Self Publishing: What's An Artist Worth?

As an artist just venturing out into the world of commissions, it's really great to see a post here about this stuff. I know I have the luxury of illustrating my own work, but other DM's Guild writers will have to get artists on board for custom illustrations, and it's good to see one of the big names in D&D forums heading off the "yo can you do free art?" question early.

I've got no problems with artists volunteering their own time for free projects without being asked, but it's kinda insulting for someone to not offer payment for a skilled service.


Another option is Upwork, a website that facilitates the whole process of finding, hiring, working with, and paying an artist. I haven't used it yet, but I'm considering it for my next project.

However, in my experience, publishing gaming material is almost never profitable enough to be anything other than a hobby, and you'd be very lucky to make back in revenue the amount you spend on professional art. I'm not saying don't spend money on professional art, I'm just saying don't do it because you think you'll make substantial money on it.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
However, in my experience, publishing gaming material is almost never profitable enough to be anything other than a hobby, and you'd be very lucky to make back in revenue the amount you spend on professional art.
Sure you can. You just have to use the right tools, like Kickstarter!


I haven't seen this before. Can you link me the art piece so I can see?
Woops, missed this months ago. But since this thread is bumped, it is Dean Spencer. He is really one of the best stock art artists, but his license is one use only

To be fair, he does link to the license on his product pages. However, it would be nice (and I think DTRPG should require) mention of the terms on the license on the page itself, not a link.

Sure you can. You just have to use the right tools, like Kickstarter!
It's not just the tools. It's how you use them, as well. You either have to build up a brand name, have a good internet presence, or be a good pitchman. My one foray into crowdfunding resulted in literally zero pledges.

It's not unlike my one experiment of trying to sell a module instead of setting it to PWYW. Literally no one bought it in the first year, after which I set it to PWYW, which brought in a little.


Woops, missed this months ago. But since this thread is bumped, it is Dean Spencer. He is really one of the best stock art artists, but his license is one use only
This is true, but if you back his Patreon at even $2.50/month, you get unlimited uses of any of his stock art you buy for as long as you are a patron. You also get access to his stock art at (effectively) lower prices, although you need to plan in advance.

He's a good example of an artist using creative approaches to square the circle of needing to make a living in an industry that has no money. (And I've been a patron of his for years.)


I haven't read through the entire thread, but can surmise my experiences with some of the industry as follows...

Before I go on, I should say this is MY OPINION...

The problem I see is that MANY artists think they are BETTER then they are and WORTH MORE than they really are.

If an artist really is THAT good, I'll pay the price for them, but there are so many of them out there that THINK they are worth it, it's ridiculous.

I know one artist that said they charged $300 for a piece of their art.

This is an artist that had graduated college, never had ANY artwork really published except for that with relatives, and their artwork looked more like a cartoon than anything I wanted. The bigger difficulty is that they could NOT CHANGE their style, as an artist they were VERY limited.

I'd pay them $25 for what they offered, IF I even wanted it.

This artist probably thought I was trying to cheat them. In reality, as the one who would be PAYING such a thing, I WAS the one who they were trying to cheat. WHY would I pay them $300 for a piece of art that was basically useless for what I needed it for when I could use that same amount of money to hire a full time artist (at around 42K a year, or something around $20 an hour) who would could put out the same or better quality at 2 or 3 pictures a day (which is $80 per picture at that amount per hour, or with benefits around $120 per picture), OR one ten times better in the style I wanted for a similar or lesser price when hired?

Or if I did it on a per hire basis, once again, WHY should I pay them that amount to an unproven artist?

Even more so, since I can do art myself, perhaps the bar should be they should at LEAST BE ABLE TO DO ART BETTER THAN I DO if they want to get paid, OR expect similar payments to what I get.

Now, if I were starting out, and didn't have the funds, I MIGHT offer to share profits with the artist. It would DEPEND ON HOW MUCH TIME was spent in their art and what quality it was.

IF I spend 500 hours writing and editing a book, but they spend 80 hours illustrating...what is a decent percentage to split with them. In that light I'd say a 20/80 split simply due to time investment.

Of course, that is risky to the artist. If they get a bad seller that return may be zero dollars, or even in the negatives.

