April 13, 2012

How to Artist Alley: Pricing and You

I originally had this as part of the "Products" posting, but decided that it needed it's own spot.

A question I see a lot on forum boards is "How much should I charge for my products?" This is a really hard to determine category, because in all honesty, this will be different for every person. Not only does it have to do with the cost of materials and time, but also includes your reputation as an artist and your personal abilities and perceived level of skill.

How to Artist Alley:
Determining Prices
a.k.a. How can I make back my booth fee?

I talk a lot about how your booth is your "extension as an artist" and that "you're not going to make a living solely off a booth like this" and other random idyllic-sounding phrases. And I do mean every one of them. But we also need to face the harsh reality that if you're not at least making back your convention fees, you are just throwing money down a hole. And that's just silly.

Art prices have always been a touchy subject for artists and patrons alike. The buyers want things as cheap as possible (it's so easy for you to make!) and the artists want to charge for their time and experience (It took me 15 hours to draw the original!). So the best we can do is to find a happy medium in the convention world - don't overcharge, but don't shortchange yourself.

WARNING: Convention Artist's Alley Pricing will end up being DRASTICALLY LOWER than if you were in an actual art show with actual prints from a high quality printer that big giant professionals use. Just getting that out there right now. So if you're thinking that you want to start charging the prices you see artists at local art fairs charge.... you aren't going to sell a thing. Unless you've already got a huge following and reputation. 

So anyway. Pricing.

One of the first things you can do, it at least get a feel for what Artist's Alleys tend to sell at. Before deciding to jump into this, take a look around a few. Make some notes, talk to the artists, and analyze their own prices. Is that something you'd pay? Or would you want something lower (rationally)? I will continue to emphasize: BE HONEST.

Some Average Alley Pricing I Can Recall

  • Cell Phone Charms/Keychains: $3 - $5 (depending on size)
  • Bookmarks: $2 - $3
  • Buttons: $1 - $3 (depending on size/artwork)
  • Prints 5x7: $3 - $5
  • Prints 8x10: $5 - $10
  • Prints 11x17: $5 - $15

Thoughts on Numbers

People's perception of numbers has a lot to do with pricing. It sounds weird, but I wanted to put it up here before we get into the math. At conventions, many people (thankfully) carry cash with them. That means anything that's a whole number is great! (None of this $0.99 crap stores like to throw). So here are some numbers that I find work well:
  • $2
  • $3
  • $5
  • $10
  • $12
  • $15
  • $20
  • $25
as you can see, most of these are standard US bill denominations. Why do they work so well? LESS THOUGHT INVOLVED - they don't have to count a bunch of bills - they just pull out a 5 and call it a day. I have found that $25 tends to be the limit on an item, unless it's big and you can describe as an artist why it costs so much. If you can justify the price, the customer might buy it, otherwise, it's getting into expensive territory and unless you have a good rep, they won't pick it up.

Also - people love a deal. If you can say "get TWO for.." or "Buy X and get a FREE one!" they'll probably be apt to figure out what else they want to buy to get the deal. Example: my little buttons are $2 a piece, but you can get two of them for $3.

So How Do I Determine a Price?

It's tough. I'm going to admit right now that I'm not going to give you an easy or direct answer. It's something you must determine for yourself. But I can at least give you the factors I keep in mind when I start coming up with a price, and at least describe what each one is.

Cost of Material per Item
This is probably the easiest to figure out of all the factors. You save your receipts, and then take the total cost and divide it by how many items you made with it. It's a little more difficult with fluid materials like paint, resin, general art media like markers or pencils. Those tend to be.... negligible. Each math'll be different, but I wanted to point this out to you. ALSO: include things like packaging in "Cost of materials".  

If you can determine the amount it costs per item, that gives you a minimum you should be charging. 

On a side note - it's also best to work up to the quality level of your supplies. An example I see a lot of is with jewlery (steampunk or otherwise). They'll put their pieces together using premium gems, stones, antique pieces, and crystals - which is great and can definitely make things look better - but I'll find they just string em on a strand like regular beads. They're not focal points, or add to aesthetic quality of the piece. They look like they're there to add money (and often are advertised as such). So think about your quality of materials vs the final product. Does it look like it can carry the name of whatever brand your using?

Amount of Time Required to Make
How long does it take you to make these items? Remember when I talked about getting familiar with making your products? Well, here's where it's vital.

I usually like to think about it as $10 per hour at least (that's kind of a professional minimum wage). HOWEVER this will inflate your prices way too much. But it's good to think about. (and keep in mind for commissions)

Now, is this a product that takes copious amounts of work - or is it something you make in like 30 minutes? If it takes you hours, then $5 for that item is probably a bit too low. Just sayin'. Be honest with your work, and learn to work efficiently so you don't feel like your shortchanging yourself. 

