Category: Pricing Art

Pricing Your Art – More than COGS, More than Frame, Mat, & Glaze

zentao trademark and logoThis subject comes up time and again: pricing your art.

Here’s a simple, easy way to figure out if you are charging too much or too little.  Does the matting, framing, and glazing cost more than the art?  If so, you are charging way too little.


This is, by far, the toughest pricing for new artists to calculate.  Do you go by the time it took you to create it?  Do you go by how much you like it?  Well, I suppose it all depends on where you are going as an artist.  Are you strictly a “hobby” painter or are you trying to make a living at this?  Are you painting the same scene over and over, doing one in an hour…fifteen minutes? Are you pouring your love and care into the work?

Simply put: If you value what you do, charge accordingly.


To get a good base price, start with “overhead and operating costs,” add in “resources,” including time and effort.  Add in creativity and “how many are produced in one year.”

Overhead and operating costs are the costs of:

  • the room where you work,
  • including the utilities it takes to keep that room habitable.

Resources, not including human resources:

  • the supplies to create the work, times two,
  • the gas, travel expenses, server fees, and any other expenses associated with making, marketing, and selling the work.

Human Resources:

  • the number of hours it takes to produce that art,
  • the number of hours it takes to sell the work.

And the Base Price is:

Calculate how many works you create in one year, how much it costs you to produce those works (operating expenses, overhead, resources, and marketing expenses), plus how much you value a year’s worth of your time and effort (labor).  Divide the number of works into that total. That’s your base price.

That’s the minimum that the original piece is worth, less copyright.

Now, add in the aesthetic value of the work and the rank you hold as an artist (how famous and successful you are).

When you sell the original work, don’t sell the copyright, unless you can figure out how much copies of that work will generate over the work’s lifetime.


Let’s take that work of art and make an excellent digital copy of it for sale as prints. Are you going to sell these copies as open editions or limited editions? Lets talk open editions sold through a POD, since that’s what the majority of you are doing. (Word to the wise: Use a POD that lets you set your own markup.)

Price your open edition print so that it is at least twice the COGS, or “cost of goods sold”, and certainly more than it costs to frame, mat, and glaze it.  What are the COGS? It means the cost of producing and marketing the print.

  • How much does the POD charge to produce the work? 8.99 on the cheapest paper and $189.00 for canvas? Set your price at least double that.
  • How much do you pay a year for space and marketing these prints.  Divide by 100, and add that into your price.

Next, calculate what it will cost the customer to frame, mat, and glaze the work.

  • For non-archival paper, work from the “cheap end” when pricing framing for the low end print. Figure your local Wal-Mart frame, mat, and glass are going to cost the customer somewhere between $7 and $99, depending on the size.
  • Work from the “high end” for museum quality. If it is a museum print quality on archival paper or canvas, the framing and matting should be “high end” conservation materials with museum glass (UV and non-glare) or UV protection Plexiglas®. This means, of course, that the framing, matting, and glazing are going to start around $100 for a small print and go up from there.

Your open edition print should cost at least double its COGS, 1% of your marketing fees and subscriptions, and definitely more than it costs to frame, mat, and glaze that print.

Pricing Yourself INTO the Art Market


zentao trademark & logoThink about this before setting your prices to compete with every publisher dump of “fine art prints,” or painting canvasses in assembly-line fashion and auctioning your work at EBay. 

If you are a graphic artist or poster artist, you price your masters according to the income they potentially will prove to produce as net profit, but set your print prices comparable to the competition…and you’d better be good, because you’ve got a LOT of competition.

If you are a fine artist, however, you price yourself INTO the market, not OUT of it. You do this by pricing high, not low. There isn’t a legitimate gallery, collector, investor, or art agent out there interested in someone who gives their work away for pennies, yes, even their prints/reproductions of the originals.

Enough said.

Pricing Digital Art

 zentao trademark since 1997


  • Your work is uniquely yours, no doubt about it.  At a glance, people can tell it’s your work. (Often called “style”  😉 )
  • Your work is professional in quality (No unintended pixelation, not “obviously [insert program name]) (I feel another story coming up, but I’ll spare you.)

