing thick to thin lines.
Speedball Superblack India Ink – I used to mix two different inks together to get a really dark ink that flowed nicely, until I found this poduct from Speedball. It’s the blackest, smoothest ink I’ve used.
I use thick Bristol board paper with a smooth surface.
What size do you use when setting up t-shirts?
The size is often different depending on what printer the client is going with, but I most often set up art at 13 inches by 19 inches. I’ve been doing this for many years, and it seems that no two T-Shirt print shops use the same exact screen size.
But I always send the final artwork at full size at 300 dpi. However, when I’m inking, I usually up the resolution to 600 dpi – for some reason, this seems to make the inking more accurate. But of course, it results at a huge file size, so I always shrink it back to 300 dpi before coloring it.
Many T-Shirt printers actually only need the document at full size, but at 200 or even 150 dpi. However, I like to err on the side of caution and give them something bigger than what they need.
How do you do color separations for t-shirt printing?
I do my own color separations if it’s a limited number of colors, like 1-3 – which is far less complicated
Of all the artwork I do, I’d say it’s a 30/30/30 % split between DTG (direct-to-garment), Limited color Silk-Screening (which I separate myself), and Full-color silk-screening (in which case the manufacturer does the separations).
I find that the bigger the client, the more often they prefer to do their own separations, which is fantastic for me, because color separation can be a headache.
I have never used a separation program, but I know some shops use them, or do all their separations in Photoshop.
I also will sometimes hire someone to separate the colors for me if I’m in a jam – a typical rate for separation is anywhere between $15-$25 per color.
How do you send files for silk-screening?
Most of the bigger companies I’ve worked with prefer to do their own separations, because the recognize that separation is an art in itself, and only a specialist can really nail it. They have special knowledge of the inks and colors that I don’t, since I don’t do any silk-screening myself.
I usually send the artwork in two versions. I send a layered PSD file, and also a PNG file with all the layers (except for the background) flattened. That way they can choose which way they want to go.
However, most small businesses will want me to separate the colors myself, because they are on tighter budgets, or work with smaller shops who don’t know how to separate colors. In this case, I usually create the artwork with each color on a separate layer. This is time-consuming, and not quite intuitive, but you start to learn how to do it over time and it becomes more manageable. It makes it tricky to do certain types of effects using this method however.
After feeling frustrated with Apple’s hockey puck of a mouse, I ended up purchasing this amusingly named gaming mouse and haven’t looked back. It’s wired so I don’t have to worry about ANOTHER appliance that needs charging and dodge the latency issues that plague some of the wireless mice. The Jelly Gaming Mouse is a solid and plug-in ready choice without the annoying software and drivers downloads that fancier models would have. Can it bring your Solitaire game to the next level? Jury’s out on that one.
What’s great for World of Warcraft can be just as fantastic for a digital artist! I have this sleekly designed mini-keypad attached right to the side on my cintiq 24HD, making keyboard commands ridiculously easy and instantly within reach. Hit that Ctrl+Z command in microseconds flat! This keypad alone has boosted my efficiency and workflow enough to have paid for itself several times over and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
This all-in-one appliance takes care of a myriad of tasks that could pop-up during your workflow. Feel like working traditionally? Sketch it out and scan that baby right in to email it to a client. Great for making copies as well, especially if you want to try out different coloring or inking styles on a sketch you’d really rather not ruin by being experimental. A solid addition to the studio arsenal.
Everything there is to love about the Wacom Cinitq 13HD — but BIGGER. And we all know bigger is better.
My Wacom 24HD has been with me for going on 7 years and bound to be around for many more. A fantastic desk-sized tablet with the great pressure sensitivity and true colors that Wacom is known for, plus a deep sense of immersion thanks to its generous sizing. While many tablets feel too ‘glassy’ while drawing on them, the 24HD feels like home with the felt tipped Wacom pen and smooth, but not too smooth, matte surface.
I’ve been in search of the perfect mobile digital art platform for awhile, something where I could sit on the couch to watch Netflix with the kids AND still get stuff done. I’ve tried everything from the Cintiq Companion to the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro, and the iPad Pro 12.9 comes out on top with its functionality, decent size, and [somewhat] more reasonable price point.
If the Cintiqs are out of your price range or you think drawing on a tablet screen is uncomfortable, the Wacom Intuos is the industry standard drawing tablet. It’s sophisticated enough to please even the pickiest of professionals, yet with enough ease of use to support a beginner dipping their toes into digital art. Plus, the Intuos size comes in a variety of sizes to suit a variety of budgets.
Whether you want to elevate your monitor to the perfect position or just have a burning desire to feel like a tech-obsessed super-villain, this monitor mount will have you covered. As a full-time freelance artist, posture becomes a serious concern when you’re sitting for 80% of the day, and this device helps place your monitor wherever is most comfortable and KEEP it there safely. Plus, the attractive and sleek black and white design makes it look like something out of iRobot, which is never a bad thing.
A great little mobile companion keyboard with Bluetooth capability. Ideal for googling up some references or write up an invoice without having to sit up or plug a full-size keyboard in. It won’t slide around all over the place while resting in your lap or desk and the fact you can use it on both your computer or other smart devices only makes it that much more useful.
My go-to bookcase for displaying anything from t-shirts, books and even prints. Easy to build and even easier to customize to fit any tiny space the con gives you. Bonus: when it’s time to packup and go home, disassembles for easy transport [gotta leave room in the car for all the con swag!]