Updated: Nov 7, 2022
So you want to be a commission artist?
Being a commission artist is no bed of roses. Like any other line of work (or hobby), you're bound to run into some common bumps on this road.
This blog post is made exclusively to help commission artists jump those bumps; either by preparing new commission artists or by giving new inspiration to experienced commission artists. This is going to be a lengthy post, so feel free to use the chapter overview below to navigate to the section(s) you need to find.
Some of the text in this blog post is taken directly from the script of the video above; however a lot of info was cut from the video to save time, and all that extra information has been added to this blog post. So even if you watched the video; you will find loads of new information below.
What about the old commission videos I made?
They're still valid - I stand by the information provided in these popular videos. However, they're outdated.
They're at least 3 years old now, and I've become more experienced and gathered
much more knowledge on the subject of commissions. Some of the core messages
conveyed in my new video "The Ultimate Commission Guide for Artists" are the same as in the old videos, however from an updated perspective.
So if you watch the old videos, or have watched them previously, you'll still find new and relevant information in this blog post as well as in my updated video.
This blog post is not sponsored or affiliated in any way. My video "The Ultimate Commission Guide for Artists" is sponsored by Artistree.io, however, this blog post is not. Everything mentioned in this post is mentioned on my own initiative. Neither are any of the links affiliate links.
Main sections (with more topics in-between)
Commission Info Resources for Download (Free Resource)
Terms of Service (Free Resource)
Who, how, and where to find clients (Free Resource available)
My background as a Commission Artist
I started pretty much the same way as many other artists. Once I started feeling somewhat confident with my art, I started drawing for others. In the beginning, it was mostly for friends - and just for fun! Then I started accepting on-site currency (not real money, but site-specific currency) on a website called GaiaOnline so that I could dress my site avatar in fancy clothes.
Here are some of my earliest (paid with site-specific currency) commissions:
Mind you, this was way back when I was just a teenager. Moving on, I took a few commissions a year whenever someone approached me while I was 20 - 25 years old. I was feeling very lucky to have someone seek me out and ask for my services. I got much more involved in commission work throughout my late 20s from 2016 - 2018. I only did personal commissions up until this point; mainly drawing family portraits, fanart from popular animated series as well as people's original characters (OCs) or portraits.
Personal/private commissions: Commissions done for "ordinary" people like you and me. In short it means that the commissions were for the customer's own personal use. Personal commissions often include original characters, fanart, portraits, pets, etc.
Then, in 2019 I started getting approached by small and larger businesses asking for my services. And thus, pretty much ended my personal commission career. I am now (almost) exclusively doing professional commission work for businesses (regardless of the business' size). So far I have been lucky to have created artwork for Netflix, Netflix Nordic, Galdra Studios, as well as other small creative businesses and independent creators not unlike myself.
Professional/business commissions: Even though all paid commission work can be considered "professional commissions", I like to simplify the terms and use "professional commissions" when the artist is commissioned by a company or professional individual. Basically, when the finished artwork will be used in business relations. Professional commissions often include book- and magazine covers and/or illustrations, promotional artwork, fanart, etc.
In short; I have done paid commissions since 2006/2007. I've been on that journey and I know what it looks like to get started and later evolve. So I will consider myself quite experienced in the field of art commissions, both personal and professional ones. This blog post will mainly focus on personal commissions since it is typically where artists start their careers/paths as commission artists.
What is a commission?
In online creative communities, a commission is referred to as a requested piece of work for which the creator has received payment. In the art community specifically, it means that someone, a customer or a client, is paying an artist for their artwork. When artists announce that their commissions “are open”, it means they are currently taking on paid work.
What’s very common in the art community, is that an artist with commissions open will upload or display sort of a menu with products and prices. Now, not all artists show their prices on their menu, some will require their clients to reach out and describe their inquiries before the artist will give them a price. But we’ll talk much more about pricing further down.