Also, if your product is taking you days to make.... it might not be the best idea for a product. Unless that's the kind of products you're advertising. Chances are likely that there is a more efficient way to do what you're doing.

Example: for my Pokemon Badge Sets, I used to hand cut out and slice every insert. I had to outsource to my friends to work on it during game cause it made my arm die. Realizing I'd be making tons of these, I saved up, got a cricut machine and programmed it to CUT IT FOR ME. now I just fold and tape, and I'm ready to go. This saves me HOURS of work. (and my friends don't get as irritated with me)

Level of Perceived Skill
Time for that "honesty" talk again. For all my lamenting on my own skill, I have a somewhat Zen-like attitude towards art. My general thoughts on art are as such:

1.) There will always be somebody better than you. Learn from them.

2.) There will always be somebody worse than you. Help them.

This does not mean that you walk up to a artist better than you and demand they tell you how they made their artwork, nor does it give you a licence to walk up to a "worse" artist and start critiquing their work. That's a fast way to get labeled a jerk.

What it DOES mean is that you should make friends with artists of all levels and through your camaraderie, you'll all get better. BUT I DIGRESS.

What I really wanted to talk about how others will look at your art, and how that determines your price. Here's some things to think about:

  • Do you have a clear, unique style that's your own? - Do you look like you're just copying the style of Naruto or One Piece? Or have you created some strange amalgam of styles? The more you have your own style, the more you'll look "original", and really, it prevents people from claiming you're a "tracer". (Don't be one of those. I'll talk about it later.)

    Note: You may start off with one style (we all do, really), but the more you draw, the more you experiment, and the more unique your style gets. It's really just about how much experience you have.

  • Are your lines and/or colors crisp and clean to your particular style? - Are you consistent in your art style? Do they all look like they came from your hand? Do they look like you are "confident" or "comfortable" in using that media/style? .

  • Are you consistent in your art style? - Do you use similar proportions? Do you have a specific way of outlining or coloring? Even when using varying media, your abilities will bleed into each type. The less consistent you are, the more people might question your art. (see "tracer" comment above)

    Then you'll also have to deal with picky customers who want to root through EVERY PRINT YOU HAVE to make sure they're buying the best one. This is a grand pet peeve of mine - so if you keep it consistent, they can't argue with you about it.

All these questions can be applied to 2D or 3D artwork,
I just tend to emphasize 2D cause I draw.

If you're a relatively inexperienced artist, it'll probably show. So where you might want to charge $10 for that 8x10 print, you probably won't sell it for that much. (I made this mistake back in the day). Something like $5 might fit better for a lower level of skill.

I'm NOT saying that if you're inexperienced, don't enter. NO. What I AM saying is that you'll need to realistically price your products. Getting them to move off your table is the first step to building an audience. 

Also - get another person's opinion on your art. Show it to people who don't know how to draw, see what they think. You might be surprised. You might also find where you'd need to improve. :) (and don't tell me you draw perfect, cause EVERYBODY can improve, even the best of the best)

And when they give their "honest" opinion - don't think that it'll always be sunshine and flowers. I've found some of the most insightful comments come from non artists. (Things like "his arm looks funny", or "they all look the same")

Supply and Demand
This usually comes into play after you've sold your products at least one convention. How quickly did they move? Do you want to make tons of these all the time? Was the price worth your effort?

The more people want a product, the more they'll probably be willing to pay (within reason), this also goes along with the better quality, the more they'd be willing to pay. So you have to think, "I just sold 10 of these in 30 minutes. I might have priced it a little too low" OR you may go "I made 30 and have only sold 3 between 5 convention trips. I think they're too expensive." 

It takes a few trips to hit that sweet spot.

Do you have followers? Do you have books published? These are just a couple of items to think about for this category. Now, it's not giving you a license to gouge them (that's just awful), but you can certainly charge higher rates for your higher level of popularity. It's kind of like getting a raise at your workplace for being there for X number of years and proving your worth.

Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT change your prices repeatedly throughout the day.
If you want to lower your prices wait until Sunday. If you keep changing the price,
you may get angry customers demanding their extra money back.

Commission Prices

The last thing I wanted to talk about was commission pricing. Many artists will have "on-the-spot" commissions. This could be custom buttons, badges, keychains, whatever. This is where you can really get burned if you price too high or too low.

