If there’s one thing most artists have trouble with, it’s knowing how to set art prices. As if that’s not bad enough, we then have trouble sticking to our prices.
What if our prices are too high?
What if they’re too low?
I wrestled with prices for years, so when I received the following email, it resonated!
How to Set Art Prices: The Question
This may be too long, but I’m going to be detailed so you see I’ve been reading on this quite a bit.
The big question is: How do you determine what to charge for your work, and stick to it? At first everything I did was laid-claim-to by well-meaning family, so it was given away. Then I made a tentative effort to set a price, but WAY under-valued my work, so much so, that had the item been purchased and shipped, I would have paid out of my own pocket!
I decided to up the price by a little, but my heart knew it was too little. My work and time and the use of top-grade supplies had to be worth more. Keep in mind, I had NO personal attachment to anything I’d created, so it wasn’t about a reluctance to let go. I read recently that “if you don’t feel just a little guilty about your pricing, then you are probably under-valuing yourself”. OK, that sounds reasonable to me, and quite true.
Recently I got my 1st commission. Yay, right?! It was from my sister, buying something for her boss for Christmas. (She had already received a special piece from me as a gift, and she loves it). I advised her of the price with a discount that brought it to $70.00. She had no problem with that, immediately agreeing. But you know what I did? I started feeling guilty! So I texted to let her know I decided to bring the price to $50. Another couple of days passed, and now I’m doing 2 versions for her boss! She didn’t ask for, nor expect, any of these perks.
So the struggle continues. Each family member will get one free piece of art, so I feel it’s absolutely fair to stick to my pricing decision, allowing them a reasonable discount on future orders. How can I overcome this personal feeling of guilt, and be firm with the pricing?
How to Set Art Prices: The Answers
Change some of the personal details and this was my story! (Who am I kidding? I still struggle with guilt over prices!) What about you? Do you have a similar story?
As difficult as it seems when you’re in the process of setting prices, it can be simplified immensely if you’ll do a little bit of thinking first.
Change Your Mindset to Answer Most Questions About Setting Prices
I spent years thinking my art wasn’t all that good and that I wasn’t good enough to charge a lot.
Most artists are their own worst critics, and I would also go so far as to say most artists are their own worst enemies. We simply do not value our skills and artwork properly.
So if you find yourself devaluing your work, your skill, or your time, you need to get past that idea. You may need to remind yourself frequently, but such reminders are well worth the effort.
Once you get beyond that, there are some basic methods for figuring out how to price your work.
No Formula to Set Art Prices Works For Every Artist
You need to find the formula that best suits your business plan and personality.
Let me describe the three most basic—and most frequently used—pricing formulas.
Option 1: Supplies + Time + Margin = Price
This is basic. You should be selling your work for no less than supplies cost you. Otherwise, it’s costing you to make and sell art.
Step 1: Cost of Supplies
Some of that is easy. The cost of the paper is easy enough.
But how about colored pencils? How do you include the cost of erasers, and other tools?
One way to deal with this is to look at the price for open stock pencils, then add up all the colors you think you’ll need on average. The cost of buying those colors is the cost of supplies for each drawing.
Another method is to look back over the last two to five years. How much did you spend on supplies each year? How many drawings did you do? Divide the total cost of supplies by the number of drawings and that’s your average cost per drawing.
For example, you spent $1,000 on paper, pencils, and all the accessories. You produced 100 drawings. 1,000 divided by 100 equals 10, so you averaged $10 worth of supplies per drawing.
The equation looks like this:
$1000 divided by 100 drawings = $10 of cost per drawing.
If you produced 20 drawings, you spent an average of $50 in non-paper supplies for each drawing.
$1000 divided by 20 drawings = $50 of cost per drawing.
The average cost per drawing is the absolute least you should charge.
It’s a good idea to know how much you spend on average per drawing because it gives you a place to begin calculating prices. But unless you multiply that figure by 20 or 30 (or more), you’ll still not be charging a reasonable amount for each painting.