If they are REALLY lucky they might make a small profit of less than $100 (which equates to less than $2 an hour).

OR, if they hit the bonsai they may actually do well...but it is rare.

AS has been alluded to, stock art is a good option IF you know you are good and are just starting out, or various other avenues. Getting an AGENT that works with publishers is probably a better idea. They have an idea of just how good an artist really may be and whether they are worth their weight or not.

In addition, it SAVES publishers and writers TIME as they do not have to waste it with hack artists who think they are underpaid when in reality they have just self inflated their own egos on how good an artist they really are.

That does not mean I think that an artist should roll over and accept anything that is given them, and DEFINATELY NOT just do art for exposure. The same would apply to a writer a publisher. IF the writer is not a proven writer, WHY would you waste your art on them without something at least compensatory. A writer should not expect an artist to spend $50 on art supplies, a dozen hours or more on an art piece and then get paid shillings on the pence just for the opportunity to get their artwork out there.

Depending on the type of artwork needed, let's take an illustrator that works at a decent rate of at least four pieces a day, or for a full cover type illustration, at a maximum a week (normally a LOT less, we are being very lenient in some ways). For a beginning artist, we'll say they get above minimum wage and give them $15 an hour. That means for a quicker piece of art, even if we say only two a day, you could expect an offer somewhere between $60 and $100...and that is around what I might expect for it.

If it is really something done quick, then if it takes less than an hour to do, $15 is NOT unreasonable.

Something that takes longer, let's say a weeks worth, should be around $600 at that rate. If it takes you longer than that, perhaps you should rethink how you compare to other working artists.

This is a beginning artist. You are NOT at the top of the food chain. You are NOT proven yet, and to expect to be paid MORE than full time employed artists is pure arrogance. I see this a LOT with artists just getting out there. They want you to pay $1000 for a commission on junk that is unproven.

This is harsh, but AFTER one pays their dues (meaning they work their way upwards in recognition, background, etc) should they expect top tier pay for their work.

However, someone who wants to do illustration (as opposed to other forms of artwork) should realize that many publishers already have their stock standard employee/contractor artists already set. These people are NOT looking to pay someone MORE than they would those they already work with. Normally they are not even WILLING to cut their trusted illustrators for someone else (and doing so causes bad faith). If they DO start handing out artwork requests it is because there is more art they need than their normals can handle, and in that instance they are probably going to want to pay LESS overall then their current group is paid.

I do NOT advocate anyone asking to be paid in pennies or simply for exposure. If it is a startup type thing, then asking for a percentage of the profits is reasonable (in my estimation) if the thought is that pricing is too expensive. However, I also think that asking hundreds of dollars for a piece of art when someone is new to the industry, unless it is a bigger piece, is one of the MAJOR problems a LOT of starting artists make today.

They think they are the next big thing, and they should be paid as such, when in reality no one wants to pay them those types of amounts except the truly desperate and those who do not know any better. Reasonable pricing should be looked at, how much time it costs the artist and how much materials they spend.

No one should be charging $25 for a quick sketch that takes them less then 15 minutes when they are low or mid tier...though if they want to try their luck at carnival/fair caricatures and charging that...go for it. (most art is not seeking caricature type art work).

On the otherhand, even a starting artist should not expect anything less than $50 for a day's worth of work, or even $80 if it takes them a day to do something. One should be paid at LEAST a minimum.

Of course, the other thing to realize is HOW FAST you can work with an effective ability. Illustrators at times are given deadlines and expectations in regards to how fast they can work and how much. Some of the top illustrators out there that I'm aware of are NOT the best artist (believe it or not). They are relatively good artists that can work quickly. Time can be money.

There are many different scales out there on how much out there. On an average I would say around $20 an hour is a good level to base the amount of money you charge once you are not just at the basic level of a nobody.

IF YOU DO GET REALLY well known, charging $1000+ per picture is not unknown, especially if you are illustrating a book (and then you could get anywhere from 15K to 50K depending on the book).

Expecting that right out of the gate though, I think that's a crazy notion that FAR too many beginning artists expect these days and it ends up biting them rather than helping them.

(and vice versa, too many starting artist devalue what they do too much and think that they will work for exposure on unproven projects. Sure, it can work out once in a while, but there are far too many failed projects for me to really think that is a good idea either).

