How to determine the price of art commissions.

If you are reading this you have probably come across another artist doing commissions and you asked yourself how can you do the same and how they started.

Sometimes artists start doing commissions simply because they receive a request from a business or a fan (and by ‘request’ I’m not talking about free work, obviously!). This is easier if you already built a large following (if you haven’t, you can read my article about how to promote your comic) but sometimes it happens even if you are just starting.

The chances of a spontanous flow of incoming commissions are related not only to your popularity but also to your style: a vector-clean-flat style will be most likely to appeal to businesses while a more traditional style will appeal to people looking for a portrait. But each case is different so I won’t waste your time telling you what style has more chances to be turned into a profitable commissions business (if that’s what you’re looking for).

What I will do is to introduce you to the wonderful world of pricing your commissions.

This is by far the toughest part of the job and requires some attempt/failure/readjust proceeding so don’t get discouraged if your first attempt tanks (cough cough, who said my name??) and be ready to make mistakes. You’ll need them 🙂

Key factors in pricing your artistic work.

One of the things that 90% of the artists find the most difficult to do is to put a number on their efforts, and by ‘efforts’ I mean TIME.

There is a part of the price that you can easily calculate by adding up the production costs, the fees and the taxes. I’m going to talk about this in detail in the next paragraph.

For the moment I’m gonna talk about how to evaluate the artistic side of your work.

Here are some key factors you can rely on to establish your commissions prices:

  1. an honest look at yourself (aka your experience and your skills)
  2. the uniqueness of the product/service you are providing and its availability
  3. a look at what other artists are doing

I’ll start by talking about point 1 and 3.

First of all, let me tell you this: being humble is great. Artists always want to improve themselves and can’t stand looking at something they drew 3 weeks ago and that’s part of what we are.

But this attitude is at the roots of a phenomenon that is too often disregarded, which is the impoverishment of people working in the art industry.

Artists aren’t indipendent planets floating into an empty space. Artists are part of a constellation.

This constellation is made of a lot of people working their butts off as much as you do. So when you keep your prices low because ‘you are humble’, you are participating in the galaxy race that has brought most artists to live below the minimum wage

So be humble. Just not the self-harming type.

Taking an ‘honest look’ at your skills and experience doesn’t mean that if you think they aren’t worthy a billion dollar they are not worthy AT ALL. It’s just about finding the correct price range for your skills level

Fixing your price is equal to sending a message to the universe. If you are screaming ‘I’m not worthy’ with your price, people will see you that way. In the same way they will probably ignore you if you scream ‘I’m the best!’ and you are not. The two concepts are equal, but often artists focus exclusively on the second one.

When I talk about ‘looking at what other people do’ I mean it literally. You probably want to do commissions because you saw an artist in particular doing them, but the idea is to look at as many artists as you can, possibly some that does what you want to do, and start making calculations from there.

A perfect way to do so is to use the hashtag #commissions on Instagram and see where it brings you. I promise you than in less than 10 minutes you’ll have an idea of where to start with your prices.

By doing that you can also observe point 2: how many people are offering the exact same service that you want to offer? Is that service really in demand? Is your style recognizible and unique enough to attract people? Is this something that people are looking for?

If you plan to generate a consistent revenue with your commissions this last point is probably the most important one, because commissions are all about what customers want and need, and way waaay less about what you want to draw. Don’t forget it.

Evaluate your production costs.

Wheter you work 100% with digital tools or you still rely on traditional ones, you’re gonna have fixed costs.

Here is a list of the kind of costs that have an impact on production for an artist:

  1. home bills (electricity, internet)
  2. softwares (Photoshop, Clip Studio, etc.)
  3. traditional art supplies (pens, paper, etc.)
  4. printing
  5. postage
  6. packaging
  7. transaction fees (fees relate to your payment service)
  8. conversion fees (internet is global, money isn’t)
  9. taxes

This list it’s way bigger than you would have every imagined, isn’t it?

But you pay your electricity bill every month, like everyone else. And without electricity there wouldn’t be emails, your tablet, Photoshop… A company takes into account its electricity bill into its budget. So should you.

Even further: if you want to make a living with commissions you’ll have to establish your home budget, aka how much money do you need, every month, in order to cover all your basic needs (rent/bills/food) and how much money do you want to be be left in your bank account once you pay taxes. Next you’ll have to calculate how many commissions you are able to complete in a month (one commissions a day? two? four?). A simple division and your pricing is done.

If you are not planning to live out of commissions yet and you only want to start putting the tip of your toe in the water, you’ll need to consider only the points from 3 to 8.