Step 2: Cost of Time
The time you spend painting is also something to consider. It should be factored into the price of your work, too, and is probably the first thing I started considering when I got serious about pricing. I decided my time was worth $10 per hour, then began tracking the amount of time it took to complete each artwork.
This calculation gives you a clear and easy-to-determine number that is directly affected by the size of the work. If it takes ten hours to finish an 8×10 and 25 hours to finish an 11×14, you can easily calculate prices for each size. At $10 an hour, the 8×10 “costs” $100 and the 11×14 “costs” $250.
$10 multiplied by 10 hours = $100 for an 8×10 drawing
$10 multiplied by 25 hours = $250 for an 11×14 drawing
Step 3: Setting Up a Margin
The margin is the profit. It’s what you make over the cost of supplies and time. It’s known as the mark-up in retail. For a lot of retail businesses, mark-up is around 100% of the total cost. In other words, the retail price is double the cost of buying the item wholesale.
For the artist working on that kind of margin, the cost of the drawing is double the cost of supplies plus the cost of time. My 8×10 is now $220 to $300 and my 11×14 is now $520 to $620.
If that all sounds too complicated—and it can be very complicated—there are a couple of easier ways.
Cost of Supplies + Cost of Time = Price for the Drawing
Pricing by the Square Inch is a Simple Way to Set Art Prices
When you set prices by the square inch, you determine the area of each drawing by multiplying the length by the width.
Multiply the area by a dollar amount. If you charge $5 per square inch, the price for an 8×10 is $400. Charge $10 per square inch and the price is $800.
Ideally, you should charge enough per square inch to pay for the cost of supplies and the cost of time.
I used this method for years because it was easy to calculate. I needed only a calculator to make a quote for any size.
The problem with pricing by the square inch is that your price list will include some price jumps that look extreme. While the prices for small pieces look reasonable, the prices for larger pieces quickly climb. Remember that 8×10 that we charged $5 per square inch for? It cost $400. A reasonable price.
A 16×20 at the same rate is $1,260. Over triple the price.
If you stop and think about it, that’s not really an unreasonable jump. The 16×20 has four times the surface area as the 8×10. But most people don’t think that way. They see the 16×20 as double the size of the 8×10, so the price jump looks pretty big.
Even though I understand why the numbers jump as they do, I eventually gave up on the Square Inch Method. Here’s the method I now use.
Pricing by the Unified Inch Produces More Consistent Art Prices
With the unified inch method, add the length to the width. The sum of those two numbers is the number on which you base the price.
Instead of getting 80 square inches for an 8×10, you have 18 unified inches. An 11×14 has 25 unified inches, and a 16×20 is 36 unified inches.
The unified inch sum is multiplied by the cost per inch.
You’ll have to charge more per unified inch to get a reasonable price. $5 per unified inch is going to put your 8×10 at $90. At $10 per unified inch, the price is $180 and at $20 per unified inch, it jumps to $360.
Overall prices with this method appear to be more logical, too. The jumps from one size to the next aren’t as dramatic. At $20 per unified inch, an 8×10 is $360, a 16×20 is $720, and so on. The increase looks more logical, and is less of a shock to potential clients.
And once you get accustomed to calculating this way, you can still quickly quote any sized artwork with nothing more than a calculator. You don’t need complicated price charts to know what a drawing will cost, no matter what size it is.
So I’ve Set Art Prices; How Do I Stick to Them?
No matter what method you use to calculate prices, sticking to those prices is where the rubber meets the road. If you don’t follow your own rules, you may just as well not have rules.
If you have trouble sticking to your prices because they feel too high for you, reconsider how you’ve set them. Believe it or not, it’s better to start out with your prices a little bit too low than too high. If you set prices low, you have room to increase them, and customers feel they’ve made a good investment.
If you set prices too high to start with, then reduce them later, customers who bought high may feel cheated.
Or you may simply need to re-evaluate how you view your art. It’s entirely possible that the problem is internal. In that case, go back to the mindset section and review that.
