It’s Called Freelancing – Part 3

Missed the first installment of this article series? Read it here.

So what exactly are fair rates? This is the million dollar question. It’s very difficult to get a straight answer, and everyone will give you a different one. Here are page rates as determined by the Graphic Artists Guild from a few years back:

  • Writers (plot and script) $75-120
  • Painted art $150- 350
  • Layouts/Breakdowns $35-100
  • Penciled Art $55-200
  • Background art $10-25
  • Ink Art $45-150
  • Lettering $18-35
  • Lettering on overlay $20-35
  • Coloring art $75-150

Those are some pretty wide ranges, but it gives you an idea. Depending on your abilities, some employers may offer more, some may offer less. If you’re new to professional illustrating, these rates may be a little bit lower for the first few years as you gain experience. After looking at these, I feel that my rates are are actually rather low in a lot of cases, but they do fluctuate a lot. I take different variables into account before submitting a quote: the time frame involved, the complexity of the art, what style of coloring is needed (digital vs watercolor), who keeps the original art, what my other commitments are at the time of production, and anything else that may be a factor. Don’t forget that communication can eat up a lot of time, too. Sending emails, making phone calls, creating invoices – these things will eat up your time faster than you can imagine! Sometimes my rates are higher, sometimes they are lower. But I always quote what is fair to me based on the needs of the project. And see, writers should be getting paid a fair wage, too. But that’s a story for another time…


Arguments can be made against these numbers based on the quality of an artist’s work, but I’m talking about high quality, professional type work here. I see too many employers wanting professional quality work but are not willing to pay for it, or I see artists not knowing what their own work is actually worth. It’s time we artists put an end to this. We need to stick together and insist on FAIR rates. Sure, some potential employers will probably pass on you, but that’s a risk that we all must take otherwise the profession will continue to be taken advantage of. So let’s band together and start charging fair wages. Start charging what your time and your work is worth. Remember that your skills and talents should be compensated the same as any other profession. If you know an artist who isn’t charging enough, give ‘em a heads up. Let’s educate one another and help spread the word. We can make a difference, but we have to work together at it.

By Michael Yakutis, Making Comics (dotCom) Community Liaison


17 Responses to “It’s Called Freelancing – Part 3”

  1. JoKeR

    A very good read …well written.
    I have to agree.

    wasn’t aware that many artist work for fame and honour and peanuts alone.

    • Michael Yakutis


      Heh, well for me, when I worked on projects for next to nothing in the past, I often did so in hopes that it would lead to something else or I could add the work to my portfolio. A) I have never once had a non-paying gig lead to another gig of any kind and B) I could have added my own work to my portfolio.

      • JoKeR

        That’s the point…

        “Hey sure I work for free, no wait I will pay to work for you, because your name is so important for my portfolio!!!”
        An employer’s wet dream.

  2. Kanela

    This is soo true.
    I was lucky to find an esplendid author/boss/comic-partner who really appreciates my work and pays me decently.
    Next to him I’ve learned a lot about the trade and I continue to improve, making my job rewarding and his money worth it (:

    • Michael Yakutis

      Lol! Well it all depends on what your arrangement is with your artist. I think all is well so long as nobody is being taken advantage of, which I doubt is the case in your situation 🙂

  3. Sinclair Gray

    Part 2 is the best part of this series, I wish part 3 had more in it. All in all the series was a great read.

    When I opened a stand to do Caricatures on weekends to buy supplies I originally was going to do $5 per image, “tables cost $12 but decided to go with $9. To undercut others by a dollar in the low income area did me wonders. I charged 7 for grey, 9 for grey and one color and 15 for full color. Full color sold really well, the people who thought I over charged changed their mind once they saw how much work went into one page. So standing your ground really works.

    • Michael Yakutis

      Drat, how’d I miss your comment?

      Thanks, I’m glad you like the blog. I originally wrote it as one loooong post, but due to it’s ridiculous length I split it up into 3 parts.

      And yes, standing your ground works. And you should never have to sacrifice quality because you are forced into low rates. People will remember you for your work, not how much you charge.

  4. buffylove

    So if every restaurant banded together and agreed to charge at least $20 for a hamburger and $20 for fries you think people would start paying $20 for Mcdonald’s burger and another $20 for fries? And you don’t see any other economic consequences?

    You also think it is reasonable for artists to expect someone creating an independent work at the beginning stages of a company to pay the same as established companies?

    Or would it be better to compare an artist with an actor, where Hollywood and Broadway might have established minimum rates, but indy movies and local plays will vary from no pay to decent pay, but you do it because you are trying to build your business and if you can’t land that HW contract right away you just might have to pay some dues and work your way up?