This menu is most commonly referred to as an artist’s Commission Info because it holds all the information about the artist’s different commission types. Commission types are the different variations of artwork that artists offer (in the example above; portrait, half-body, and full-body). Commission types can vary a lot from artist to artist, but there are also some recurring ones among the majority of artists. Here’s a pretty classic example of an artist’s commission info:
Commission Types & Croppings
(Example #1 above 👆) This fictional artist is offering three kinds of commission types: A portrait/bust, a half-body/thigh-up, and a full-body. These three commission types have two variations; sketch/lineart and colored. Additionally, the artist offers something called “Extras”, which can include additional characters, pets, or companions as well as backgrounds - all of which add to the total price of the commission.
(Example #2 below 👇) This fictional artist here is offering a wide variety of artwork and prices to their customers. A lot of artists like to include a less expensive type of commission, so they can appeal to a broader group of clients. Hence, why a sketch is an option, and why all backgrounds are add-ons.
Below (Example #3 👇) is another pretty classic example of commission info. This fictional artist does not offer as many types of commissions as the previous one - they prefer to only do fully colored illustrations and they base their commission types on whether the background is simple or detailed primarily, and then the client can choose the character’s cropping as well.
Other popular variations that artists choose to have for their commission types are:
Simple shading and/or cel-shading
Fully rendered artwork
Artstyle - which style they are drawing in (some artists draw in various art styles)
Animatics and animations
Comic pages (Per page or per panel rates)
YCH (your character here)
Depending on what kind of artwork/content you like to create, you should base your commission types on that. I personally, don’t really do anything less than fully colored and rendered, so instead, I would offer different croppings and background variations, to be able to offer different prices.
Do's and Don'ts
Lastly, something you will commonly see in an artist’s commission info is their Do’s and Don’ts lists. Some artists will add a list of themes that they’re not offering to draw. It could be stuff such as; violence, NSFW, mechas, or certain animals. Likewise, they might add a list of themes they love to be hired to draw, such as couples of all genders, animal features (ears, tail, etc.), fanart, your OC, etc.
Commission Info Inspiration
I'd like to share some inspiration and resources for setting up your commission info. If you use a platform like Artistree.io, Fiverr, Ko-Fi or Etsy, etc; everything is being handled for you on their site. Easy peasy 🍋✊ However, you still need to set up some graphics for all your social media platforms, and that is where I want to help!
Inspiring commission info examples:
Ponfetti on Artstation has created an amazing animated commission info image
Patricia Vi Arts (aka. KIWI) has made an excellent and informative commission page featuring beautiful artwork
NebulaRobo has a very unique and colorful way of presenting their commission info
VeronicaDraws created a simple yet very aesthetic design for their commission info images
AnneSophart has turned their commission info into a graphical collage that's easy to read and pleasing to look at
GrapeyGuts turned an entire webpage into their commission info, almost like a collage. They've also included a contact field right there on the page.
SheepsArtJournal also created a very pretty but still easy-to-read commission image with variation examples
And these artists' commission info images and pages are just a tiny handpicked portion of what's out there. Go and ask Uncle Google for "Commission info" under images and see the beauty and creativity unfold for yourself!
Commission Info Resources for Download
Feel free to use and customize these templates for your commission info. No credit is needed 🥰
How to Price your Commissions
There are always two questions echoing in my inbox and DMs when it comes to commission work; What should I charge for my commissions and I don't get any commissions/orders - what should I do? Let's first look into pricing your commissions.
First of all; don’t spend too much energy on finding the one and only correct price for your commissions, your prices are going to change anyway, so there is no point speculating too much about whether or not it’s the perfect price. What’s more important is to find a price you are comfortable with and that supports you with the amount you need.
What determines a price?
Prices for commissions vary a lot and depend on so many factors. For instance; are you taking commissions for fun or is it your job? Meaning; are you dependent on the money or not? Do you have previous experience working as an artist? What's your skill level like? If commissions are part of your work, is it full-time or part-time? How long does it take you to draw? How much do you pay in taxes, how big are your bills, etc… There are so many factors and they're different for each and every one of us.
However, one factor that all artists should include/consider when pricing their work, is time. Make it a habit to start time-tracking your art. Take the commission types that you offer and start noting down how long it takes you to draw the different types. And remember to add 1-2 hours on top, which counts as the time you spend talking back and forth with your client. If your time tracking varies a lot, you can always just take an average.
