Many artists start out…and many continue for years…undercharging for their work. A lot has to do with imposter syndrome, which is a whole different post I’ll be writing another time.
For now, let’s talk about how to come up with your prices so you can actually afford to eat.
Look at what other artists who do similar work are charging. Make sure you are comparing like to like – artists working in the same style, same medium, etc. If you’re selling prints of 8×10 watercolors, you don’t want to compare yourself to someone selling full wall-size acrylics originals. If you’re selling bath bombs, don’t compare your prices to someone selling custom leather work. This all may sound obvious, but I’ve seen some weird arguments and comparisons before.
Now, remember, this is research. Information only. Just because someone is selling their prints for $10 each doesn’t mean that has to be what you charge – your costs may be different. There are tons of possible variants from paper type to quantity ordered. Research more than one other artist. Make a spreadsheet. This way, once you have your numbers in mind, you can go back to it and see if your pricing seems to be in a comparable/average range. Some variance is fine.
Cost of supplies
You need to factor in your materials and supplies. This can include everything from paper & canvases to printer ink to paintbrushes to pens to the cost of the software or hardware you use to create your art. Also, even if you buy your supplies on sale, I suggest basing your “cost” on the standard, non-sale prices. You won’t always be able to get the sale price when you restock, so rather than have your prices fluctuate wildly go with the standard price of your supplies for your calculations. Include everything. Even if you think “well that cost me so little, it doesn’t matter”. It does. Trust me.
I’ve seen many artists and creators fall into charging just the cost of their supplies, especially when starting out. Please, PLEASE, pay yourself! This is a JOB, it is your WORK, and you deserve to be paid. At the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM, make sure you’re charging minimum wage for your time. I personally don’t think any artist should be paying themselves less than $20 an hour, and frankly, you deserve more.
The basic formula:
Wage x time to complete + materials = cost for an item
For example, let’s say you spent 8 hours on a painting. The supplies to do this cost you $50.
So your math would look like this: ($20 x 8 hours) + $50 = $210 base price for this original painting.
Another formula I’ve seen used is cost of supplies x 3 – this one can fluctuate widely. Sometimes this comes out pretty close to the other formula and therefore close to fair price, other times it’s vastly different. It all depends on the cost of supplies.
If you want to find a happy medium, you can use both formulas, and then take the two results and find the average between them. Also, like stated before, it can be helpful to compare the numbers you come up with to the research you did on other artists.
Prints vs Originals
Now obviously, if you’re making prints of this original, you’re not going to charge the same price. How do you determine the cost for the prints?
Let’s say you’re testing a print, so you don’t want to order tons, and you stick to a small run of 25 copies. For the sake of this example, we’re going to say that those 25 copies cost you a total of $15 to print, which comes down to costing $0.60 each. Now, remember the $210 we came up with for the original? Divide that by the number of prints (25), add the $0.60, and you have a good base price per print (in this case, $9 – feel free to round it to $10 for ease).
(original price/# of copies) + cost per print = price to sell print
Also, remember, if you’re selling at shows, things like your travel costs and the cost of the table are part of your supply costs and need to be factored in to your pricing!
I know, I’m throwing a lot of math at you.
The key here is to make sure you’re making a reasonable profit because, I will keep repeating this forever, you deserve to make actual money.
A note on people’s opinions of your pricing
Yes, you’re going to get people who question your prices. Please remember, you don’t owe people an explanation of “why” you charge what you charge. If they don’t like your pricing, it’s as simple as saying “I’m sorry you don’t see the value in my work. This is my pricing, it allows me to make a living, this is my job. If it’s too high for you, then you don’t have to buy it.” It sounds harsh, but it’s true. They don’t need a detailed explanation of your materials cost and how little you’re paying yourself hourly. Trust me, they will find a way to try to talk you down in price or make you feel guilty for what you’re charging. If they say “well, I can buy all those materials for this tiny price”, then they are welcome to do that, and make it themselves.
Your artwork, and your merchandise, is WORTH SOMETHING!
1. You are producing something no one else can. Even if there are a hundred other similar items, only you are making artwork like you. That is worth something even if you don’t immediately see it.
2. You aren’t walmart. You are a small business owner and need to charge what you’re worth rather than race to the bottom to see who’s the cheapest. This ties into #1… so what if someone else has acrylic charms for $3. You are the only one selling YOUR art, so price it at it’s worth.
3. Shipping, storage, packaging, presentation, and protection are all worth extra. Your item may only cost $1.50 to produce, but you also spent .10 to upgrade the quality. You spent .50 cents to ship it. You spent another $1 on packaging, and you spent $30 on the display it’s on. You rent your apartment or garage for $500-1500/mo. Your table cost you $300 to rent. Your online store charges you .20 cents per sale plus a transaction fee. Your item will sell at a loss if you sell it for $2 or $3, even if production was less than that. Factor in all these costs when you sell your item. PLUS, your worth. If you spent hours making the design, you deserve some of that in compensation!
4. Perceived value is actual value. Customers who see an artist where everything is $2-3 probably will perceive it as less valuable than the artist who sells everything from $20-30, even if the artist selling cheaper actually puts more time into their work. Perceived value also will change the way a customer approaches your artwork. Will they cherish it and save it and frame it, or will they punch holes through it with a thumbtack, or will they forget it’s in their bag and find it bent up hours later? Sometimes pricing your art higher actually creates DEMAND, because it now looks like it’s worth something.
5. fast sketch does not necessarily = cheap price. Did you spend money on your art education? Are you experienced in your field? Is there a lot of demand for your artwork? Do you work professionally with many clients? Did it take you years and hours to develop your style and speed? All of these are separate from how long it takes you to draw. Which is why a 10 minute sketch might be worth $40 rather than minimum wage x time spent drawing.
6. We are all in this together. If you fight with your neighbors on who can price art the cheapest to get the fastest sales, you are fighting a downhill battle which will ultimately make ALL of your artwork worth far less. Instead, look at an artist and go “Wait a minute? They charge HOW MUCH? That means I can charge that much, too” When I sit in a row of artists charging what they’re worth, I notice that ALL of us make far more sales than if we underprice one another.
This also reflects in the market, too. If a client who wants to charge $1000 for 24 illustrations is turned down by countless artists they’ll realize they have unrealistic expectations. When people start seeing the $ sign, instead of factoring in their time and energy and take these low paying jobs, these clients will become upset when they see the artist they really wanted turning them down. Obviously artists from different countries will price differently, BUT, if you’re selling to someone in a different country with a higher dollar value, ask for that higher value! You’re competing against THEIR dollar rather than your country’s dollar at that point. Same goes for pricing commissions online.