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Artwork/design pricing and deposit procedures


New Member
Hi All,

I was hoping to get some inspiration about how to go about charging for artwork and if anyone collects a deposit.

Our issue: 90% of our customers need sign design and some kind of artwork creation. Been trying harder to collect deposits and informing clients of the total design cost upfront but as we all know sometimes the total time is well beyond estimates.

How do people go about information the client of cost? Do you use a general $/design fee and anything over is billed at x$/hr? Do you update total costs per revision?

Thank you for all the assistance!


Active Member
I dont charge for design work, in many cases my designs sell the designs. If a client calls me wants and specifically wants a logo I will charge them for that but if they are offering me a sign package its free. If the sign package is over $5k I require 50% deposit down and balance due upon installation.

I am the only one on here that does not charge for design work, everyone else does except when someone makes a post about not getting paid then they all let one slide


President - The Calverley Group
Hi All,
The Process we follow when it comes to 90% of the projects that come through our door is typically to collect 50% Down to get the project started.

Last thing you want to do is scare the customer away, so give them an option and a range...for example, if you have a overall project that is $2000 and you questimate that $200 of that is art time based on $75hr design time, then give them the option to just put 50% down on the design time fee to get the ball rolling. So $100 down is nothing, but explain to them that if for some reason you go over that time, you will keep them informed, but be realistic in your time for design. If you really think it will take 4 hours (not because you are a slow designer), then base your figure on 4 hours.

You can explain upfront that once the design is approved, we can take the next step and take the 50% down for the actual sign so you can get materials ordered etc...

It is much easier, especially on larger ticket items for people to pay in increments. I have also at times asked people to pay 100% of the design portion of the project and then, do 50% on the sign portion. Just feel out your customer, but don’t scare them away to the next sign shop that just might make these simple steps....and st the end still get the same dollar amount you would have.

Trace Calverley
NorthStar Signs and Graphics
Sherman, TX

I was hoping to get some inspiration about how to go about charging for artwork and if anyone collects a deposit.

Our issue: 90% of our customers need sign design and some kind of artwork creation. Been trying harder to collect deposits and informing clients of the total design cost upfront but as we all know sometimes the total time is well beyond estimates.

How do people go about information the client of cost? Do you use a general $/design fee and anything over is billed at x$/hr? Do you update total costs per revision?

Thank you for all the assistance!


New Member
I don't typically separate out a design fee, its built into my pricing. Well, basic design is built in, if they want a "logo" or intricate design, I will charge a separate fee.

And its easy to get a deposit. I just say "Artwork is part of the job, and I don't do any finished designs until we receive a 50% deposit." When they say "what if i don't like it?" I tell them to look at our portfolio and if they don't like what they see, they should find an outside graphic designer to do the layout. And adding to the design thing, unless its something like gemini letters where I need to have a pretty much finished design to even get a quote, I don't show a design prior to the quote. If its something like window lettering, i'll block out an area on picture and say "2 color vinyl graphics in this area".


New Member
We have a design rate that we charge in 10 minute increments (we just tell the clients the per hour rate though to avoid confusion.) Whenever we have a request for just the design, we take a down deposit of half the estimated time and keep a credit card on file - this is just so they don't take the proofs and we never hear from them again. If they are ordering signs with the design, we just sort of use our discretion on who should pay a down deposit or not. As for communicating that design estimates can change, we basically beat it into them at every turn haha. At the start we express "this price depends on actual time." it's written on their invoice, and we have a disclaimer in our proofs that says the same thing. Only other thing, we just try to be courteous to our clients and give them a heads up when they are approaching their estimated time. Sort of as a gentle nudge to quit f-ing around cause it's gonna cost them more money hah.


Premium Subscriber
We sell blocks of time for artwork needing more than an easy fix or face lift. When someone is serious, they realize it's gonna cost.


New Member
Know your limits...

When we first started we provided a lot of free artwork to help secure the project. Now we only do it from time to time... We charge $65 per hour to design their artwork and create print ready files. We have found that if you are upfront with the client on the pricing then few issues will arise from it.

We only ask for deposits on projects that are fabricated (Channel Letters, Monuments, Digital Signage). Otherwise we just print it and let them have up to 30 days to pay. This may not work well for all for sure. Many of our clients are Colleges and they do not pay deposits on their projects. They will either pay for it up front or wait up to 30 days after they have received the completed project.

If it's a quick design that does not take up more than a few minutes then we will send them a proof. Otherwise they have to agree on the price for us to do the job before we send them proofs.

Create a pdf flyer that describes the artwork types and formats. Then include your rates for design time, vector conversions for logos, logo creations, and wall/vehicle wrap design fees. This will help your client know that there is a price to be paid to have professional artwork created. Let them see the difference between raster and vector. Let them know why it's important to have professionally designed artwork to ensure they have a strong looking brand when their customers view their signage.

Good luck...


Active Member
Our approach is very similar to most others. If the client is coming to us strictly for a "laid out" one off sign, we include the "layout" time in the price of the item, but separate it out for billing purposes because in our state, labor is non-taxable. For that purpose, we break it down into 15 minute increments.

For design work that will include printed items like business cards, logo design, deliverables, etc. we provide a rough estimate and expect a 50% deposit before fully engaging in the creative process. It's made clear that receiving clear intent and direction from them helps keep the price near the estimate, but additional charges can be added if excessive revisions

Long time, loyal customers will receive more leniency and consideration, than a stranger or someone who triggers our tire kicker radar.


Active Member
I'm upfront and tell clients we have a design fee. Also tell them we have minimums for any type of work. Immediately weeds out the tire kickers. If you want to see this monkey dance you better put money in the cup. YMMV


New Member
The more upfront with everything, even with how things are handled when going "overbudget". If everything is spelled out before hand, that tends to help keep things going.

