A few months ago, I had a prospective client come to me looking for me to create some illustrations for their new landing page. We chatted over email, followed by a call about their brand and what they—the potential client— were looking to accomplish. During our conversation, they seemed to be pretty excited about everything we discussed how I could help them and my initial thoughts on how we could proceed.
But when it came down to the cost of the engagement, they responded saying they were expecting something much cheaper. They said before they had come to me, they did some research of their own and even found illustrations on a few sites that they could purchase and use royalty-free but wanted it to be more custom. They wanted to pay just a little more than the royalty-free illustrations and didn’t want to hear about the differences between what I was offering and what they saw elsewhere.
So why is there such a difference in the cost for illustration? What’s the difference?
There is a vast difference between the value that illustrators create for you, the clients/partners, then what you find with “Ready to Use” or stock illustrations on sites like Stocksy or Shutterstock. When an illustrator creates illustrations for our clients, for the most part, they are helping you to develop your visual style. They create illustrations that are meant for you and your brand alone.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve gone onto blogs across the spectrum, and I see the same illustrations used again and again.”
When an illustrator works with a client, the client is getting something that fits their brand, it can be used anywhere in their materials, and most importantly, it helps to increase their brand recognition. When a brand’s style is it’s own, it gains attention from its users. Think about how many times you are surfing the web and come across illustrations like the ones below. You can recognize each of the styles as belonging to brands that you know and possibly use every day.
When you go and buy a royalty-free illustration, it’s the exact opposite. You’re not buying it, and you’re not the sole owner of that vector illustration. You are just buying the right to use it on your website, in a blog post, or if you buy an extended license on your product. This means that anyone else can also buy that illustration and use it in the same places.
I don’t know how many times I’ve gone onto blogs across the spectrum (health/fitness, design, creative, tech, etc.), and I see the same illustrations used again and again. Sometimes you can even tell where the illustrations came from just by the style they’re in or the quality of the illustrations.
When you hire an illustrator, they are there to help you craft your brand’s visual story and create the recognition that your product or service deserves. More importantly, you can safely know that the illustrations created specifically for you and you alone.
Something though that I will point out that many of you reading this article might not believe when you read it is that, sometimes, it is ok to purchase royalty-free artwork vs. working with an illustrator.
In all seriousness, not everyone has the budget to hire someone to create custom illustrations for them. Trust me when I say that is ok. The work that I do isn’t cheap, and neither is it for my other illustrator friends.
When you’re a small business or a startup, and you’re just getting going and having to drive for Lyft to keep the lights on, then it’s perfectly reasonable to purchase stock artwork. I had a call over the summer, where this startup founder told me how he worked all day at a small agency in San Francisco and drove for Lyft at night to fuel his weekend startup.
Did I sit there and explain to him how much my services would benefit him and guilt-trip him into spending a couple of weeks wages from Lyft to have me create some artwork for his brand? Hell no. I instead spent an hour helping him find royalty free artwork that would fit his initial needs.
There are many pros and cons to both sides of the coin here. In the end, it comes down to the situation that you find yourself in, the client. If you’re starting and have little funding, then royalty-free artwork may be the right thing for you. But if your business is growing or you have seed money, then it might be more beneficial to you to hire an illustrator and help them develop your brand’s story.