How Much Should I Budget for Illustration?

Rocky Roark
Feb 5, 2018 · 8 min read
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Figuring out how you should budget for illustration work is definitely a tricky thing to figure out. If you’ve never hired an illustrator before, or a freelancer in general it can be even more difficult to figure out. In this article I’m going to talk to you a bit about some of the challenges you’ll face in figuring out how much you should budget as well as some scenarios you may run into along the way.

Understanding the Cost of Illustrations

When it comes to illustrators working hourly you can expect different prices depending on the different levels of expertise. Generally, college students or those who recently graduated will be a lot cheaper than professionals who have been illustrating for a decade or more. With illustrators who are still in college you can expect to pay between $25–50/hr, whereas working with more seasoned illustrators you’d be looking at between $100–250+/hr. It all really depends.

The same situations also convert when you talk about illustrators who work on a project-to-project basis. With student illustrators a project with 3–4 illustrations may cost as little as $400–600 in total, but if you came to me with the same project you would probably be looking at around $1500–2500.

When you compare hourly vs project based pricing, there are some major differences between the two. In short, project based pricing can end up saving you more money than hourly projects can. Generally project based pricing will include things like revisions and specific guidelines for if things are added to the project (scope creep) so that no matter what you’re going to pay an exact amount at the end of the project or have a general understanding of how much you will pay at the end. I know this can be a bit confusing so let me share an example with you to explain this further.

Let’s say you’re an agency who just created a new landing page for a new client of yours. You want to include a header illustration and three smaller illustrations to help explain what it is your client does to their audience. You go to two illustrators who are close in skill set but one offers you an hourly rate of $100 per hour and estimate it going to take them 20 hours to complete the project, in other words around $2000 in total. The other offers a flat rate of $3000 for the project but offers 2 revisions if need be. Both of the options are very compelling but you see that the first illustrator is estimating the price of the project will be a full $1000 less than the second so you decide to go with him.

As the project progresses your client has come back with a bit more feedback than you expected and the illustrator you chose has had to do more tweaks and revisions then he thought. Instead of the original 20 hours he estimated, he has now worked over 40 hours on the project and says it will take another 10 hours to complete the project. Your original estimate of $2000 is now looking more like $5000. If you had gone with the second illustrator’s rate of $3000 all of the tweaks and revisions would have been included in the estimate and you would have saved $2000.

It’s examples like these that can be hard to swallow but I trust you things like these happen all the time. Sometimes I have people ask me why I don’t charge hourly in case those situations happen and I end up making more money. Well I simply respond that it might help me in the short term but it will make you (the client) have a sour taste in your mouth because now you’re paying more than you wanted to and the chances of you coming back to me with more work in the future are now slim to none.

Your Timeline Can Change Everything

In short the answer to that question is almost always… No!

When you are figuring out the budget for your illustration project, you should always think about the timeline in which you need to have your illustrations completed by. A lot of illustrators tend to book projects out a few weeks at a time and if they’re really busy it could even be months out. So be prepared that they won’t be able to get started today on your project. That’s perfectly normal.

Each illustrator has their own way of dealing with clients and projects with short or quick deadlines. You can always count on the fact that a quick turnaround project is going to cost more than one with double the timeline. With my own projects I tend to have multipliers depending on how quick a client wants a project completed. If a client comes to me with a quick turnaround project I generally will multiply the normal cost of the project by either 1.5 or 2, (If the project normally would cost $1000 to complete then when you add the multiplier the cost becomes between $1500–2000) this really depends on the complexity of the project and the relationship with the client (are they a client I’ve had for a long time or a new client).

You always have to remember that your timeline can really change everything when it comes to the budget for a project.

Quality vs Quantity

A good rule of thumb to think about when it comes to making this decision is it’s better to pay more on quality than quantity. If you have a budget of $1000 for illustrations, you can either hire a student to create 5 low-quality illustrations or hire a professional illustrator to create one high-quality illustration for the same price. The best option of the two is the latter. One high quality illustration is going to stand out and represent your brand much better than 5 low-quality illustrations. Quality over quantity always.

The last thing I’ll talk about when it comes to quality are those sites like Fiverr or 99 Designs. If you’re thinking about using one of those two sites or another like it… just please don’t. If you’re expecting high quality illustrations to come from sites like these, you’ll be really disappointed. The majority of the people on these sites are from countries like Russia, India and the Philippines and are on there to just crank out as much work as possible. There is no connection or relationship being fostered on these sites.

When you work with an illustrator directly you have the ability to create a partnership. A lot of illustrators (and freelancers in general) out there who work for themselves doing freelance work aren’t looking for one and done engagements like those on Fiverr. They are instead looking for partnerships with companies and brands where they can help them grow and share their stories. They tend to care more than those who are just out there for a quick buck.

Have a Clear Understanding of What You Want

If you reach out to an illustrator with a project idea but nothing else beyond that they are only going to be able to give you a broad estimate that could easily go up as the project goes on. Instead what you need to do is sit down and figure out what you want. To explain what I mean easier here’s a perfect example.

Lets say your friend founded a startup and is currently in the middle of building her website out and wants to include some illustrations on her site. She doesn’t know where the illustrations will go on the site or how many she wants but reaches out to an illustrator to get an estimate. When asked about the details of the project she says she’d like between 3–4 illustrations for her startup’s website. The illustrator comes back with an estimate of $2500 based on what she shared. She agrees and they get the ball rolling.

As the project begins, both her and the illustrator realize quickly that there isn’t really a structure to what she’s wanting. Basically everything is up in the air. The sit down and go over the site and find areas where illustrations can help her audience understand how her startup can help them. The original 3–4 illustrations then become 6 illustrations and the price then has to change to reflect the new illustrations. Instead of being a $2500 project, its now a $4000 project. Even though the price is now much higher, your friend is happy to pay the new amount and the project ends up being successful for both her and the illustrator.

The example above is a real world situation that I’ve found myself in twice and luckily both times the projects ended with a success and the clients are now come to me with recurring projects from time to time. Unfortunately though these types of situations don’t always turn out like this. Not all illustrators have the capacity or knowledge to help you do an audit of your website to see where illustrations can help bring value to your audience.

Knowing that, it’s important to instead have a solid game plan in place of what you want and what you need from your illustrator. This will allow them to give you a targeted price that shouldn’t fluctuate too much by the end of the engagement. It also allows things to go so much more smoothly and faster.

What You Can Expect

If you still have some lingering questions about the cost of illustrations and figuring out a budget feel free to either comment below or reach out via my website’s contact form. I’m always here to help. (:

Originally published at on February 5, 2018.

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