For self-publishing, I'm a cheapskate typically and either do the art myself or con someone I know to illustrate it if their style matches what I am looking for. A more recent RPG project I did (well, in the past few years, so a few years ago) it was basically a trade. I did some uncredited writing for them (which was probably valued around 15-20K) in return for a few of their illustrations (some of which I liked, some which I didn't, but used anyways). That is an example of unpaid work (in theory) but it was NOT uncompensated (I did a LOT of work prior to that in trade for the artwork I received in return).

Even then, I LET THEM RETAIN the rights to their artwork. That's the other sham I see a lot of. Many self-published writers want to OWN someone else's artwork. If they WANT to OWN the rights, that SHOULD cost them a little more money (IN MY OPINION) than the normal going rate...UNLESS it is going to lead to permanent employment or continuing contracts with a company (in which case, no slack should be given on normal pay for the artwork).

Just my two coppers on the entire What an Artist is worth scenario.


I've put together a guide to RPG Freelance rates, based on my experiences over the last few years. Your feedback is appreciated!
For Illustration, depends on the experience and skill of the illustrator.

Your paragraph introducing and discussing rates is pretty good, but the lists that you put down from Spencer probably should not be listed as to what most of those who are inquiring about rates need to know.

For someone starting, I'd never pay them that unless they had exceptional skill. It's WAAAAY too high. Good way to never get employed if that's what they are looking for, at least for normal projects.

On the other side of the equation...WAAAY too low for someone who is really skilled and has a good bit of experience. I'd jump on those rates for full page illustrations in half a second for someone who had a good amount of skilled and showed that they were very dependable.

Average going rates right now are probably somewhere around $20/hr for illustrators (or €19 [typo corrected] perhaps for other areas outside the US) in the West right now. That's for someone competently skilled that can work at the usual rate of work that other illustrators work at. Someone just starting out probably shouldn't expect that...and someone with a great record might be able to charge a LOT more than that.

As you state Spencer is an experienced professional artist it means he's been around for a while. Anyone who's been around for awhile SHOULD know what they are worth and how much they can charge. They don't need a guide and thus the values you list are probably completely worthless to them. Those asking the question your guide is trying to answer probably should not expect to charge as much as someone who's been in the industry for a while. If they do that, unless also working with someone who is clueless or does not know any better, they will lose every time. IT's simply...if the choice is between the guy that is good and dependable vs. someone who we don't have a record of or a lengthy experience with to know how dependable they are in crunch or how good they can create with a deadline, but they are both charging the same price...most people will go with the dependable experienced pro over the inexperienced unknown every time.

Most of my experience is NOT in the RPG field though, so maybe things are different with RPG illustrators than general illustrators as a whole.
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M.T. Black

Thanks for your comments, GreyLord.

What advice can you suggest to someone who is looking to hire an artist for their game or book? What does a reasonable rate look like?


Thanks for your comments, GreyLord.

What advice can you suggest to someone who is looking to hire an artist for their game or book? What does a reasonable rate look like?
I listed above a long post about it, but in general I'd probably go with the idea that you take how long it will take you to make the piece of art and multiply it by the hour.

A beginning artist should probably charge NO LESS than $10 an hour. $15/hr is probably not unusual to charge either. Then it depends on the size and detail (obviously). For a sketch of less than an hour you probably shouldn't charge more than $30 -$50. For a normal piece of artwork that takes around half a day probably $50-$80. For something more complex, let's say full'd probably be looking at something between $100 - $150.

This depends on DETAIL and scope though.

IMO (obviously), the problem dealing with newcomers to the art scene has several factors.

The first is how skilled they are. I hate to say it, but the better artist they are, the more they can charge. It really boils down to skill. The one who has more skill is going to eventually be able to charge more than the one who does not.

HOWEVER...the second variable also makes a HUGE difference. Dependability.

You can have someone be a master painter, but if that half page artwork takes them 2 weeks but it might take them longer and sometimes they overshoot their estimate by two weeks and it costs you $ have to ask yourself is that worth it?

On the otherhand, you may have someone that can do decent artwork but can dependably put out a drawing a day or a full piece in three or four days. They charge $350 for the same half page full art that the other guy does...AND you can expect it to be done when they contracted it to be done...