Here’s an example using some random numbers - we'll use this data for our calculation below:
Calculate a price based on an hourly wage
Now we can calculate a price based on an hourly wage. But what is your hourly wage? I like to start out with a number close to the minimum wage - simply because this results in the absolute minimum price you should charge for your commission. If you're a somewhat established/experienced artist, don't make yourself work for less than minimum wage. Please.
For this example, I'll be using a number close to the minimum hourly wage in the United States; $7.50 (at the time of posting this blog post, the minimum hourly wage in the United States is $7.25). I will suggest you look at the minimum hourly wage where you're currently located and do your own calculation.
Example: Half-body (8 hours) + Complex background (2 hours) + Communication with client (1 hour)
= 11 hours totally spent
So, based on the data above, for a commission of a single character, half-body cropping with a complex background; the time spent runs up to approx. 11 hours including time talking to the client.
Example - continued: 11 hours x $7.50 = $82.50
Then I multiply the 11 hours by the hourly wage of $7.50 - and thus I should charge $82,50 for this commission. And mind you, this is based on an hourly wage close to the minimum wage. Luckily for you, are probably an independent artist or a hobby artist, so you don’t have to work for a minimum wage - you can charge whatever you want. Because remember, the $82.50 is only for the time spent working on the commission and 1 hour talking to your client. If doing commissions is part of your work/job, you still have to think about taxes, being able to put money aside, insurance, etc. It’s less relevant if you’re less or not at all dependent on the income from your commissions.
Advice for Pricing your Commissions
So aside from the calculation I just presented, here is some general advice I like to give when I’m asked about how to price commissions.
Look at artists with a similar art style and/or skill level as yourself
...and take note of their prices. Getting inspired by others’ prices can lead to a good starting point, but just remember, those prices you’re looking at, are probably tailored to the specific artist’s aspects of life. The factors determining their prices may be very different from yours - so only use them for inspiration.
Example: You see an artist with a similar style and skill level charge $60 for a commission. You know that this type of commission would take you 6 hours to create. Now you can calculate your hourly wage by dividing the $60 by your time spent:
60$ / 6 hours = Hourly wage of $10
Now ask yourself (and be honest): "Am I willing to work for $10 an hour? Can I support myself the amount I need, working for $10 an hour?" If the answer is "No", then adjust the hourly wage until you can say "Yes". This is just one way to find your hourly wage, but it might work for you.
Make a backward calculation
If you have a monthly income you’d like to achieve from commissions, let’s say $800 for instance, try to calculate how many commissions you need to take on every month in order to meet your goal. You can do that with a backward calculation.
First, take your cheapest commission type’s base price and divide it by your goal:
Example: Cheapest commission you offer is $60 and your monthly goal is $800 from commission work: $800 / $60 = 14 (rounded up)
So 14 of your cheapest type of commission. Now do the same for your most expensive type’s base price (e.g. $140):
Example - continued: $800 / $140 = 6 (rounded up)
So to reach your goal, you’ll need to take 6 of your most expensive commission type based on the minimum price. Assuming you’ll get a lot of different kinds of commissions, the average amount of commissions you’d need to do monthly to reach the goal of $800, based on the example prices, would be approx. 10 commissions.
And remember to again ask yourself: Is it even realistic that I can do 6-14 commissions a month? The prices and hours should ultimately be based on your specific needs and available work hours.
Start lower and increase with time
If you’re brand new at taking commissions and never priced your work before, I will suggest starting a bit lower and increasing your prices as you start to gain traffic. Try to calculate using the minimum wage, if that’s a possible scenario for you. If you find your commission slots filling up faster than you can keep up with, or if you start having people on a waitlist, that’s a good indicator that your prices should be higher. Basically, as your art gets more in demand, you can raise your hourly wage. I used to update my prices approx. once a year.