Here's some of my general commission rules:

RULE #1 - Have a limited number of "commission spots" available.
Unless your commissions only take you an exceedingly SHORT amount of time (custom buttons, photos, ID cards, etc) you're going to need a sign up list. Be realistic on your speed, and always always underestimate how many slots you want. Better to shoot lower and go "You know what - I CAN fit you in today" rather than have to say "Oh I'm sorry, I'm overwhelmed. See you next con"

RULE #2 - Don't take commissions on Sunday/Last Day
Exception 1: your commissions are fast
Exception 2: you do on the spot only (little/no actual product stock)

You want to get things packed up this day. The LAST thing you want to be worrying about is finishing commissions in record time.

RULE #3 - Collect payment up front (or half if they're not budging)
You want to make your effort worth your time. If they don't want to pay you, and then you spend your time drawing, and then they don't come back, that's a commission slot you could have given to a paying customer. I've never had a problem with it, but I figure somebody has somewhere.


RULE #4 - Collect CONTACT INFORMATION of commissioner
I've made this mistake so many times. By having their number, you can call (or text with permission) to the customer when their artwork is finished. Much nicer than them coming by every 2 hours. Have a form, if you want to. I think I'll be making one myself.

RULE #5 - Only take commissions you are comfortable with/willing to do
Just because somebody wants to throw money at you to draw Superman and Batman kissing in the rain, doesn't mean you should. I strongly encourage having disclaimers listed by your commission prices/examples - because then you won't have to fight off people. If you're not comfortable drawing it, TELL them that you can't, and that you're sorry.

I also have the rule that I won't do a commish unless they provide me a reference (unless it's something super well-known). I seem to have the knack for acquiring the commissioners that want pics of stuff I've never seen, can draw, or even remotely relates to my artwork I have up.

Similar to the "don't draw what you don't want to", you need to set restrictions on what you're drawing. Are you doing busts? Chibis? Want only 2 characters max? PUT THIS IN WRITING. A lot of times, I'll have the 2 character max rule, but if you MUST have more, I add $5 per character.

Otherwise, you'll get people wanting you to draw the entire cast of Naruto for $20 and refuse to pay extra. NOT COOL.

Now what about the money? 

Well, you want to make it worth your time, and worth the commissioner's cash. So first off, I'd say set the prices higher than a standard print of the equivalent size. Why would someone want to buy a print when they could get a custom piece for the same price? THIS is why you price it higher than those.

Secondly, price according to your skill level/reputation. Are you popular? Do you get a lot of requests - hike that price up a little more. This is to prevent you from having to turn away too many people. It also makes your time more valuable and (especially if you have a set audience already), they will appreciate the time and work you have put in.

If you're a beginning artist, you'll probably charge a bit less than regular commissions. I also recommend drawing on a smaller surface, like 5x7 or 8x10, rather than large art papers. This will help you work faster as well.

I have tendonitis, and inking a picture is what destroys my arm. So, I have my commissions set to a comfortable price and size for me to work on easily (everybody likes getting colored and inked images) that won't kill my arm.

Currently I usually do 5x7, pencil for $8, ink for $12, full color for $15. If they want a bigger size, that price goes up. I'd at the least price an 8x10 full color image at $25-30. I tend to fill most of the page and at least add a swatch of background color.


Pricing is hard. You're gonna go through a few conventions before you find your optimal pricing and a good commission rate.

The best thing you can do for yourself is ask the question "What price would I buy this for?" and be as honest and blunt as possible. I know it's tough thinking about devaluing your work, but you have to think like an attendee, not necessarily as an art expert.


  1. This was incredibly helpful to me! Thank you so much for writing all this down. I've been debating on getting a booth down Artist Alley for some time now, but what always sets me back is the fact that I have no clue how these things go. Well, that and the lack of confidence in my abilities. But thank you for this!

    P.S. do you know of a price range for booths at Comic Cons? I'm sure they differ from con to con, but I can't find prices for booths anywhere.

  2. This has also been incredibly helpful to me too! I'm standing my first comic convention in a couple of weeks and have been completely at a loss as to what to charge for my prints! Thanks so much for this clear and useful information!

  3. Thank you THANK YOU. This is so helpful. I am setting up my first art booth and I have no mentors /art friends who do this sort of thing. There is also very little clear advice about this sort of thing on the internet...

  4. I'm so glad that this post is helping people out! A bit has changed at my table (at least with pricing and some new updates in the AA land), so it makes me want to re-visit this post and update it for the current day :) Which, knowing me, I probably will!

  5. Thank you! I'm about to do my first Artist Alley at Otakon Vegas, I needed some pricing info and I've even written out a sheet I plan to print out and put near my commission list!!