Pricing Your Art: Freelance Character Design Rates

Pricing Your Art: Freelance Character Design Rates

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Determining your rates as a character designer is tough, especially if you’re a freelancer. Setting a rate AND keeping to it regardless of client entreaties has to be one of the toughest things to do for freelancers.

It’s even harder when clients do not know, or appreciate the number of hours and work you put in to get the job done.

According to Comparably, as of 2022,  freelance graphic designers and character designers make between $27,560 to $81,320 annually, with an average of $46,900 per year.

Similar to my previous post, this post is a guide as to how your can price your work fairly, and in being able to determine the reasons behind your pricing and rates (rather than just plucking figures from thin air), you may be able to justify them better and also hold firm when the client wants to negotiate.

Let’s go through how you can set your freelance character design rates!

What Is Character Designing?

Final fantasy 7 characters

Character designing is the creation of a character that stands out from all other characters in the same genre. Character artists need to create the shape, the style, the look, the personality, and the feel of the game character so it connects and resonates with the players.

Memorable characters from famous past games include:

  1. Lara Croft from Tomb Raider
  2. Mario from Donkey Kong, and
  3. Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII

(Brings back memories, don’t they?)

I could go on, but you get the point. These are game characters that had personalities and were very memorable. That is what a concept artist or a character designer will be creating for their clients.

On top of that, they’ll need to create the anatomy, gestures, movements, outfits, different poses, and what the character looks like in all game scenarios.

To create a great character requires much time, and in some cases, years of experience, and therefore, much money. 

Let’s jump right in as to how you as a freelance designer should be charging! (I use the term broadly. This includes being a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, and character designer).

How Much Should A Freelance Graphic Designer Charge 

So how much should a freelance character designer or graphic designer charge?

To get real job satisfaction and enjoyment in what you do, you should always be compensated fairly. It is very easy to fall into the trap of undercharging your work and I’m sure many of us have been there, but then it is just as easy to feel unhappy over it at the end of the day when all is said and done. You’ll feel as if you were taken advantage of and that you had put in way more hours than you felt you needed to, for the salary you were getting.

When a client talks about someone else offering a lower rate, the first instinct is to match that rate. However, this only happens when we fail to take into account several factors that allow us to price our services more effectively. 

What should my freelance rate be?

There should be 3 ways to determine the right price:

  1. A flat fee or a baseline fee; plus
  2. Business costs – Consider if you’re outsourcing or using apps that require monthly subscriptions and taking into account the overall cost of this project; 
  3. Additional work required in the game development process – those usually not included in the flat fee, such as additional rendering, environment creation, and more. 

Components Of Pricing

 How much should I charge for character concept art?

Main factors to consider when setting character design rates:

1. Time Frame

One of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding your price point will be to look at or estimate the number of hours required for the development of the cartoon character or game character.
Rush jobs will always be extra, and the client’s budget should reflect that.
If you have an hourly rate or a day rate, you’ll know how much you should roughly be charging – but that will be just the baseline rate – there are many other factors to consider!

2. The Skill Level (Or Level of Experience)

On top of the amount of time required to do the job, you will also need to check if the client’s requests include specific needs and a broader scope of work that will require you to do a large amount of research into the game character or bring more team members on board to ensure this character comes to life in the best way. The final product needs to reflect the client’s brand identity accurately for you to come across as the best character designer to your client, just so you get more retainer jobs.

On top of that, if this is not your first year as a designer, you’ll more than likely have enough experience to know how you can deliver great work and even give valuable suggestions to your clients, ie coming across as a consultant.

3. Complexity And Team Structure

Characters come in 2D and 3D versions.

Basically, 3D photorealistic designs will cost more and take more time to complete than 3D cartoon characters.

3D cartoon character,
3D cartoon character,
3D photorealistic character by Pixel Curse
3D photorealistic character by Pixel Curse
2D cartoon character design. Source: Pinterest
2D cartoon character design. Source: Pinterest
2D photorealistic character. Source: Upwork
2D photorealistic character. Source: Upwork

2D photorealistic designs will also cost more and take a longer time to complete than 2D cartoon characters.

According to Kevguru, the going rates for its team are:

$4,000-$6,000 for 3D characters, and $600-$1,200 for 2D characters.

3D models take twice as long to create and complete compared to 2D models.

Prices can differ drastically across different countries, but here’s a rough guide on how much freelancers are being paid by the hour depending on the type of characters they’re designing.

Freelance Character Design Rates. Source: Kevguru Games
Freelance Character Design Rates. Source: Kevguru Games

4. Other additional factors

Character design pricing may include a host of other factors and specific needs, such as the number of animations and poses you’re required to come up with, editing, pre-animation, and more. All these will lead to you charging a higher price.

How do I price myself as a freelancer?

Back to the question: How much should a freelance artist charge?

As a freelance designer, your freelance rates can be more straightforward. 

If you’ve done many designs over time and have enough experience to know the amount of work that is going to go in and if the project requires a lot of time, you’ll be able to come up with a fair estimate very quickly.

For newer freelancers, so that you get a fair rate and deliver high-quality work, a great way will be to calculate your base hourly rate using this formula:

Total desired annual earnings (Nett)/ Number of weeks worked in a year (Minus out some weeks for vacation and rest)/ Number of hours you want to commit to in a week.

If you prefer a more in-depth calculator that takes your business costs, outsourcing, and taxes into account, you can check out this Google sheet.

Final thought: If you want to be able to charge faster and come across as a professional, take up some courses – they’ll catapult you forward without much financial commitment required.

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