Don’t get pressured into charging less for your art
Some people make up the craziest stories about their relatives or pets dying or being sick just so you will feel bad and lower your prices for them. Others might "threaten" to go to another artist, who can do it cheaper than you. Some might even have the audacity to lecture you about "how bad your art is", and "how you should charge less or nothing at all". These are all scumbag trash people and they are not worth one second of your precious time. Don’t give in to them - just ignore them and block them right away if possible.
You should also consider charging more if the client wishes to use your work commercially. It’s not so common among personal commissions, but if a company or a small business like an author approaches you, they are likely interested in using your work in business relations. That could, for instance, be drawing a comic for a writer, doing illustrations for a book or a magazine, or drawing a logo. Personal commission clients may also want to use your art commercially. For instance by being able to use your art for t-shirts, prints, etc.
In these cases, you should charge more on top of your final price. If you use a platform like Artistree.io to host and take commissions on, you are actually protected by Artistree's terms of service (ToS): According to Artistree’s terms of service, a client is not allowed to use your work commercially until your approval has been granted. If your work is not protected by the platform you're using, then you have to make sure of this yourself. I'll get back to this further down when I shortly address custom terms of service.
When I sell a commercial license (the right to use the work commercially), I usually base the price on the size of the client’s business or the scope of the commercial use. For personal commissions, I usually straight up do not allow commercial use. For small businesses like independent authors or other artists, the fee is much lower compared to the fee for a large business. For large businesses, it is not unheard of to charge 50-70% of the commission’s price on top of the total price. I have even witnessed cases where the commercial license costs over 300% of the commission's price for big corporations.
Consider restricting the commercial license
If you sell commercial rights to a very large business or someone who wants to e.g. mass-produce products with your designs with great economical gain in mind, you can sell a limited/restricted license. For instance; you can state that the client is allowed to print a specific amount of products with your design, and after the amount has been reached, they will need to purchase another license. Or you can time-limit the license. For instance; if your client wants to use your design for advertisement, you can state that the client may only use the design commercially for X weeks/months/years.
Pricing your commissions - Summary:
So to sum up; make sure you are comfortable with the prices you’re charging. Try to avoid undervaluing yourself. You put a lot of time, effort, and yourself into your work and it is worth paying for. Make sure your prices reflect your circumstances - do you need to charge extra due to high taxes or living expenses? Then remember to include that in your base prices. And lastly; avoid bidding wars. Don’t engage in or with others trying to outbid each other. It’s damaging to our art community and only feeds into a toxic perception that artists’ works are not worth a lot.
Remember that art is a luxury. Not everyone can afford it and it is definitely not your problem.
How to get paid for your commissions
Then there’s always the question of how, when, and where to get paid. Your options will differ depending on where in the world you are located. If, for instance, you're only accepting domestic commissions (inside your own country) you probably have some familiar and easy payment options. However, if you take on commissions from all over the world, the scenario might look a bit different.
How/where to get paid?
Here are some popular services that artists use to get paid for their commission work (please note that this data was collected from various sources online and based on the results found at the time of posting this blog post - all prices are shown in $USD):
Can also host commission info?
0% (No fees)
+ $2.00 ****
2.9% + 30¢ per transaction (if paid by card)
Listing fee: 20¢ per listing
+ Transaction fee: 6.5%
+ Payment processing fee: 3% + $0.25 per transaction
+ Off-side Ads fee 12% - 15% **
+ Currency conversion fee: 2.5% (This is getting ridiculous)
Transaction fee: 6.5%***
2.9% - 9%*****
+ 30¢ per transaction
(Possibly Transaction and/or Payment processing fees)
Non-Gold member: 5%
Gold member: 0%
+ Ko-Fi transaction fee
(Possibly Transaction and/or Payment processing fees)
+ 30¢ per transaction
(Possibly Transaction and/or Payment processing fees)
* If the price of the commission is less than $100, an extra $2.60 USD is added.
** Offsite Ads (for high-volume sellers): 12%transactiontransaction
*** Honestly I searched Google for an hour and I didn't manage to find an answer on whether or not Etsy customers pay a fee. It was indicated that there might be a transaction fee, however, I'm not 100% sure.
**** As of March 2021, the service fees are 5.5% of the purchase amount. For purchases under US$50, an additional US$2 small order fee will be applied.