I don’t do traditional art so I will only talk about digital commissions in this article. But if you want me to add information concerning tools, shipping, printing and everything related to traditional art please write it in the comments and I will add it at the end of the article with your name and a link to your website.

So let’s talk digital commissions.

Etsy made an excellent mini-dictionary of commissions-related words that you will come across in your journey:

For the payments you basically have 2 options: run the business by yourself using Paypal, or get some help from a third party that offers a few perks (warning: those perks don’t come for free). For the third parties there are a lot of options, but if you are starting out I recommend Etsy and Big Cartel.

With Etsy you’ll have some transaction and listing fees that will vary according to the price you set. With Big Cartel you will have to pay a fixed price each month but there won’t be additional fees for transactions.

The advantages of using these platforms are:

  • that you get rid of the invoicing part,
  • that you’ll be part of a community,
  • that you might get visibility and traction from the platform itself,
  • that you will have a professional website to show to your customers,
  • if you also sell merchandise, you can manage all your business in one place, keep track of all transactions and use your products as baits for other products (for ex. someone comes for a mug and discovers you also makes commissions and orders one)

In order to use their services you will need to have a Paypal account and Paypal fees are still on you. Which means that it all sums up to a huge amount of fees and if your business is not solid yet and you don’t have a huge amount of transactions the costs might not be worthy (especially as they demand a Paypal Business account, more on this in the next chapter).

Paypal fees 101.

I would love to tell you that Paypal is free if you move money inside the US and if you only exchange in dollars. But with the internet… That’s not how it works for most people. So let’s talk about the costs of Paypal.

As a general rule, consider 1 out of 10 of your dollars as a Paypal dollar for transaction fees. You’ll get $9 for every $10 you make.

Add to that about $1 for every $20 for your currency exchange fee. I’m giving you a super general rate based on my dollar/euro experience, but the amount of this fee not only depends on the currencies you are exchanges but also to exchange rates being adjusted all the time. Before you make the change Paypal let you see the prices so if you think that’s not a good moment to make the change just open a balance for the new currency and wait for the right moment to exchange your money.

These prices apply if you are using DONATIONS, which is the basic feature of Paypal with a personal account.

If you want to be professional and use Paypal the way it’s indended, you’ll have to open a Business account. With a Business account you’ll be able to use the Paypal invoicing system and you’ll be able to offer to your customers a huge amount of payments options, credit cards included. Thanks to to this, your customers won’t be forced to have a Paypal account anymore in order to pay you.

But all these features come at an additional cost: 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. Let’s say you receive a payment of $10: Paypal gets $3.2 and you get the rest.

The complete list of all the Paypal business account fees can be found here.

I have to admit that after using Payal for several commissions (both on personal and business mode) I still find the way they apply their fees a bit random. Sometimes is more than I thought, sometimes is less.

Nevertheless, even if you can’t guess the exact amount of your Paypal fees, whenever fees applies Paypal will withhold the payment (a dedicated ‘accept/refuse’ screen will appear), allowing you to see precisely how much that transaction is gonna cost you (and eventually readjust with your client if needed).

Paypal is really an excercise you get better at with time.

Now that Paypal doesn’t have any secret anymore we can talk about another amusing topic: TAXES.

Taxes.

Paypal or Etsy aren’t the only measurable units to keep into consideration when fixing your price. The money you contribute to society with is also a fixed cost.

This obviously apply to any country or business status in a different way, but there is a shared issue for everyone: how to keep track of how much money you have to declare at the end of the month/year/trimester (according to your tax system).

As I said, Paypal has an integrated invoicing system in its Business version and marketplaces like Etsy take care of invocing and keeping track of your revenue.

If you’re still using Paypal in its Personal mode you’ll need to track your sales by yourself and take care of invoicing your customers.

There are a gazillion softwares that will allow you to do so but don’t forget that if your business hasn’t really taken off yet a simple Excel file will do.

Note each and every sales, the date and the amount. The date will help you to filter in case you need to isolate your earnings for a determined amount of time. In order to be sure that you’re doing a good job you can always double check with your Paypal records.

Ready to take orders?

Ok so: your prices are up, you made a killing visual for promotion (a one caption listing all the prices on a single figure like the one from Mutatedeye in the caption is becoming the industry standard) and you are ready to accept your first commissions.

If you want an anticipation of what is expecting you you can read my list of dos and don’ts when doing commissions.

Otherwise good luck and remember: NEVER. WORK. FOR. FREE.

And yes, with ‘free’ I also mean exposure.

NEVER.

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