I’m chasing a bit of advice regarding pay rates and contract terms for illustrators...

I’m currently working full-time for a start-up as a graphic designer and being paid a decent rate for someone in a mid-weight graphic designer role. The company I work for is a web-subscription service, customers pay a flat rate and can download PDFs.

The thing is, almost every project I work on involves illustration work, and while I’m not the best illustrator in the world, I’m now at a point where I’m starting to develop a style and I’d feel comfortable calling myself an illustrator rather than just a graphic designer.

I work jointly with writers / content creators some of the time, and sometimes a PDF that is for sale is wholly my own work. I feel like I work quite quickly and would complete between 70-100 spot illustrations and 6-10 full-pages or character sets a month.

Since I was hired as a graphic designer I don’t currently any stipulations in my contract specifying how my illustrations are used. I like my job, and I don’t consider my employer to be intentionally ripping me off, but there are some alarm bells going off. I’m not 100% sure but I’m guessing there’s potentially nothing stopping my employer from reselling my artwork on a stock website, selling it to manufacturers under a licensing agreement etc

Are there any full-time illustrators out there with contract advice? Should I be happy with my current wage? Should I be freaking out about not owning copyright over my images? Should I be moving to something more along the lines of an art licensing agreement? Does anyone have advice for art licensing agreements for digital products?

Thanks in advance

3 Answers 3


Should I be happy with my current wage?

That, only you can answer. If you like your job and your salary, what is the problem?

Should I be freaking out about not owning copyright over my images?

No, because that is exactly the same as any work. I have probably made thousands of icons and I see them pop up sometimes in new projects. I was paid to make them.

Should I be moving to something more along the lines of an art licensing agreement?

You always can, but then you are self-employed. No one is going to pay you to work and then buy said work from you.


You could to start selling your illustrations on your own website. You can still keep this job but if you're starting to have a particular style, then this is where you might regret later sharing it with the world at low flat hourly rate; a hourly rate doesn't generate any extra income for you and you don't get any credit either. For example, one day you might want to publish your own comics or books and you will want to own all the rights on your characters to be able to this. My suggestion is to keep for yourself you "favorite character(s)" if you have some.

The salary for illustrators is usually higher than graphic designers but it's also not a hourly rate... Depending where you live, you can have a look at your national illustrator associations to have an idea of the prices. Frankly, you can't expect your hourly paid job to give you as much as what these association will suggest you to charge. If you're happy with your salary and if you don't feel like you're giving away too much of your unique ideas to your employer, then there's technically no issues.

Yes, your employer has all the rights to resell your work and upload your illustrations to a stock pictures website. If you want to change this, you'll need to specifically sign a contract about this. (Maybe this question can help.)

Should you be freaking out? Well... How ambitious are you?

If you're the kind of person who doesn't plan on having your own brand or publish anything, then no, just cash your weekly cheque and be happy with your contribution to the world of design. If you're the kind of person who dreams of having your own name out there and do more than being hired to do illustrations 8 to 5, then yes, freaking out is healthy. That's why I suggest you keep "your best characters" for yourself, and start exploring the idea of being an illustrator on the side and publish your own work (e.g. like Zen Pencil)

If things go well for you, you might decide to simply quit your job and be a full time illustrator as a freelancer or an author.

Being a good (and fast) illustrator is a rare skill!

If you do graphic design as well, you really got a nice set of skills there that will get you far. Don't compare yourself with graphic designers only or icons designers, you're really a level above that.


If you are currently being paid a salary, you are performing what is known as "work for hire" and your employer retains all rights to your work, unless you've somehow managed to negotiate otherwise. Try freelancing for a while and you'll quickly find out your value in the market. If you have the skills people want, you'll be able to charge more.

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