Who are you going to normally depend on getting you the artwork when you need it?

Another example...

You have an artist that only charges you $250 for full page in depth illustrations. However, you need 5 (so ($1,250 total) of them in a month's time. They tell you no problem. end up waiting 3 months and you still only have three of them thus far.

On the otherhand you have an artist that charges you $3000 for the same thing, but they will HAVE them when they say they will. You know from past connections and others good words about them. When time and dependability is on the line...that (total of $15,000) is WORTH every penny.

When a big magazine is putting out something and they need that cover...they need someone they can depend on to GET THEM that cover WHEN they NEED the cover...not someone who may or may not get it to them.

Unfortunately, only one of those can be seen with new artists. One can see how their artwork looks...but one cannot tell how dependable they are at first.

If we go by the equation of

Skill x Dependability = Price

if either one of those is should expect to get zero back.

There are other factors obviously, but those two I think are some of the BIGGEST factors that some people deal with. For someone looking to hire an artist NOTHING probably is more demoralizing to have everything ready to go but you are still waiting for that artwork that you were guaranteed to have three months or more ago.

At the same time, you don't want artwork that anyone could draw. You are paying an artist for their ability to do and create art...normally beyond what you or the average individual could do.

You hit it on the head with your introductory paragraphs describing it.

It is so hard to figure out how much an artist is going to get paid because the variables are so wide and expansive.

That said, I'd go with the law of averages if one is trying to figure out what should be charged. Go on an by hourly basis...and with $20hr being the average (that's NOT for someone just starting, that's someone who's been in the field for a while and proven themselves), that's a good basic idea to base what you should charge as long as you are somewhat of a decent artist and have shown yourself to be dependable.

If you are just starting probably shouldn't charge that much until you have good word of mouth (and there are sites out there where you can get a start freelancing in art beyond just Deviant art and such...though it MAY NOT be for RPGs, it can be for a wide range of projects) and good contracts or those who pay you should leave reviews up that will bolster your work history. I would NEVER suggest one charge LESS than $10/hr (or €9-10/hr), and in some places if you are only working LOCAL contracts (such as cities such as San Francisco, New York, London, Paris) you could probably charge DOUBLE that...but ONLY LOCALLY as outside of those areas it would seem exorbitant...when they are starting out, but they need to build up their history.

Have a off the skill...but the other factor of dependability (also known as experience by some, or history of work by others) and how dependable one is typically has to be built up for a short time before knowing whether one can charge the big rates or not.

I'd say inch up rates gradually as the reviews build up and after a year or two you should be able to charge the normal going rates for whatever area you are working in. By that time, you should have a good grasp of what your artwork is REALLY worth (and that's the biggest problem with many who are just starting out, they overvalue what they are worth or how good an artist they are...too many junk artists that are really terrible out there), and what you can feasibly charge. After two years behind you, that's the time to PRESS the limits.

At that point you can start raising rates dynamically to see just what limit you can get to and still have people coming to pay you. There are averages, but there is NO HARD AND FAST rules on how much this can be. If you are extremely talented and very dependable...the sky is literally the limit. You could have a MASSIVE amount of money offered per illustration (talking thousands of dollars per piece) and you just need to push the limit to figure that out.

I'd probably NOT just limit oneself to RPG illustrator to reach that point though...there's a ton of other illustration jobs out there beyond just RPGs...and if one is building that portfolio of experience...why not stretch themselves in other areas. They might just meet that Harper's magazine who needs the illustrator badly enough or someone else that pays a LOT more money than some RPG companies are even able to dream about (though there are the big RPG companies out there too such as WotC with MtG).

This is more for a general illustrator though, I have worked with RPG illustration previously but I will say my experience with RPG illustrators and illustration is extremely limited so it may work differently with the RPG industry.


Thanks for your comments, GreyLord.

What advice can you suggest to someone who is looking to hire an artist for their game or book? What does a reasonable rate look like?
So, that long paragraph above doesn't really answer your question, of which I'm sorry, because there is no REAL set answer. Just as your article states (though not the rates), it's almost impossible to pin down.

It depends on the artist.

