Figuring out how you should budget for illustration work is a tricky thing to figure out. If you’ve never hired an illustrator before or a freelancer, in general, it can be even more challenging 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
The most significant part of knowing how much to budget for illustration is knowing how much it costs to hire an illustrator. In general, illustrators tend to price their services in two different fashions, hourly and project-based. I never charge an hourly rate because there can be a lot of hidden dangers in doing so on both sides (more on that in a future article). I charge my clients on a project-to-project base, this means a flat-rate fee for the project. With this method, the only thing that can cause the price of the project to go up is a change in scope or what is known as “Scope Creep.”
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 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 significant 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 such as revisions and dealing with scope creep—going beyond the original scope. They do this so that no matter what, you can have a general understanding of how much you can expect to pay at the end of the project. 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 that 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 estimates it was 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 provides 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 be 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 arise, and I end up making more money. Well, I 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
One thing that illustrators cringe at when they are talking to a client about a potential project is when the client asks, “Can you have it done by Friday?” Even as I wrote that line, I felt a shiver down my spine.
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. A lot of illustrators tend to book projects out a few weeks at a time, and if they’re swamped, 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 way of dealing with clients and projects with short or quick deadlines. You can always count on the fact that a fast turnaround project is going to cost more than one with double the timeline. With my projects, I tend to have multipliers depending on how quick a client wants a project completed. If a client comes to me with a fast turnaround project, I generally will add 25%-100% to the cost of the project—if the project typically would cost $1000 to complete, then it could cost anywhere between $1250-2000. This depends on the complexity of the project, the relationship with the client, and how short the deadline is.
You always have to remember that your timeline can change everything when it comes to the budget for a project.
Quality vs Quantity
Now let’s talk about something else we mentioned above, and that is the level of expertise. As I said, student illustrators are going to be generally cheaper than professional illustrators, but the big thing to think about here is you get what you pay for. The problem you can run into is that the quality a student creates for you won’t be anywhere close to that of an established illustrator.
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 five 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 five low-quality illustrations.
Always remember quality over quantity.
The last thing I’ll talk about when it comes to quality is 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 places like these, you’ll be disappointed. The majority of the creatives on sites like these are from places like the Philippines and India. It’s their goal to crank out as much work as possible in as little time as possible, which means that there isn’t the possibility of allowing a relationship—or partnership—to foster over these sites.
When you work with an illustrator directly, you can 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
The best way to make sure you get a realistic estimate for your project with the illustrator you want to work with is to have a clear understanding of what your project entails.
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 quickly 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 more accessible, here's a perfect example.
Let's 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 a structure to what she's wanting. 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 six illustrations, and the price then has to change to reflect the new illustrations, instead of being a $2500 project, it's now a $4000 project. Even though the price is far 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 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 essential 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
When you’re working on figuring out a reasonable budget for your illustration project, the important thing is to be flexible with the budget. If you’re looking to hire a professional illustrator to create quality illustrations, it’s going to be more than a few hundred dollars. The best way to get a solid foundation for the cost is to reach out and ask. We are all here to help you, and that even extends to figuring out your budget.
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. (: