Random – Lately the number of inquires I've recieved about commission work has dramatically increased. Many of these questions have been about how to determine a price when doing commission work. So in an effort to answer these questions for the larger population, here's the basic principles I use when putting together a quote.
1. How much is your time worth? When considering doing "craft" projects that you intend to sell to others the first thing you need to consider is how much is your time worth. For the most part you're not going to make $16-$30 an hour painting models or building terrain. Even when painting to a Golden Daemon or Crystal Brush winning level the amount of time you put in usually won't equate to "real job" money. Most gamer's won't pay more to have a model painted then it cost them to purchase so keep that in mind when putting together a price. Also remember if you have a wife and kids or girlfriend your hobby time is probably limited. When I started this site I was between jobs and had much more time to build and paint stuff. Now my time is limited so it's important I enjoy every project I take on and be as efficient as possible so I'm not working for pennies an hour during my free time.
2. What are your material costs and how do you recoup them? Paint, primer, glue, sand all cost money. Good paint brushes and glue cost more. While it can take a while to burn through a pot of paint, you have to consider the costs when figuring your price. One thing I've instituted is buying new pots for army scale projects and billing them as a line item. Once you're done with the project your can give the remainder to your client in case they need touch up or add models they don't need or want you to paint.
Terrain Projects can get tricky as sometimes you use found materials and other times you need to buy foam and other raw materials. Most of the time you're going to buy in bulk and have a bunch of stuff you need to store. If you have limited room you might need to invest in space to store that stuff. Right now I'm not quite at that point but it's getting close.
3. What are your customers expectations? This is a big one. Some customers just want a three color minimum. While other might ask for table top quality expecting to be able to enter them in a juried contest. Managing those expectations and delivering as promised is huge. I've heard many horror stories from painters about unreasonable clients that make requests well beyond what the initial request was and then want to pay less because the quality is what was expected. On the flip side I've also heard numerous stories of painters that send over a quick shot of the base coated model only to have the client "love it and want to know how quick it will ship." That second one is rare but important to remember as some clients dont' want you best work. They just want some color on the models. Knowing this you can save yourself a ton of time.
4. How are you going to get it to the client? Nobody considers shipping costs. One more then one occasion I've had to deal with customers complaining about shipping, "DUDE the flat rate box is only $5, why does it cost $20 to ship to me in Antarctica? You're trying to RIP ME OFF!" You also see this all over several companies forums. The reality is shipping is expensive, foam and packing materials are expensive. Tracking and insuring packages is expensive. And even it you do everything right the post office, UPS or Fed Ex will inevitably screw up on a one-of-a-kind rare product. It happens, sending boxes across the country or world has risks. Most of the time it's not an issue but when it is will be the one time you didn't insure or track a package. C.Y.A.
While the post office and FedEx provide free boxes the packing material is not free. Even cheap foam is a $1-$5 a yard minimum. If you're shipping painted models wrap them in foam and pack them well. Otherwise it's likely to be damaged during shipping. For an order of several models you can quickly burn through a large amount of foam and tape. So figure in the cost of shipping and add a few dollars to cover packing materials otherwise it will eat into your already tight bottom line.
5. Don't get burned. When painting models this isn't as big a deal as if you don't get paid keep the model and resell it. So long as it's nothing to obscure you should be able to get at least 40-50% of the retail cost, more if you're willing to wait. But terrain projects are another beast entirely. Custom terrain is hard to sell once its built. Particularly if it's custom to specific client. After getting burned a few times I put forth a 50% nonrefundable deposit. That way if I have to go buy a bunch of supplies for a project I'm not going to be out of pocket if the client changes their mind or "is broke this month bro."
6. Be transparent. Have examples of your work and the various levels of quality and pricing tiers available. Put them out there for the work to see. Eventually people will start to connect with your work and ask about pricing. For example for a table top quality miniature from a skirmish game I typical charge by model size: 30mm - $8-$12; 40mm - $10-$15; 50mm - $15-$30. This gives a good starting point. But for an army level game it's unlikely you'll get that much per model. At this point most people want a "lower table top quality" which falls more in line with the 25mm- $2-$3, and goes up from there.
For terrain projects it helps to come up with some designs you can quickly replicate and make a bunch of them at once. Assembly lines are good for managing time and if you make something that can be used for several systems you diversify your client base. For example the swamps I sell in the online store I typically make 6-10 of them at a time. Since they use water effects it's better to mix a larger pot of it and pour all at once than to make small pot and have a bunch of waste. Having an existing stock also lets you focus on other projects and have a reference point for custom orders.
Being consistent helps you to manage your time and be able to quickly quote a price to a potential customer. I hope this answers any questions for aspiring painters and potential clients.