Guide to Commissioning

Free Resource

This advice acts as an aid/checklist to the commissioning process of illustration. The art-buying practice may vary from business to business, but this outline will benefit both commissioners and illustrators alike. Good communication between the illustrator and client is encouraged at all times.

Contacting the Illustrator

How busy is the illustrator – are they free to take on a new commission? Even if they’re busy, illustrators can sometimes re-arrange their schedule to accommodate your job if sufficiently interested.

Outline your timescale together with a few details of the job. The illustrator will want to discuss uses and fees before making a commitment to a commission.

Is there a particular reason for contacting this illustrator? If you’ve seen a particular image of thiers let the illustrator know as it’ll give them a better understanding of exactly what it is you’re looking for.

Describing the illustration required

Mechanical information such as the likely printed size, space for typography etc. will all be required by the illustrator.

Some illustrators work in a variety of styles, so be specific about the means of execution, if relevant.

In terms of content, is a specific visual image required?

If so, this should be communicated as accurately as possible to the illustrator so there can be little or no room for misinterpretation. Any visual material you can supply to this end will also help.

Is the brief open to the illustrator’s interpretation?

Many illustrators prefer an open brief as it enables them to work more creatively; however frustration can set in if proposed sketches are repeatedly rejected. Be sure to outline any and all restrictions at the outset. If a sketch is rejected, ensure you communicate to the illustrator the reasons for the rejection together with any suggestions for a remedy. The illustrator may reasonably expect additional payment if extra rounds of sketches are requested above and beyond what was originally briefed.

State the deadline for finished artwork and delivery of roughs. Also provide an indication of the time needed for sketch approval. Days spent waiting for approval on a drawing can seriously eat into the time set aside for execution of finished artwork.


Generally speaking, a good selection of an illustrators work can be viewed online via their website or other platforms, with samples available via email if required. Artists may be happy to send hi-res files for print outs and presentation purposes.

If requesting files, give an outline of the job which has generated the portfolio request. The illustrator may well want to adapt their image selection to suit the job concerned.

Requesting a Meeting

Consider the purpose of any proposed meeting with an illustrator and bear in mind that it could easily take a day out of the artist’s working week. Briefs, portfolio samples and visual material can usually be more efficiently communicated via email or file transfer platforms.

When arranging a meeting between artist and client ensure the illustrator is briefed as to what will be expected of their presence i.e. presenting portfolio, talking about ideas, etc.

A client should inform the illustrator of a cancelled meeting in good time.

If more than one meeting is a requirement of the job then these times may reasonably be charged by the illustrator as added expenses.

Asking for a Quote

Illustration is paid for on the basis of a licence. As illustration is charged according to its usage, the illustrator will need details of how and where the finished piece is to be used, over what time period, and what territory it’s being used in. Uses can vary considerably depending on which area of the market the work is commissioned for.

Working out a use can be quite straightforward for, say, an editorial job where a typical use could be described as ‘a quarter page magazine illustration, one-time editorial use, UK only.’

Things may be more complex in other areas, particularly in advertising and design work where multiple uses are envisioned, perhaps spanning different territories.

In these cases the illustrator will require:

-a list of anticipated uses – i.e. mailer, press advert, point-of-sale etc;
-territory of use – i.e. Asia, USA, world or list of single countries;
-period of use – 1 year, 2 years.

If you have a specified budget, save time and energy by communicating it upfront. The illustrator can respond as to whether or not they can work for the specified fee. Please don’t offer the illustrator less than your budget allows. The very real deterioration in fees is making illustration an increasingly difficult profession to sustain.

Don’t expect an immediate quote from an illustrator for a proposed job. Commissions can often be quite complex and the artist needs some time to consider the various aspects. The AOI advises its members to avoid giving ‘ballpark’ figures as a quote cannot be worked out based on unspecified uses.

It’s reasonable to expect the illustrator to quote extra for any necessary expenses above and beyond the norm i.e. travel to a specified location. Similarly a ‘premium’ or ‘rush fee’ may be quoted for work which is required in an unusually short time frame e.g. a job which requires working through the night.

Everything is negotiable. If a quote exceeds your budget, get back in touch with the illustrator and see what flexibility exists in the licencing arrangements. For example, if a quote for blanket all-rights has been requested, a more specific licence, tailored to the exact usage requirements of the client, may actually be far more cost effective.


It’s in the interests of both client and illustrator that proper documentation exists for commissioned works. The AOI advises its members to use an Illustrator Commissioner form (or licence) that’s sent to the client outlining all the agreed terms. Equally you may have your own contract to send to the illustrator.

Copyright is a very valuable commodity. It affords the owner the exclusive right to reproduce an image (or allow others to reproduce it) in any way throughout the world for the period of copyright i.e. 70 years from the death of the creator. A client commissioning, say, a brochure cover doesn’t require such wide-ranging rights and would almost certainly not want to pay the appropriate usage fee.

Please avoid asking illustrators to sign a contract which assigns copyright or ‘all rights’ to the client without first agreeing a price for such uses.

A licence is the most appropriate way for the illustrator to give the client the rights it needs. The illustrator keeps the copyright and grants the client a licence appropriate to the commission. The licence is based on the usage of the artwork, the territory it’s distributed in and the time period of the licence, and will be exclusive for the rights licensed to the client for the specified time.

E.g: UK Licence, 1 year, illustration for use on client’s website ONLY = agreed fee.

The AOI publishes an Illustrator Commissioner Agreement form with standard Terms and Conditions. You’ll find it here.

The Small Business Commissioner has a guide to Contracts; it details that copyright remains with the creator.

If the Job is Rejected/Cancelled

Any envisaged problems over the style or content of artwork should be aired as soon as possible.

If you’re unhappy with the quality of artwork (i.e. it falls far short of the quality seen in samples by the artist) and have to reject it, the following rejection fees are broadly accepted as industry standard.

25% of the agreed fee if the work is rejected at rough stage.

50% of the agreed fee if the artwork is rejected on delivery.

If a commission is cancelled through no fault of the illustrator, the following cancellation fees are broadly accepted as industry standard.

25% of the agreed fee if the commission is cancelled before delivery of roughs.

33% of the agreed fee if the commission is cancelled at rough stage.

100% of the agreed fee if the commission is cancelled on the delivery of artwork.

In the case of more detailed preparatory work such as coloured presentation visuals, a cancellation fee of 50% may be more appropriate. This should be negotiated with the artist.

The Finished Artwork

Finished artwork can be delivered in a myriad of ways. Be sure to pass on your preferred method of delivery to the illustrator and confirm receipt with a simple email/phone call.

If alterations are required the illustrator may charge a reasonable fee for significant changes which weren’t in the original brief. However, the illustrator may not charge extra fees for alterations which are the fault of the artist, nor for trivial alterations.

If in physical form, unless otherwise agreed, the original artwork belongs to the artist. Please ensure you return it safely.

The AOI would like to make resources accessible to all members. If you would like an alternative format please ask.


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