So you want to be a commission painter!

Welcome, welcome! For those of you reading in the distant future - the world is currently being ravaged by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The result is what seems to be the prelude of a massive depression and a lot of people stuck at home either unemployed or 'working from home'. For many it seems like the perfect time to branch out and try their hand at making some money from their hobby. For myself - it felt like a good time to share some advice.

There is an old adage - "How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business? Start with a large one." For commission painters the outlook is somewhat bleaker - "How do you make a small fortune as a commission painter? YOU CAN'T HAHA!"

I may be painting it a bit bleakly but that's the basic reality. Almost every commission painter you can think of makes their money through something else. They either have a day job, teach painting (through classes or patreon) or have some other way of paying the bills. The few professional painting studios that are just studios are faced with a really tough job. So for all of you budding pros out there I wanted to put together some things to consider before taking the leap.

Example of a lot of Poxwalkers painted up.

Quality vs Quantity

Wow looking at those two words in print - they seem so similar... they couldn't be farther apart. Do you love painting amazing army centrepieces, the Forge World Primarchs maybe or the latest Creature Caster sculpt? Well you're not gonna get paid for it. Take a look on eBay for the folks that do painting 'on spec' and then try and make some money from it - few of those pieces sell and when they do, it's rarely reflective of the time they put into it. Getting a request to paint a money no object centrepiece is the reserve of the 3-4 top mini artists in the world - If you aren't Banshee, Massive Voodoo, or Sam Lenz - you're not going to get a living wage off of these kinds of pieces (and even if you are them, it's still not a living wage.)

The real demand in our hobby is for armies. It's the person that just wants to take a beautiful horde army to their next tournament without having to spend 6 months cramming every spare waking moment into getting paint on the models.

So do you want to get paid to paint 400 Orks and a bazillion space marines that exactly match the box art? If not, this is not the career path for you.

Turning a profit

Ok so, the most important thing you need to know going into this is the hourly wage you need to justify this job. This is going to be different for each person so I'll keep away from numbers here. Get that number in your head.
Now figure out how much you will have to charge the customer to achieve that hourly wage:

SUM(time/model x number of that model) x hourly rate + cost in materials (paints, brushes, models) + shipping costs if appropriate = cost for commission

That seems simple enough right?
Ok so:
Did you account for clipping models off sprues?
What about gluing, filing, gap filling?
Don't forget those base rims!
How about a protective varnish?
And storage / packing materials for shipping?

Another vital point here is - TIME PER MODEL. Do you know how long it takes you to paint a Primaris Ultramarine to the quality the customer expects? You better. You can't 'ball park' this either. factor in every stage listed above. Paint an entire army of your own timing each stage. If you don't you will under charge and end up screwing yourself or worse, abandoning the commission and screwing the customer. (As an example - I would expect infantry to be ~40 minutes work time from sprue to table average per model for pretty much any army, any colour scheme. To achieve that I know I need to be painting at least 20 of them and to do it as a single batch.)

Even some of the major studios out there at the moment have hit this issue and have lost money, customers and reputation as a result. An unhappy customer is going to be a lot more vocal than a happy one!

Example of timed painting of a horde army.


In addition to that - did you give the customer a time frame for the project? You should, if you don't you have no protection against an upset customer that doesn't have their army in time for the big tournament.

You should have a contract with specific provisions for missed deadlines. Remember that you almost certainly don't have massive profit margins built in so if you miss even the first deadline you'll be working at an effective loss on that project. And you're going to have to keep this rate up, day in, day out to make it work.

How long does it take to paint a 2,000pt Imperial Fists army with all that yellow? Are you sick of it? Well buck up because there's going to be a deadline to meet. Don't feel like painting today? Tough - there a deadline to meet.

Example Imperial Fist painted

Paint your own stuff

On that note? How much do you enjoy painting Space Marines? What about Sigmarines? Nighthaunt? Goblins? You better love everything (esp Space Marines and Stormcast) because you'll likely not have the luxury of turning down commissions.

Have you got unpainted models? Are you wanting to get them to the table? Are you even wanting time to game for that matter? Well good luck because the #2 reason I've seen for commission painters dropping out of the game (after loosing money) is that they loose the time and desire to work on their own stuff. This 'career' will literally destroy your enjoyment of the hobby. Are you going to want to spend an evening painting your beloved <insert models here> having crammed in 8+hours of painting <insert whatever crap you're being paid to paint here>? Planning a game this weekend with a buddy? Get ready to cancel because you're running up against yet another commission deadline.

And for those of you still reading and thinking 'oh that won't be me, I'd never run up to a deadline like that, I'll build in plenty of buffer etc etc. - Ever have to cram in an all-nighter at school? Well you will be doing the same here - I guarantee it.

Keeping the customer happy

This is a service industry and the customer is always right. Get in the habit of sending photos of the progress on a regular basis (not less than weekly), let the customer see that you are working on the project and making headway. Get nice pictures of each unit as they are finished so the customer can feedback - there are going to be times when you will have to completely repaint pieces because you didn't meet their expectations and that's gonna cost you - know that going in. Do a test piece up front and get feedback before you've committed a big chunk of time that needs to be revised. Talk to them about the basing, the varnish, do they need it to come in a case, does this have to match any models they already have etc.

Keep detailed notes of the colours used that you can send with the models so the customer can make touch-ups if they need along the way. You don't have to provide the full 'secret sauce' but they need to be able to fix any damage. If your customer likes your work you may also need to match a future commission of some extra units to the work you've already done.


I haven't meant this to put anyone off of commission painting per se but I hope it means more folks are going into it with their eyes open. It's going to be harder and harder to find people able to afford commission painting services in the coming months / years as the pinch is felt in more households and it's important for those that do trust others to paint their models to be getting the best possible service.

If you are interested in hiring me for a commission - reach out to me through my facebook page.

- Raggy, signing out