It’s obvious, but knowing what to charge for your work is crucial if you want to make a living from illustration. Many beginners undercharge, as I did when I was starting out. The fact was I didn’t have to rely on the freelance income; I was still a highschool student living with my parents when I started freelance illustration (part-time) in 2007. But now I have to charge prices that I can make a living on, and the following is the simplest formula to figure them out.
For the sake of simplicity, all fees here are in Euro, and gross (before taxes). It is also assumed that your drawing skills are solid enough to carry your style that is unique and matured enough to have become, so to speak, your „brand“.
First, figure out how much you need each month.
This will vary very greatly, depending on where you live and what living standard you aspire to keep up. In Hamburg, Germany, a modest single person household with no car and few vacations can live comfortably on 2000 euros a month. (before taxes) A government employee, such as a judge, can support their family and keep a car or two easily on 5000 euros a month.
Secondly, figure out how long your standard work takes you.
Pick a few pieces from your portfolio: How long did it take you to paint each one?
For example, you have a very detailed, refined digital painting with lots of things and several characters in it, and it took you 30 hours to paint. When you add the time it takes to exchange e-mails with your client, the time to promoting yourself, taking care of your portfolio(s), paperwork, taxes, etc., you may conclude that you can manage one such painting per week.
That means, at the very most, you can do four paintings per month.
Thus if you want to earn 2400 euros per month, each of these paintings must cost at least 600 euros.
Use the same formula to calculate prices for all types of work in your portfolio. Do not rely on my examples, because financial needs have many, very individual factors.
Of course, when you are a professional you may have to add VAT on top of these prices (this varies by country. Ask your local tax office!).
Want to earn 3000 euros per month and can paint ten face-head-shoulder portraits every month? So each needs to cost at least 300 euros.
You are drawing comics and happy with 1800 euros a month. You can churn out 15 pages per month. 1800 divided by 15 = 120 euro per page.
You want to support a family of four on 4000 euros a month. You work fast and can draw 40 digitally colored advertising layout panels a month. So each of these should cost 100 euros.
A word on usage fees:
In my prices thus calculated, one-time usage rights or exclusive usage rights restricted to the client’s one particular need, one medium or work are usually included, and I reserve the right to use my work for promotional purposes and re-license it for all other usages. If someone wants more usage rights (such as for all media, or in all eternity), it becomes more expensive.