Price just over what your direct competitors are asking until you begin to become popular.  Remember, digital art covers every style and genre plus has an endless variety of its own unique ones.  Now, work to get the exposure you need to sell your art by putting yourself out in front of buyers:

  • on the Internet…but NOT in “low market zones” and certainly not *shudder* on ebay. (NO NOT NEVER.)
  • by donating your work to charity auction fund raisers
  • doing one-sheet and brochure mailings to shops you would like to handle your work (professional-looking one-sheets and brochures, that is, which shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but I will anyway.)

That’s a start and will take you a good six months to ice that much.

Next, once you start selling well, start raising your prices so that your prices reflect the increasing value of your work.

And, I will say it ONE MORE TIME HERE:  NEVER SELL ALL RIGHTS, or even any of your copyright yourself.  If you’ve got a potential “sweet” deal, get an agent or intellectual properties lawyer to handle the negotiations and contract.  Do NOT do it yourself.

But what are you selling?  Anything that your work looks good on or in.  Don’t put it on anything that doesn’t show it off to its best advantage.

There’s a solid start for you…but it isn’t anything new.  Everybody is doing it.  You just have to be persistent, and you have to have a “look” that people are drawn to.  That’s YOUR job.  The sales will follow.

BTW, if you already have collectors of your work, then you also have a good “in” to their circle of influence…which nets you a bigger circle of influence once you start mining it. It works like ripples in water, especially when the drops keep getting faster and bigger.

BEWARE: The “biz” end can wind up eating the art right out of you.  It did me.  I’m just now getting a bit of control back.  I warn you ahead of time.  The “biz” will run you ragged and into the grave if you aren’t careful.

never underprice your art; commercial art vs. fine art

zentao trademark since 1997Never undersell your art.  Here’s a story.

Long time passing, I sold a piece commissioned by a BIG company on spec.  They bought it.  I, of course, was ecstatic.  While I had successfully placed paintings and sculpts, digital art was a new media.  I thought I was “in.”  Wrong.  They requested and I gave all rights (NEVER turn over all rights unless you get an agent to work out the details for you.  In fact, when dealing with any of the Majors, especially the Majors, always use an agent or intellectual properties lawyer.)  Anyway, on with the story.  I sold it for less than I spent on it in time, materials, processing — positives, prints….da da da da da — but I thought it would be a stepping stone for me, so….  All rights.  That image wound up, not only on what it was meant for, but on the backs of t-shirts, parts of it on cups, on calendars, with NO credit given the artist, me….sigh.  So long as the property was hot, they made money off my image, and they made money off of parts of my image, and I didn’t get a dime in royalties, plus lost all right to display that image as mine — I didn’t get even so much as a reference, much less my signature on it, no credits in the fine print…!!!  NEVER SELL ALL RIGHTS and get an agent to handle negotiations ALWAYS.  Once you’ve got a bite, you get an agent involved, never mind how much it costs you out of pocket or as a percentage of your take.

How to price digital art, and how to get into the “market.”

Well, GAG is probably the place you want to go.  (Graphic Arts Guild) Do some research there.

My own sentiments are, price HIGH.  You do yourself no favors by pricing low.  It just says: “I don’t think a lot about myself or my work.  I’m desperate.”  Respect yourself that much, at least.  Others won’t if you don’t.

Now let’s talk about two completely different markets and types of art: fine art verses commercial art.

Doing book covers, art for glossy magazines like Dog World and Arabian Horse World, CD art, advertisements — anything that’s going to go ON a product rather that BE a product is subject to some meticulous industry standards and specs.  Don’t play if you don’t own the software, know the techniques and own the “talk.”  Once you know the techniques and can walk the walk…if that’s what you want to do, realize you have a LOT of competition — jealous competition…cut-throat competition…from big companies and big-name artists.  They are very jealous of their market share and want yours too, even what you don’t yet have.  And you have to price competitively.  Never UNDER-CUT your competition in price.  OVER-THROW your competition with service and quality and “being easy to work with.”

Fine Art is “you” —  all you.  You can do what you want, how you want, and nobody’s spec sheets are going to make you sweat.

…Oh, you want my opinion on pricing fine art? I need more coffee first.

Artists Desperate for Approval

zentao trademarkI shake my head when I see artists posting their work on ebay or setting their prices so low that they might as well post an ad on their foreheads that says, “I’m desperate for approval. Please prove to me that you value what I do by paying me some pennies.”  That’s what low prices for your work means, actually.  In my last post, I said that low prices suggest you don’t value your work.  Well, that’s not really the case, now, is it?  It actually means that you so desperately want someone, anyone, to prove to you that they’ll PAY you in legal currency for your work that you price it so that you know that anyone who wants it can afford it.  And still they don’t buy it.  Oh sure, a sale here, a sale there, and they talk your price down maybe, right?  But not hoards of people buying copies.  And certainly nobody who comes in and says, I want an exclusive on that.