What Should I Do If I Like to Reward Customers with Discounts?
Rewarding clients who buy more than one thing is a great idea. It shows them you appreciate repeat business for one thing. It also gives them a reason to buy from you again instead of going to another artist.
There are a couple of ways to reward clients.
A discount if they pay the full price up front is perfectly acceptable. I give portrait clients who pay in full up front a 10% discount. That gives them a price break, eliminates billing problems, and leaves both of us feeling like we got a good deal.
Also consider a discount if a client purchases more than one piece at the same time. 10% is a good starting place, but it could be more. Just don’t make such deep cuts that you end up giving too much away.
My favorite discount is the “collector” discount. A portrait client who orders a second commission gets an automatic discount. After they’ve purchased two portraits, they get a significant discount for any subsequent portraits. Think of this in the same way you think of frequent flyer miles—only better! This discount should be more than the other discounts you might offer, since you’re dealing with someone who is giving you more of their business.
I Want to Reward Clients Who Refer Others
Great! This is a wonderful way to encourage satisfied customers to bring others to you.
Let current or new clients know that for every paying client they refer to you, you’ll thank them with a reward. It could be a set dollar amount to be applied to their next purchase, a size upgrade, or something else that works for your work and the people who buy it.
The advantage to offering discounts is that it gives you a legitimate reason to give people discounts, but also sets guidelines for you, so you’re not giving away too much.
But you must decide in advance what discounts you’ll offer, when you’ll offer them, and how clients earn them. Having these details written in stone (so to speak) makes it easier to stick to the prices you set for your art.
What About Framing and Shipping?
Whatever method you use to price your art, make sure you add the price of framing to that. That’s a must. You can include shipping in your cost if you wish, but framing should always be extra. Why?
Because the price of frames varies so widely from simple and inexpensive to very expensive. Making framing extra also gives your client the option to choose the type of frame they want.
Vickie’s experience with her sister reminds me so much of myself. I ended up giving a lot of stuff away because I could never settle on a price and stick to it. Even now, after over forty years as an artist, it’s difficult not to feel guilty.
So the best pricing advice I can give you is this: You have a product someone is willing to get in exchange for money. Whatever pricing method you use, set your prices so they are fair to both your clients and to you. Both of you should go away from the sale satisfied.
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Excellent information, Carrie. You do an amazing job of sharing information with us and helping us to move forward as artists. I can’t thank you enough!
You’re quite welcome.
I struggled with knowing how to set prices for years. Even after I settled on the method, I had a terrible time sticking to my decision. Part of the problem was under-estimating the value of my work, and that’s something I still struggle with.
But I also wanted EVERYBODY to be able to buy my work, and that’s simply not achievable.
So I understand the trials of deciding on and setting prices, and am more than happy to pass on the things that have helped me. I’m so glad they were helpful to you, too!
Once again, a great article. This was very helpful. Even though I don’t suffer from guilt, I struggle with setting prices. Is my work good enough to set what I think is appropriate? What is a typical price in my area, and what price will actually sell? This gives a method to consistently apply to my work. I just need to decide how much per unified measure. But framing does matter. In my home association gallery to display it must be framed…so the artist assumes cost up front. I had been doubling my framing costs plus the Gallery percentage. It has worked but not much logic. And, if I got a deal on framing the cost would be less. I appreciate this new method. Thanks.
Thank you. I’m glad you’ve found a pricing method that works for you.
Framing is a big deal, and needs to be considered separately from the artwork. My portrait clients pay for framing whether I do the framing or they do. I usually charge double the cost of the frame to cover not only the frame, but framing when I do the framing for a client.
It’s also a good idea to add the cost of framing to artwork to be exhibited in galleries. As much as we might like to, we can’t afford to give things like that away and run a successful business!
Thank you for reading, and for commenting!