    Or maybe artists would be better off taking a real business class so they could understand that they are starting a business (themselves) and come up with a real business plan.

    • Michael Yakutis

      I get what you’re saying, and they are all good points. I’ll first refer back to my statement above “…I’m talking about high quality, professional type work here.”

      This immediately rules out the fast-food comparison, since fast food is low quality garbage food. It’d be like paying the industry standard illustration rates for stick figures.

      And yes, I do feel that companies that are just starting out should be willing to pay the same rates as established companies. It’s not an artist’s fault if one company or client is less established or successful than another.

      The actor comparison is a little more on the mark, but not entirely. I do agree that there is some work involved with an artist creating a name for themselves and having to “pay their dues” so to speak. But that should not suggest that they should have to do $100 quality work for $10. That’s what I’m trying to get at here. If a client wants to hire an artist that does professional, high quality stuff, they need to be willing to pay for it. However, if it’s collaborations only – as I stated, that’s perfectly fine so long as nobody is getting taken advantage of and that the collaboration is a mutual one, rather than an employee/employer relationship. I also feel that indie actors should (usually) get paid a lot more, because there are a lot of extremely talented ones out there. I understand that often times this is not an option, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right or fair. A lot of people get taken advantage of and a lot of talent goes to waste in the film industry, much like with freelance illustrators.

      I don’t feel like artists need to take “real” business classes in order to develop their careers. Sure, it wouldn’t hurt, but to be completely honest with you, going to college was one of the worst choices I ever made. You learn way more through your own trial and error in real life than you do sitting in a classroom. So I couldn’t really vouch for artists taking business classes. To use your analogies above, would you suggest all actors take business classes? Would it actually help them in their career as work for hire? Or how about all writers looking to hire artists? It’s rather unfair to assume that the methods freelancers use to find work would not be considered a “real” business plan simply because too many employers out there don’t offer fair rates. That kind of thinking defends the idea that it’s ok for people to get paid less than minimum wage just because an employer can’t (or wont) pay adequate wages. Again, I’m not talking about mutual collaborations. I’m talking about work for hire contractor/client or employee/employer relationships.

      If you have suggestions on how artists can improve their business strategies, please share. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks! 

  5. The Code Crimson

    This has been a brilliant series of articles that is much needed by all creative professionals overall, not just artists. I come from the writing/editing side of things, and see the same practices happening there all too often. If we want to be taken seriously as professionals, and if we want luxuries like food and electricity in our lives, then we need to come up with an internal hourly rate per project and stick to it!

    I’m not cheap, I won’t consider a project if I’m not making at least $18 – $25 an hour except under very special circumstances, but I still find plenty of clients. Don’t be afraid to charge what you are worth. Part of the problem with making a webcomic, which usually barely covers its own expenses, is that people start to feel that since they are doing so much for free, their work is valueless. Not at all! I consider my comic a way to practice my craft, showcase my talents, build my portfolio, and make new contacts. By that standard, it has been a huge success, even if I never make a dime.

    • Michael Yakutis

      Well said! And thanks for providing those rates. I think they are more than reasonable. Good writing is hard to come by, and I feel that writers have it harder than illustrators when it comes to finding work.

  6. Dale

    Actually, I think taking a business class is a good idea. I’m an Assistant Professor at Nashville State Community College, where I’m building and teaching their Web Design and Multimedia Associate degree program. Learning a skill set is the first step. I have my students do some free work so they can learn how to communicate with a client and implement a proposal, create and manage a schedule, etc. Knowing what to charge is a tricky one. Once you know you can do the work, and do it on time, then charging a fair rate is imperative to survive. A business class would help to learn how to research the market, and figure out what good business practices are.

    Case in point, my wife and I have a small bakery (she’s the baker. I’m the web guy, designed the logo, packaging, etc) We discovered that regardless of how “special” our products are, the consumer will only pay so much for a pastry item. So the coffee shop (our customer) needs to buy it for a particular price in order to make their profit and pay for their overhead. We discovered that our challenge as business people was to figure out how to minimize our costs so that our wholesale prices would still be profitable for us.

    Art works similarly. There is a sweet spot (pun intended). You don’t want to leave money on the table, but the price MUST be within the range of what other professionals are charging. Then the challenge is to work smarter so you make a better hourly wage.

  1. It's Called Freelancing, Not Slavery - Part 2 of 3 - Webcomic Underdogs

    […] Continue to part 3- the final part! […]


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