How much will you charge for this freelance project?

I’ve started freelancing but not too sure how much to charge my clients. Can those of you who are experienced in this please quote an appropriate fee?


location: US/Canada
my experience: 5 years in product design
the client: a manufacturer with own factories

The Projects

product type: relatively simple consumer products like alarm clocks, radios, flashlights, portable CD/mp3 players etc.

to design: external housing only, no internal parts or ribs and boses expected.


  1. a few rough hand sketches of 2 or 3 initial concepts.

  2. after a concept is chosen, a 2D color rendering of the chosen concept with Illustrator (the client insists that they don’t want 3D because they have their own factory engineers to do 3D models, whose expertise in part design is supposed to be better than any industrial designers, so they say).

  3. after the rendering is approved, a 2D Acad drawing of the design (exterior only).

    Here is my questions:

  4. How much should I charge this type of projects?

  5. How many weeks is appropriate for the project from start to finish?

  6. If the client cancels the project after the first stage (rough sketches) are done, how much should I charge them?

    Thanks for the advice.

There’s no standard formula for what you’re asking. How do you account for your exact expenses, particular talents, work speed or geographic location? All affect your fees.

Don’t charge by the hour if this is your first project with that client and negotiate a lump sum payment for clear deliverables by a fixed date. You can continue this for subsequent project stages if they materialize. The client still doesn’t know what you produce in an hour so selling one for $100 is meaningless, not to mention allows them easier shopping for better rates, turning you into the equivalent of a creative plumber or electrician.

Use the hourly rate you need ($50 - $75 is a useful range) to only to get a ballpark figure for the final quote. Multiply by 1.25 to cover expenses, travel and other unpleasant surprises and don’t even touch the keyboard before their 25-30% deposit hasn’t cleared with your bank. Never, ever, work without a downpayment first. If big firms don’t take that risk, why should you. And if they object to it, you just lost one crook of many.

Using Illustrator and getting the talk-down on the merits of engineers shows your client only understands design as product cosmetics, sad but common. I never took on clients so arrogant and inevitably ignorant of what ID is, but it’s your choice. Even more reason to cover your you-know-what.

Do you really need more than 40-50 hours for all 3 steps?

Charge the balance in full on delivery of your first stage (30 day invoice) but personally I’d go C.O.D. with these guys. Sounds like you hit a real el cheapo there, you’re probably in for a hard lesson in design consulting, so watch your time on that first phase. If they pay and pursue you can loosen up then.

Good luck to you.

Hi thanks for the advice!

I’ve actually been working for them for a few months now, and yes they do pay but they sure are on the cheap side. The positive thing about them is that they give me projects continuously one after another.

According to your suggestions:
$50-75 per hr
40-50 hrs for the project
multiply by 1.25
That means you’ll charge anything from $2500 -$4700 for this project?

Does this sound right to you guys?

I’d like to know what other people will charge. Please feel free to give your quote for this project. Please give me an idea of how many hours you’ll spend on a project like this and how much total fee you’ll charge.


Write into the quote how many reviews and rounds of changes you will have, otherwise you might burn up all of your quoted time in the Illustrator phase, with people saying “try this, now this, how about this…”

The range C.G. mentioned sounds good, especially if you are just getting into freelancing (in which case it sounds really good!). Just bear in mind that things will always take longer than you plan, hence his 1.25 multiplier. Some people will even multiply by 2. You need to be very honest with yourself about how long things will take you, and then add in some buffer (multiplier) for the inevitable unforseen bumps in the process.

Write out the process you will follow for yourself in as much detail as you can so that you have a clear idea of what you need to do and the time it will require. Don’t forget to include time for those rounds of changes.

Here in Quebec, $80 an hour is pretty normal for freelancing (the others are counting US rates). The local design association, ADIQ quotes the average hourly rate as $95. Remember, you need to collect GST if you make over $30k a year from freelancing too!

Don’t be afraid to ask for this either. If they want a real designer like you, they have to be paying this much.

Other than that, go along with what egg has suggested.

How long should it take? It really depends on you and what they are expecting. Design is in the details, but that takes time. If they are comfortable with decent forms with no details, than the project will be short. If you are designing cars, it will take more time.

If you client cancels, they should pay you for all the work you’ve done. Unless you feel that you really made a huge mistake and they are going to dump you for being incompetent.

First off, let me say, I’ve never freelanced but I have been on the client side.

That said, some things bother me here.

The first is that they prefer to use in-house modelling services. If you’ve been working with them for awhile, I don’t see why they don’t have you working external 3D in collaboration with the engineering for the internal components. They are more likely to get the shapes they’ve approved this way.

The second is that they are cheap. Your track record indicates that you’ve done enough projects to have some idea of how tight-fisted they are. Too big a jump from what you are currently charging may jeopardize future earnings, forcing you to “inch” your way up the pricing ladder. You may have to justify any increases as “inflationary” or “based on the exchange rates with the Euro” or something like this.

Last, and most important, your question about the client cancelling after the concept sketches gives me real pause. The question is whether or not those same concepts are seeing a production line down the road. I suspect this is true and if so, then you are doing something right and they are not paying you appropriately for your talent. In this case, you need to figure out if you can get fair payment for the intellectual property that they they are paying you to create.

I know that a lot of people will disagree with me, but if you design something that sees production, even if you spent only an hour on it, it is worth far more than $100, even if you didn’t sweat the 3D model or collaborated with the process engineers.

As a example, my employer paid $5000 for the disclosure and ownership of a method of manufacturing invented by one of our vendors. No actual product has made been manufactured yet. In fact, there is still much design and development to be done on product to be made, never mind testing on the actual mfg method. If I factor in the projections for that product, I get around 3-5% of revenue and the vendor didn’t do anything except think.

Hope this helps,


…i’ve used a few firms to kickstart projects with just concept sketches, but they always got 40 studio hrs or more out of it and i’ve done it myself for others…what you charge is up to you, but it is difficult to give a project much justice in less than 20 hrs of concepting.