A guide to 3D modelling and illustration rates, with tips and advice from experienced professionals in the industry
3D artists shape reality to build the products, characters and worlds for all of us to dive into. Be it a commercial artist, a product visualiser or a concept artist, 3D professionals are effectively sculptors of the contemporary era.
While some would be hired in-house at a game studio or production house, many others prefer to work freelance, managing their own workload and creating beautiful worlds from the comfort of their house. But the resources out there aren’t too many, and if you are just starting out as a freelance 3D artist, it is natural to wonder how much to charge for your 3D works.
Not being a 3D artist myself (the most polished thing I’ve achieved with Blender was a lovely donut with some sprinkles), I decided to get in touch with a few masters of the craft. The guide below includes answers from Dmitry Pushkarev and Muhammad Waseem, both freelance 3D artists and both featured in our Annual 2020 awards.
Credits for the beautiful artwork in the header image go to Muhammad and his Annual 2020 Bronze-winning Pirate Crab project.
If you are still considering whether you should become a 3D artist or not, make sure to check out our 3D artist job description!
Muhammad is clearly an expert in texturing and detail.
How do I charge clients for a 3D project?
3D artists can work on a variety of different projects. One of our top 3D artists, Paul Gawman, is specialised in commercial work, while Dmitry excels in product design and Muhammad in character design. In brief, there can be a great number of projects for you to tackle, and all will involve different costs.
However, most 3D artists are comfortable charging per day. It is the case of Muhammad. He believes that charging per working day (8 hours) allows for some creative flexibility, enabling an artist to even work at night if he feels more inspired in the evenings.
That said, Muhammad does charge per project sometimes too, and that is the preferred form of pricing for Dmitry. Working with both national and international clients from Russia and beyond, Dmitry prefers charging a fixed rate up front, paying attention to put creativity and creative ideas always at the forefront of his reasoning.
This need may arise from the fact that his Russian customers are a bit wary of paying costs beyond an initial quote, which means Dmitry must consider everything in advance, including labour costs and planning, to ensure his rates are on point to allow him some creative freedom.
Both, however, agree that the strongest reason to make sure your rates are right is to set standards for the whole market. Much like in the case of illustrators and musicians, which we have already discussed in the past weeks, it is important to let clients know that the entire industry expects certain standards and budgets. And the only way to get them right is by doing some research, considering your years of experience, skill level and area of expertise.
So in a nutshell:
- 3D artists can specialise in a number of different fields
- Most 3D artists prefer charging per day of work
- This can ensure some creative flexibility for the entire project
- You must ensure that your rates take everything into account, from planning to labour costs
- This is to set standards for the whole market
Dmitry specialises in product design and 3D visualisation.
How do I calculate the costs of a project?
But you must also be careful not to overprice either. If you charge too much for a project, you risk losing a precious client connection. The safest way to help you work out your rates is by doing some research, or by confronting your rates with the ones of your fellow 3D artists.
According to Dmitry, looking at similar work from colleagues will help you gauge your own expertise. Whether you are in product, commercial or character design, moreover, it is quite common for clients to sometimes ask to see additional models and designs. You should always charge for those as well, and adjust your rates depending on the timeline – especially if, according to Muhammad, you are adding more hours of work than you agreed beforehand.
Muhammad himself will charge for his works based on 4 different factors:
- Amount of work required
- Complexity of the project
- Medium and usage
You should always consider the kind of usage for your work. If it’s national or global, for a week or for a month, and if you will need to relinquish your rights to royalties as part of the process. All of these variables can drive your rates up quite a bit.
Lastly, different needs in terms of quality and time will always drive up the costs. Muhammad shared a simple formula with us: Good and Cheap will not be Fast; Fast and Good will not be Cheap; and Cheap and Fast will never be Good. Once you wrap your head around this concept, it will be much easier for you to work out your rates for your own projects.
If you’re looking for help, you will find that the freelance community is quite open and always willing to help. You can reach out to some fellow 3D artists here on Creativepool and start connecting!
So in a nutshell:
- Consider 4 factors:
- Amount of work
- Medium & Usage
- Change your rates for shorter deadlines and usage rights
- Charge more for additional models and designs
- Charge more for extra hours of work
- Compare your rates with similar work from colleagues
- Be confident in your own abilities
Probably part of the same series as the Pirate Crab, huh?
Common mistakes when pricing illustration work
When you are just starting out, the temptation to charge less to attract more clients can push you to undercharge. Both Dmitry and Muhammad agree that you should resist that temptation.
If you undercharge, you are automatically undervaluing your work and setting lower standards for the whole industry. You should always be true to the work you are doing and judge the complexity of the project beforehand.
Communicating with the client can help with that, but doing research to understand where you stand in the market will as well, and it will help you measure what you can afford to ask for your first rates. You should try to take into account all the additional work that will be needed to complete the project, and never accept anything below what is a decent rate for a complicated project such as 3D work.
Ultimately, 3D work is a fine art and one that requires years and years of practice to be mastered appropriately. Do not aim to be overpriced for the kind of work and experience you are bringing to the table; but do be realistic and recognise what the rest of the industry is doing.
Examples of illustration prices
As mentioned in the opening of this piece, there are countless possible projects that you could find yourself working on. But if you are a 3D artist, it is likely that most of your work will rotate around character design, props, animation and gaming assets.
A character with around 1,000 polygons or triangles can cost at least $800 to develop. The more level of detail you add, the higher your rates should be – topping even $5,000 for a fully rigged, animated character.
Katsbits has put together a useful and comprehensive list of 3D assets rates and prices. Here are some highlights:
- A barrel, box or crate will cost at least $50
- A full set of map/level props, such as arches, doors and other structures, may cost $750 and up.
- A fully rigged and animated character with around 5,000 triangles can cost at least $5,000
- A standard-sized kitchen will cost over $500
- A professional CAD designer may cost around $50/hour, and $400/$500 a day.
A stunning Eagle pendant created by Dmitry in his shortlisted Annual 2020 project.
Unfortunately there aren’t too many resources for all the freelance 3D artists out there, but you can find more than a few to get you started. Apart from connecting with fellow artists and comparing experiences, you can join the Visual Artists Association for some guidance and support on your business venture.
Moreover, Polycount has an incredibly useful Wiki section that was tailored specifically to help 3D artists navigate the industry. It includes a section for freelancers as well, which can be particularly useful for those just starting out.
Lastly, this Katbits guide is definitely the most impressive we could find in terms of calculating your freelance rates with extreme precision. If you have any doubts about how to start calculating your rates, make sure to complement this guide with the three links above!
I hope this guide was useful and it will get you on the right track to start charging for your projects straight away. Feel free to share your own experience with 3D rates in the comments section and let us know if there’s anything we missed!