How to Price Lettering Projects - Part 2

How to Price Lettering Projects - Part 2

In this post, I'm sharing some industry standard fees, and offering thoughts on participating on bidding sites. 

I'm not a lawyer or accountant, and you're all responsible for your own pricing decisions. Thanks. 

For more pricing strategies, read Part 1

Industry Standards

The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook for Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is a great reference for all things illustration, design, legal information, and business practices. I will share some of the highlights as they pertain to pricing Lettering work, and strongly suggest you purchase a copy for yourself.

They preface all pricing information by saying that they convey starting points, and that each project needs to take other factors like complexity, geographic location, and timelines into account. 

As you read these figures, notice how the project complexity, client size, and reach impacts the fees, supporting the value-based pricing model we talked about last week. 

In their 2014 edition, they list the median hourly freelance rates for designers at $50, and Senior Designers $75. (Image of the latest 15th edition on the right.) They then break down fees by industry, for example, here are some numbers specific to

Lettering and typeface design:

“A designer who is currently making a living from lettering design is likely to do a mix of calligraphy and lettering, all loosely called “letterform design.” (...) Many factors affect the pricing of lettering work. A primary factor is usage, which may be further broken down into international, national, regional, buy out, Internet, or print and Internet. (...) Artists usually receive half of the total fee upon delivery of sketches. (Increasingly, more time is spent on sketches and less on completing the digital finish.) “Buyouts” (all-rights transfers) currently cost up to 200% or more above the original price of the art.” Quotes from page 167

Lettering for a Masthead for a regional distribution size range from $1,250-$2,000 for sketches, plus $1,750-$4000 for the finished work. 

Lettering for Headlines for a consumer brochure with a wide distribution ranges from $400-$5,000. 

Lettering for Hardcover Book Jackets range from $150-$1,000 for simple textbooks, to $600-$2,500 for complex mass market pieces.

Major Trade paperback covers range from $200-$1,200 for a simple design, to $350-$1,750 for a complex design. 

Original Typeface Design of a single weight or style ranges from $5,000-$20,000 for editorial clients, and from $10,000-$30,000 for corporate clients. 

Hourly rates for Commissioned Typeface design work range from $75-$300 per hour. 

Lettering can also play an important role in other design fields, so to give you an idea, here are the price ranges for

Corporate Graphic Design:

“Designers use the usual tools of form, color, texture, graphics, typestyle, and other imagery to evoke emotions connecting a consumer to a brand so the consumer will continue to buy it. Designers who specialize as brand identity consultants need to have a special understanding of the universal emotional, psychological, and visceral meanings of color, shape, and form.” Quote from page 149

Logo Design

Ranges from $1,800-$10,000 for a local client, to $25,000-$75,000 for a national/global client. 

Comprehensive Branding

Ranges from $5,000-$50,000 for a local client, to $20,000-$175,000 for a national/global client. 

Newsletter (per page)

Ranges from $200-$750

Annual report (32 pages)

Ranges from $5,000-$25,000 for a local client, to $25,000-$60,000 for a national/global client. 

Advertising & Promotion

“Advertising designers must have a sophisticated knowledge of marketing, sales, and advertising print production in addition to design skills. Because they are experts in a variety of disciplines, they can successfully coordinate a company’s visual identity with its marketing.” Quote from page 150

Designs for a special interest magazine like The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly range from $1,500-$3,000 for a quarter page, to $3,500-$10,000 for a cover. 

Designs for professional magazines like Architectural Record range from $1,500-$4,000 for a quarter page, to $3,500-$8,000 for a cover. 

A full page for a small metropolitan newspaper with a circulation of under 100,000 ranges from $1,500-$8,000 for a full page, and $1,250-$5,000 for a half page or smaller. 