It looks like a great system and I am happy to have seen it. There is a minor flaw that may or may not affect the process. The area is calculated by multiplying the width by the length. Your system adds them together.
hi Carrie! thank you for your insights. this may seem a slightly off topic question, but in a way it does apply. I don’t have allot of money to spend since I do not yet have a full time job. Up until now, I’ve used printer paper and Crayola for art. until recently, I was unaware there even was different kinds of paper for art!! Through your help I have selected a more professional medium. But what I am struggling with is size…I know it’s hard to answer, but what size of paper would you recommend? is there a specific size you sell the most or have requested frequently?
Thank you for reading this post, and for taking the time to ask a question. My opinion is that if a question has anything to do with colored pencils, then it’s not off topic.
So let’s talk about sizes a little bit.
Unless a buyer is looking for a specific thing (let’s say they want a large picture to hang over a couch or something small to fill a corner spot,) I don’t think size plays as much of a role in making sales as we might think. Price is more likely to be a factor, but as you’ve seen in this post, size does affect price. So there is that to consider.
The real selling point in most cases is the art itself. If something you’ve drawn connects with someone who sees it, they’re more likely to buy it. So that’s the first thing I encourage you to focus on. Make each piece the absolute best you can make it.
For all the years I was selling oil portraits of horses, the two sizes that sold best were 16×20 and 20×24. Yes, I did some that were smaller (8×10 was the next most popular size) and some that were larger. The largest that I remember was 24×30.
Those were standard canvas sizes, and also standard framing sizes, so it was easy to get canvases and frames.
The largest colored pencil portrait I’ve done was 20×30. I drew it on mat board because that was the largest support I knew about at the time, and it was rigid enough to be worked with. I was also able to store it upright on an easel if I needed to.
In more recent years, I’ve reduced the size of most work to 9×12 or less. Do they sell better? Not really, but they fit my scanner! Since I have more sales of the magazine and tutorials, and often publish demos and tutorials on this blog, it was more important for me to be able to get consistent images through each step. That meant using the scanner rather than a camera.
But 8×10 and 9×12 are still standard framing sizes, so they’re good sizes to work with if you’re hoping to exhibit work for sale or accept commission work.
If you’re selling on Etsy or eBay, my experience has been that 8×10 and smaller sell best. They’re lower priced, easier and less expensive to ship, and so on. When I was doing that, I had very good success selling ACEOs (3-1/2″ x 2-1/2″) drawings and paintings.
However, choosing a size is entirely up to you. If you tire easily when working on a piece, then consider working smaller. You can finish more quickly, and produce a body of good work more quickly by working small.
If you get so “in the zone” drawing that it doesn’t matter how big a piece is or how long it takes to finish, then you can work large. You’ll need to consider how you work and where you’ll store the drawing when you’re not working on it if you work large, but you may already have made those decisions.
As for making sales, I go back to the idea of making art that’s marketable. Your enthusiasm for your work has more to do with that than the size does (believe it or not.) If you’re making art just to have something to sell, that will show.
If you love what you’re doing and it thrills you to do it, then that will show, too. That’s the art that’s most likely to sell.
I hope I’ve answered your question. I see I’ve written almost enough for a post, so be looking for further expansion on this topic in the next few weeks!
A quick follow-up answer, Rhiannon.
I usually buy paper in 9×12 inch pads because it’s precut and easy to store.
However, I have also made good use of full sheets of paper, which I then cut down to size. Buying and cutting full sheets is less expensive per drawing than buying pads, but if you don’t have a good place to store the full sheets flat, or the means of cutting them down to size, then you may be better off buying pads in whatever size suits you.
Thank you for this very helpful and detailed response, it will help me greatly. I often feel like 8*10 is so small that noone would want it–a personal bias of my own. Yet it was the only size I had, so that’s what I’ve worked with. Knowing that is actually a rather popular size is reassuring. Reflecting on your response and the above post, it does make sense given the price difference in sizes ! I do not currently have a place to store full sheets (we just moved and are still unpacking ) but will consider that in the future. thank you again! your posts help me a lot
You’re quite welcome, Rhiannon. I’m glad to help!