Situations can often arise where finished illustrations or preparatory work are required, which do not have specific usage rights attached. This could be character development work, for example, or maybe specimens to provide a client with a clear view of the end result of an anticipated campaign. This type of work is ideally suited to pricing according to an hourly or daily rate.
There is a straightforward formula an illustrator can employ to calculate an hourly rate. Essentially this is reached by dividing the possible number of working hours per year into gross annual income (i.e. your required personal annual salary plus estimated expenses/overheads.)

1. Full-time or part-time – first establish how long you have to work before you start paying yourself

Many illustrators are working from home, dividing their time between caring for children and other part-time jobs to sustain their income. However, it is considered professional practice to treat even one job, or part-time work as an illustrator, as a business, thus establishing your annual expenditure and income you would like to pay yourself. Even just a few jobs per year require a working space/child minder/electricity/art materials/IT equipment/phone line etc. Therefore, calculate the annual expenditure and establish the hours you have to work in order to cover the overheads, and then add the income you are likely to require pro rata per year.

For example, an illustrator working from home with a table in the second bedroom and a possible child minder while working, might have an annual expenditure of only £2,000. It is nevertheless a mistake to ignore these costs and see any illustration fees received as earnings and thus contributions to the household’s income. An illustrator only starts to earn and create income after the expenses are paid for.

The following procedure should enable illustrators who want to establish a successful business to calculate their annual expenditure and income they should aim for - in the example below this is based on a full-time job.

2. How to estimate your annual salary?

Deciding on how much you want to earn in a given year should be based on realism rather than idealism. Working in a freelance capacity can mean quite dramatic fluctuations in earnings year on year so the object is to settle on an average base figure. This means looking at what others earn as illustrators, together with those in similar or related professions, and weighing this against your own experience as a practitioner.

A recent study by a-n The Artists Information Company* made a compelling case for comparison between artists and teachers and accordingly suggested a college leaver should aim to earn £19,000 a year while an artist 10 years out of college should be aiming to earn £30,000. The quoted figures compare quite well with what we know of the earnings trajectory of junior through to intermediate designers and are probably an accurate reflection of the broad base of illustrators’ earnings, too. For these reasons, it is logical that illustrators follow the same basic scale. Particularly successful practitioners may justifiably increase their earnings by upping their rates based on levels of popularity/desirability and/or experience.
Between the first year out of college, and ten years practicing, an illustrator should add about £1100 a year for extra experience.
Total annual salary for a practicing illustrator 5 years out of college would therefore be £24,500 plus expenses/overheads (see below).

*Richard Murphy, Artists’ Fees and Payments - establishing a charge rate for a working artist, a-n The Artists Information Company, London 2004;

3. Checklist of Illustrator’s expenses

Expenses will differ from individual to individual and some of the constituent parts may need to be estimated. The aim is to arrive at a total figure for your annual expenditure. The following checklist is not necessarily complete but does cover the main areas of likely expenditure:

Studio/Premises: Rent. Rates. Heat and Light.
Promotion: Source Books. Mailers. Website.
Communication: Phone. Mobile. Internet. Email. Postage. Stationery
Equipment/IT: Computer. Printer. Scanner. Camera. Disk drive. Software. Consumables. Other.
Art Materials: Paper. Paints. Pads. Brushes. Other
Research: Books and Magazines. Materials. Courses.
Travel: Car (business percentage). Train. Tube. Bus. Delivery. Parking.
Professional & Advisory: Accountancy. AOI subscription. Legal.
Finance: Bank charges. Equipment/Studio insurance.

Although not strictly business expenses you may want to include other items, which would normally be covered by an employer such as pension contributions and national insurance.

As a rough estimate let’s say the expenses total £8000. Our illustrator of 5 years would therefore be looking for a gross annual income of £32,500.

3. Estimating your annual working hours

total days per year
less the following:
bank holidays
annual holidays
sick leave


working day
8 hours
less lunch
1 hour
less administration/research and development
2 hours
5 hours

Multiply the total by the number of working hours per day, e.g
212 days x 5 hours = 1060 working hours per year

4. Final Calculation

Divide the gross annual income by the number of working hours a year. In this example:
£32,500 divided by 1060 = £30.66 per hour