Pricing and how things are handled with the extras, that, to me, would need to be evaluated individually to see what works for them.


New Member
If it's a new customer that we haven't worked with before, we charge an artwork deposit based on an estimate of time we think it will take to come up with 2-3 concepts. If they use that up, (rarely happens) we simply tell them and they can pay more to get more designs/tweaks done. If it's an existing customer, they pay 50% down when they place their order, which would include the estimate for design work. Again, if they somehow use up more time, we make them aware of that once we reach that point.

As for actual work (banner, vehicle wrap, channel letters, etc.) all our customers are required to put 50% down - admittedly there are about 5-6 I don't do this to - mostly because of their good credit history and how they pay their bills.

Also, we charge UP FRONT for all permitting, inspections or whatever else the city and local zoning folks ask for - no exceptions. I've had a few stiff us because what they wanted to do required a variance, and then they just didn't pay their bill when they found that out and we were left holding the bag.

In short, I just got tired of being everyone's bank - if they want work done, put some skin in the game and we'll make it happen. At least if they walk we got 50%, if they don't want to pay the 50% chances are they were going to be a PITA or not pay anyway...so I send them along to the next poor schmuck who will take a chance of getting paid. Not thanks, not anymore.


Old member
Back in the day, we did art for free to sell the job. The customer wanted to see what his sign would look like before he plunked down his money. Design was an overhead expense. We made our money selling plastic, wood and metal. In time we accumulated a fleet of service vehicles, and installations and maintenance became our main source of income and profits.

These days, I make my money doing design work. There's dozens of sign shops around that can order signs from wholesalers and put them up. There's even a few who still fabricate signs, but the trend these days is outsourcing fabrication. I have a lot of respect and admiration for sign shops that make their own signs and maintain a service fleet, but running a profitable fabrication and/or installation business is a lot of work and requires substantial investments in facilities, equipment and employees. I prefer to keep good relations with local full- service companies and steer my clients to them for furnishing, installing, and maintaining signs. These companies, in-turn, send me design jobs that bog their production artists down.

There are full-service companies that do not like my business model. I can always just order the signs from the same places they do, and have them drop shipped to installation and service companies who are quite happy to provide those services and have neither the inclination nor the technical ability to design signs. I don't want to sound like a jerk, but I can usually come in with a substantially lower complete project price and still make a tidy profit. These same companies that I piss off seem to be happy receiving shipments from sign forwarding companies that work for national accounts. I don't see how what I am doing is any different. If the local full-service companies want to work with me, great! If they don't, well that's their business.

It's important to note that I offer consulting and engineering services in addition to graphic design. Many of my clients want me to estimate their entire project cost, and retain me in order to get competitive bids on completely spec'd projects. By offering a full range of design services, in most cases I take that burden off the fabrication and installation companies and can deliver a full set of drawings and specs that can easily be priced out. Most municipalities and many building owners will require comprehensive engineering drawings for larger projects. They want to know the pull and shear strength of the attachment hardware, how the weight and wind-loads transfer to the attaching structures, the section modulus of the pipe supports, and how deep the hole is and how much concrete needs to be used to safely ballast a pylon. It is also important to understand how commonly used materials are deployed in the construction of signs and how equipment is used for successful sign erection. At the end of the day, it is the fabrication and installation contractor that is responsible for the signs they erect, but it makes the bidding process much easier if they have a full set of plans to start with (I do carry errors and omissions insurance; the cost is low and I've never had a claim).

The process is the same whether I'm designing a banner or a billboard. It's just a matter of scale. The bottom line is that I charge for design, and that is a separate ticket from fabrication and installation. For smaller jobs, I take a deposit. Larger jobs require a contract with a designated payment schedule based on a time-table of deliverables.

Kacy Carlsen

Mark Your Territory!
We have set prices for graphic design based on the item. We want to have easy pricing for our customers and easy quoting process for our team. We know generally how long different products take to design. For example, custom business card design with revisions is $75. We list graphic design as a separate line item. We do not list "set up" fees as a separate line item though, we build that into the price due to push back from customers that provide "print ready" (never happens) files.

We also charge upfront before any design or print work is started.

Bobby H

Arial Sucks.
Our company has standard per hour fees for design time. We also charge design deposit fees for more complicated projects like vehicle wraps, window wraps, wall murals, etc. We are willing to provide more lee-way to customers who have an established relationship with us. When we do artwork revisions for them there is still at least some understanding we're going to get some work out of it and get paid. In the end the question to charge or not to charge for design time is a gut feeling thing that changes on a case by case, client by client basis.

But everything has a limit. A project can be stuck in revision hell for only so long. You can at least have some idea of what a long time customer wants. Those kinds of clients are usually great because it's not hard to give them just what they want on the first try. Some new person with a new business you don't know? That's a bigger risk. Well established clients are not so inclined to shop around (as long as you're keeping them happy). New people are too often looking for the cheapest price. So you really have to cover your backside when it comes to those types. I've seen too many of them looking for Sistine Chapel design and fabrication for a thrift store price. Some of the most cheapskate customers can also be the most picky. So if you have some set design fees and other standard forms of pricing at the ready it can punt those "problem child" clients you honestly don't need down the road before you have invested a bunch of design time and other labor in them. Let them move on to pester the crap out of the cheaper sign companies.
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Andy D

Active Member
Something I'm about to implement is to lower my square foot fee & implement a $30 (non-refundable) project fee for
non-repeate orders. This would cover the time it takes to work with customer & find out what they need, put it into the system & a 15-20 minutes design. The way it would work is, if I were charging (random prices) $6 a square foot for a 4' x 8' banner, I would drop it to $5 a square foot and add the $30 project set-up fee. They would need to pay that before any work is done.