Collateral & Packaging

“Graphic designers who specialize in collateral material create brochures, catalogs, press kits, and direct mail packages. (...) Artists who design packaging understand the relationship of design objectives to technological and marketing requirements, materials and their limitations, government regulations affecting the package, and printing and reproduction processes.” Quotes from page 152

A simple direct mail project can range from $850-$7,500 for a local client, and $2,500-$15,000 for a national/global client. 

A complex press kit can range from $1,800-$6,000 for a local client to $3,500-$25,000 for a national/global client. 

A package design for a food or beverage consumer product can range from $3,000-$15,000 for a test run, to $10,000-$50,000 for a general consumer. 

Package design for a digital booklet for a music album can range from $500-$3,000, depending on the artist. 

Package design for a specialized consumer video game can range from $6,000-$12,000. 

The Handbook goes into a lot more detail for publications, book jackets, covers, interior book design, exhibits, greeting cards, infographics, and maps, and it covers a whole separate chapter on Illustration Prices and Trade Customs, so again - purchasing your own copy will be a great investment. 

For me, going by these guidelines helped me tremendously in getting into a professional mindset. Without this reference, I was tempted and ready to offer up spot lettering pieces for $50 per word. The truth is, and feel free to take a look back at my design process, including sketches, two or three concepts, presentation & admin time, then refining and preparing final files, it takes me about four hours to deliver work I'm proud of. At an hourly rate of currently $75, that's a $300 price tag, and yes, that was my fee for this project.

When you say it out loud, "I charge $300 for lettering two words" it sounds like a lot; after all, it's "only" fancy handwriting and anyone could do it, right? Well, maybe go back to the thoughts on mindset in last week's post! Just because people might be able to do it doesn't mean they have the time or inclination. Once I started appreciating the amount of time and care and handiwork that goes into lettering, I was able to quiet down that voice and started appreciating the value - and thankfully, so do my clients. 

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A word on services like fiverr or 99designs

Not really knowing anyone in the industry and wanting to make myself available to clients, I considered joining a couple of these bidding sites. Lauren Hom gave us great advice in that designing anything on spec, which is what these bids are, is a bad choice for the designer for a few reasons:

  • You’re sharing your ideas on a platform of competitors and have no guarantee they won’t just run with it for any one of their projects. 
  • You’re not getting paid for any of the time you spend preparing the pitch, and there’s no guarantee your idea will be picked. 
  • This might entice you to submit ready-made ideas that have been lurking in your bottom drawer and may not be the best representation of your current skill level or brand. 

Furthermore, competing for jobs as an individual freelancer puts you in a mindset of scarcity, and unless you enjoy the adrenaline or the rush of wondering if you come out on top, the drama might leave you spiraling and depressed. It’s very likely you’re competing with studios and teams who crank out ideas because they’re on staff. Better to come from a place of strength and abundance. If you're not landing that client, someone else will, and that's ok. The next (right?) opportunity is around the corner. Goes without saying that if you try to be a nice and supportive human, you likely have a great network of creatives to collaborate with as well. 

A word on Technician vs. Creative Artist

I think I heard this on one of Sean Wes' podcasts, where he says the technician fulfills the client’s orders and makes exactly what it is they want, whereas the creative artist brings their expertise to work and advises the client in what would work best for them. 

As a technician, you become a commodity and the client can always find someone else to do it cheaper, so if you want to keep the client, your prices are in a race to the bottom. 

Technicians are interchangeable. Artists are unique. 

Every artist has their own signature style and voice they bring to a project, and the client will be hard-pressed to find that particular voice somewhere else. In an ideal world, that takes the pricing conversation away from “how low can you go”, to “how much is your way”. 

While I agree with the concept, I just want to acknowledge that sometimes, coming from that place of abundance is hard, and when you gotta pay the bills, you take the job for less money than you normally would. And that's ok. It's not a reflection of slipping standards or selling out or lowering your quality - it might just be something you gotta do that month. If you were waiting for a sign to give yourself permission to give yourself a break, this is it. 

Hope you found this helpful, and please share any questions or pricing strategies of your own in the comments! 

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