Psst!  If you are pricing your work in some effort to get people to prove to you that your work and who you are is worthy, think again.  If YOU like it, that’s all that matters.  Now price it according to how MUCH you like it.

Pricing Art

zentao trademarkWhat is art worth? What is art, especially my art, worth to me.. or to you?

What would I pay and could I pay for a painting I want to hang in my office, my reception area, my study, my living room, my hallway… .

Depends on your budget, but I figure one to two month’s income isn’t too much if its something I really, really like.  For the living room it isn’t too much, not for the primary work, which will, along with a tasteful sculpt, establish the room’s ambience, provide my guests stimulus and enjoyment, and generally enhance the atmosphere I want cultivated there.

The kitchen?  Well, no more necessary, because, except (hopefully) for the nook, all the others are probably going to have to be replaced regularly unless they are hermetically sealed in Dawn-proof tempered glass (Did I mention I burn water at the kitchen stove?  You can imagine what I do to pork chops!  That’s why I have a brown kitchen.)

Okay, how about the bedroom?  Ummm….there I’m going to spend a nice tidy amount on it for two to three paintings, and they’re going to be one large, maybe one medium and a couple of small-sized paintings I really like, my hubby likes,  something that totally sets up an atmosphere of comfortable, relaxed intimacy.

Now, the BATHROOM.  Similar to the kitchen, only even cheaper. (My husband is a disaster in any bathroom.  Water, water everywhere, never mind the steam, even with the exhaust fans on!)  Cheap, cheap, cheap, here, throw-away images I know I’m going to have to replace too regularly.

So, now we come to the entrance hall, the dining room, the study, my office….

The nice thing about ImageKind is that, one, I, the artist, can set my preferences for my images — size, framing, matting, paper/canvas choices, glazing.  Yes, the customer can change those, but they know what I have set them at…or will once I get my galleries set the way I want them.   But the customer has the ability to CHANGE THE OPTIONS, which ALLOWS THEM to price the images to their needs.  In other words, I can do a cheap size, framing, and paper for images that I’m going to have to replace often, while I can also choose a high-quality option for the living room or conference area and modest mid-level option for, say, my office’s reception area.  (Don’t you love the “art happening” when Mom brings Junior in with her and lets him scribble all over the walls, furniture and paintings with indelible pen?)  I redid my reception area after an incident like that all in this wonderful raw pipe and torn wallboard look.  It was really cool.  But it didn’t match the rest of the office and, once the contractors were done, we had to go back to less of a ghetto look.

On to the nitty gritty of pricing YOUR (or MY) work.  Are your works collectables yet?  Will they be?  Do you value yourself, your work? Do you value what you do?  My rule for myself is to price it according to what I would pay for it, regardless of whether I actually sell a copy of the work.  To me, it doesn’t matter if I sell.  I don’t do art for someone else.  I do it for me, because I like it.  If someone agrees with me, great.  If they don’t, there are lots of other artists’ work to choose from.  Art is in the eye of the beholder, and I like, am proud, of my vision and its expression.  …And a word of warning.  If you sell yourself low, that shows the buyer what you think of your own work.

So how do I price my work?  Well, digital art is reproducable art, not one of a kind art like a canvas on oil.  Prints can be made of an oil…lithographs, limited editions, etc.  Those works — never sell the original for anything less than top price.  Digital…which is what I do online here, well, you are selling the IMAGE, the ART, not a one-of-a-kind item.  So that changes things like pricing a bit, but not that much.  I want my work valued, not winding up wall-papering some ghetto bathroom.  So I price it accordingly.

The point: Don’t underprice your art. Your art is you.  Underpricing your art is undervaluing YOU.  I don’t care if you never sell one painting.  If your art is beautiful to you, price it according to what you would yourself be willing to pay for it if it had been created by someone else.


I’m pricing my work mid-level online right now because IK is the first online company that I’ve found worthy of my time and art…and TRUST…which is a big thing with me.  I’m trying it out.  I’ll see how it goes.  So far, so good.