10 Dos And Don'ts Of Hiring An Illustrator

10 Dos And Don'ts Of Hiring An Illustrator

Have you ever wondered how to hire an illustrator or what to expect once you hire an illustrator? Or perhaps you’ve worked with an illustrator before, things didn’t quite go as you expected, and you have no idea what happened or why?

Here are 10 Dos and 10 Don’ts of commissioning an illustrator gathered from my own experience as well as from conversations that I’ve had with other illustrators over the years.


(1) Give as much clear information about your project as you can when you contact them so that they can come back to you with an accurate quote.

E.g. What do you need? Which territory will the image be used in? How long will it be used for? What will it be used for? Who will be using it (You? A client of your own? How big are you/they?)?What is your deadline if you have one? What is your budget if you know it?

It also helps illustrators to know what piece(s) of theirs prompted you to contact them in the first place.

(2) Share your budget if you know what it is: it will save everyone a lot of time.

(3) Tell them what you expect from your professional relationship upfront if you have a preference: How involved in the creative process do you want to be? Are you expecting them to provide guidance and advice on anything, or to act as a consultant as well? etc.

(4) Be as transparent as you can. In this day and age, it’s sometimes tempting to want to hold your cards and wait to see what the other party will say before you reveal yourself but most illustrators neither want to play nor have time for those kinds of games. Being transparent and speaking your mind will save everyone time.

(5) Offer clear, constructive feedback. It's okay if you don't like something, but just saying "I don't like it" won't cut it. Give as much information as possible as to what why something works or doesn't work for you.

(6) Ask for changes as early in the process as possible. There’s nothing more frustrating for an illustrator than to make significant changes to a piece when it’s nearly finished and in some cases, it can push the delivery date by several days and sometimes weeks.

(7) Communicate. Even if you don’t have time to give feedback now, acknowledge their email and give them an idea as to when they might expect to hear back from you so that they can plan their workload.

(8) Be polite. It seems pretty basic and common sense, but you would be surprised by the number of messages we receive that don’t contain the basics of politeness.

(9) If you have enjoyed working with an illustrator and know someone else who needs illustrations, put in a nice word for them or write the illustrator you worked with a testimonial. It does help!

(10) Credit them for the work once the project has been completed. Illustrators love to share your successes with their audience.


(1) Ask for a ballpark figure upon contacting them. Every project is unique and besides, the majority of the time when you commission an illustration, you buy a licence to use the work, not the work itself and not the illustrator’s time.

(2) Ask illustrators to work for free or for exposure. Don’t ask for speculative work either. If you want them to do some test illustrations to make sure that they’re the right fit for the project, offer to compensate them for their time. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and offer to pay in exposure or only pay if you’ve enjoyed the meal, would you?

(3) Ask them to copy another illustrator’s style. It’s bad practice plus it’s copyright infringement (so bad for your karma!).

(4) Dismiss them straight away because the price they quoted doesn’t suit you, especially if they are a good fit for your project: everything can be negotiated.

(5) Systematically ask to own the copyright to the artwork. Illustrators make their living by licensing their artwork. When you push for them to waive their copyright, you essentially ask them to give up their livelihood.

However, we are aware that every case is different: if there is a specific reason why you need to own the copyright of the image let them know why so that they can work out a solution with you or quote accordingly.

(6) Push an illustrator to work without a contract to ‘speed things up’. This is unprofessional and a contract between you and the illustrator is as much to their benefit as it is to yours. At a minimum, a contract should include: the fee, the deadlines for the roughs and finished artworks, and the licence (where, how, and for how long you will reproduce the work).

(7) Micro-manage. Nobody likes having somebody lurking over their shoulder telling them what to do. You can challenge what the illustrator has shown you or their creative choices but be open to their professional opinion too as it is literally their job to solve problems creatively.

(8) Change the brief significantly once the project has started (and expect not to pay extra for it).

(9) Assume that all illustrators work according to the same schedule. Every illustrator has their own life, many have part-time jobs, or care for children or family members. Some don’t mind working in the evening, on weekends, or bank holidays whereas some do. It’s better to ask than to make assumptions.

(10) Ghost them. The illustrator you’re working with is likely working with other clients at the same time they’re working with you. If you’re not ready to give feedback yet or if something happens it’s okay, let them know so that they can adjust their work schedule accordingly. You’ll see, they will respect you all the more for it.

How are you faring on this list of Dos and Don’ts? Are you leaning towards the good or the naughty side? Let me know in the comments!

>> Download my full list of 10 Dos and 10 Don’ts as a PDF to keep as a reminder.

And if you would like to get further guidance on how to hire an illustrator, go check out Toptal's comprehensive hiring guide which covers everything else you need to consider when hiring the right illustrator for your project.

Toptal is a leading marketplace for illustrators and designers which are constantly sought after by top companies and start-ups, and this hiring guide was developed by them to include the best practices, advanced techniques, and interview questions and answers, to lay out the crucial skills and knowledge that a premium Illustrator should have.

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