***** The fee/cut depends on your "lifetime earnings milestone" on Gumroad
A word of caution if you accept payment through PayPal
You will sometimes see artists charge their clients the PayPal transaction fees on top of the commission's price, or ask their clients to send the money as a personal transaction via PayPal. That is actually a violation against Paypal’s Terms of Service, and by doing these things, you are putting your Paypal account at risk. They may choose to restrict or close down your account.
When to get paid?
Unfortunately, it’s very common that artists aren’t paid until they’ve finished the artwork, and sometimes, sadly, it results in the customer ghosting the artist. I will always advise getting at least 50% of the price upfront and then the remaining 50% after finishing the work but before handing over the final file.
I actually prefer to get the entire amount up front. Some customers might not have bad intentions at all, but they might still not be able to pay the remaining amount when the time comes for whatever reason (extra bills, forgetting the commission, etc). I usually accept the payment when I'm ready to start on the commission, not immediately when reserving the spot for the client/accepting the commission. However there is not one correct way to go about this, so you should find a way that makes you comfortable.
What about commission refunds/cancellations?
I've had to cancel and refund a few commissions in my time as an active commission artist. Mostly because there was a mismatch between me and the client that none of us discovered at the early stages of the commission. Other times the commission may have seen simple in the beginning, but would later turn into too many iterations and changes - with the time now spent going back and forth no longer being worth the payment. And sometimes, well, something urgent gets in the way and I had to cancel.
In most cases (like almost all cases) where I was the one to cancel the commission, I would issue my client a full refund if they already paid for the commission. Luckily for me, I do not recall a single time when my client canceled the commission after I started on it. However, I have been a close witness to such things happening. And, additionally, I have also been ghosted once or twice by a client who needed to pay after the work had been done.
So, here are two ways I would go about it today:
I would charge 100% of the price upfront and let my client know how many revisions (rounds of editing) are included in that price. For additional revision rounds, I would then charge a fee (and please let your client know this beforehand). Additionally, I would add something called a Kill Fee. A kill fee is a fixed fee that the client pays in case they cancel the commission after you started working on it. Some may base the kill fee on how far they are with the commission (or how many hours they poured into it). For example: You charge $100 for a commission. The kill fee is $30 for the sketch, $50 for linework, and $75 for flat colors. After flat colors, you charge the full amount even if the client cancels (depending on your custom cancellation policy of course). So if the client decides to cancel the commission after receiving the sketch, you only refund them $70 (Full amount $100 - the kill fee for sketch $30 = $70).
I would charge 50% upfront and start working on the commission. Then when the client has approved the sketch/draft/whatever your early stage is, you charge the remaining 50% before you finish. You can also charge the remaining at a later point. The downside to this method, especially if you use Paypal or Stripe, is that you need to pay the transaction fees two times - which is kinda dumb, don't you think?
And I've also seen plenty of artists straight-up not allowing cancellations after they've begun the work, which is also a valid solution.
General Commission Advice
In this section, I'd like to give some general commission advice and pointers for new and experienced artists alike.
Have good communication with your clients. The best way to avoid unpleasant commission experiences is by having good and honest communication. If, for instance, you’re falling behind, either due to illness or sudden changes in your workload, your clients will like to know. Yes, it can be daunting to have to write an apology saying the commission will be late, but it’s better than not saying anything at all, leaving your clients in the dark. So have good and honest communication. Leaving someone in the dark for an extended period of time can be interpreted as you trying to scam them, so just send a little update if you're going beyond the timeframe you have established with your client.
Consider having custom Terms of Service
It is definitely not necessary, but having some written Terms of Service (ToS) can protect you, your work as well as your client.
I would send my Terms of Service as a PDF and have the client agree to them, or I would add them to the page where I host my commission info, and have the client agree to them as they placed the commission order.
Below are my old terms of service for personal commissions. You are free to copy, alter what is necessary, and use them as your own terms. You don't have to ask first, just take them 🤲
(You can skip the Payment section if you use a platform that handles payments for you)
01 - General Terms
02 - Payment
03 - Process
04 - Revisions
05 - Copyright