LUCKILY...if you are dealing with someone who is EXPERIENCED (which also probably means they are dependable), they will know their rates already. You can see their reviews and many of the webpages for freelancers will have a listing where you can see their rates and compare it to others who are also out there.

For someone who is new, it will boil down to how many illustrations do you want, how detailed do you want them, and when you want them.

Let's put a general price of $100 per illustration (just an average to make it smaller illustrations should be less, bigger illustrations more...this is the whole kit and caboodle). If I need 50 illustrations, we are looking at $5000 easy.

They should probably be given at LEAST 3 months to fulfill such an order. If they require 6 months...that's probably going to be acceptable. If they start stalling and saying it will take LONGER than 6 months...that's where you start negotiating. At a year mark for 50 illustrations...I'd start wondering how quick they can work and how dependable they are.

Now let's say I want those illustrations in a month rather than 3 months. That's going to rachet it up a GREAT deal. IF (and that could be a big if) they can pull it off, you probably should at least triple if not quadruple that price to at least $15K to $20K. It could be more than that, even for a new artist.

Another factor, let's say that you want all those illustrations to be full color full cover illustrations. That should then ratchet it up considerably. I'd probably say $250 on average, though $500 is probably not a bad askance for in this situation...and at least 6 months of time if not more. For 50 illustrations you are looking at $25K at least, and if you want it under that time period...let's say in three months it probably should be something like $50K to 100K.

Just some rough guesstimates.

Most beginning artists probably are not going to get these types of contracts and if you are looking at this type of money to be laid out...I'd probably go looking at the experienced artists who have some work under their belts, know how fast they can work and what they typically can charge for that.

For a writer I'd say look at getting a few black and white sketches for the interior at around$25 - $50 per sketch. These are not as great detail as a full on illustration, as they are quicker, but normally they are passable. For the cover, look at spending $500 to $1000 for it. You'll want a great deal of detail, full color, and all the pizzaz. You'll also want it with layout which will cost you another amount (covered in your guide already).

Just some thoughts that more officially answer your question, though it's still sort of out there as actual prices are very nebulous regarding how much you could or should pay.

M.T. Black

Thanks, this is good practical advice.

What is your background in the industry, if I may ask? You clearly know a lot about it.


Thanks, this is good practical advice.

What is your background in the industry, if I may ask? You clearly know a lot about it.
Stock and business wise I normally don't get into that here.

However, on a more personal level I've been involved with writing and publishing for a while, over 20 years at this point (actually longer than that, but 20 years is a nice round number to look at). It was more with my personal involvement than anything dealing with what I actually did for work. Some of it has been published by other companies and some of it has been published on my own.

Got my start originally with the magazines (though back then they did things somewhat differently, similar idea with submissions though). Moved onto books after a few years. Unfortunately, not a ton of fiction in there. I do fiction as a hobby and for fun, but a lot of non-fiction was a side job (not the main one I did to make money, but a side job I did sort of as a combination of hobby/keeping my foot in the door as I made enough money otherwise and couldn't focus as much time on the side job as I wanted).

Currently retired, and now that I have all the free time keep telling myself I should write more but keep getting side tracked with other hobbies and avoiding work (even the side job/hobby). I tend to spend more time with RPGs, boardgames, and other things these days (and old movies and TV shows) then writing. I do still tend to do some non-fiction work (last was probably within the past few months) and ghost writing, but I always want to do that novel everyone dreams about. Obviously...not much progress has been made.

Spend more time looking at the stocks and hoping my retirement doesn't crash as well as the above hobbies I mentioned. I've gotten into video games heavily for once as well. It's funny, you get all these big plans for when you will retire, and when you actually do, you spend more time relaxing and doing hobbies than a lot of the other things you thought you would do (such as writing that novel, or travelling the world for fun for once in locations you always dreamed about visiting as a teen. I suppose some do it, but I just seem to do other things and relax instead).

I have several family members that are active in the industry right now though (and probably one or two that many here would recognize instantly, which is even more of a reason to not divulge a ton so I don't tarnish their good names by being associated with me!!) and if anything, I've learned that there is no one way to success in writing, publishing, or art.

There are probably as many ways to success in these areas today as there are those with the drive and will to succeed in doing it.
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