Screen Printing:

Getting Your Freelance Fix

Expand your shop's creative potential by forming a relationship with a freelance artist.

By Thomas Trimingham, Contributing Writer

January 31, 2020

Want to know one of the simplest ways to take your screen-printing shop to the next level? Hiring a professional artist on a freelance basis to help you with difficult jobs can help you expand your capabilities while minimizing labor expenses.

For many shop owners, the thought of hiring outside help induces fear. But working on difficult art is only one area in which a freelancer can help. Additional reasons to consider a freelance artist include:

1. Savings using a contractor vs. a permanent employee are considerable. Taxes, insurance and space/equipment are just a few examples.
2. If you need different freelance artists for multiple art tasks (think separations) or design styles, it’s good to and cultivate multiple relationships instead of just one.
3. A lot of talent is available online and it is easier than ever to work with people remotely via various methods.

To develop a freelance artist relationship, you will need to consider five things: finding the right artist for your needs, estimating and billing considerations, deadline and revision policies, copyright and usage policies and a system to work with a remote contractor.

Finding the Right Artist
For some reason, this part of the process is where most companies get stalled. Part of the challenge is that many screen printers start their companies with close friends or family, so hiring an outsider to help with such an important aspect of their work makes them uncomfortable. This is understandable, but the benefits outweigh the negative aspects.

Treat this process like any other in-house job interview; it’s important to get to know the person behind the artwork. First, analyze and define the position. If you ask yourself and your staff a few careful questions, you can nail down what you want the freelance artist to do.

Do you need high-end illustration, simple vector jobs, or something in the middle (see Figure 1)? Does the artist need to provide separations with their artwork? What style of artwork (cars, wildlife, music, etc.) do you need? Do you need copyrighting or text for artwork?

Questions that are specific to your shop will help you devise a basic description of what you are looking for and will help you narrow some of the many ways to look for artistic help. You can put posts or ads on Craigslist, Facebook, LinkedIn, as well as popular industry forums, trade publications, local art-school job boards and many other online platforms.

Once you have found several artists whose work you like, set up a call with them. Clearly outline your exact needs and see how they react to the potential work you suggest. If they react confidently and have experience producing what you need, move on to discussing costs.

Rates and Billing
Talking to an artist about how much they charge for designs can be a challenge. Before this type of negotiation, it’s important to know the typical rates for the type of work you need. Talk to other printers, customers and go online to discussion forums to research costs so that you’ll know a range that ‘s considered fair for the services you require.

The following is a quick range of costs for screen-printing art tasks. Note that estimates can vary by location, artist experience, art complexity and demand:

1. Simple vector designs: $25-$75
2. Complex vector graphics with logos: $75-$150 (see Figure 2)
3. Graphics with illustrations or logo designs for teams/ businesses: $150-$250
4. High-end illustrations with/without separations: $250-$500 or more

The last piece of the pricing puzzle is to understand the process of how the artist wants to be paid. Most freelance artists expect to be compensated when the final artwork is delivered, so that is something you will have to consider if you have to pay for the artwork before the customer pays you. Expecting the artist to wait until you are paid by the customer typically is less attractive for in-demand creatives and they may not accept this policy.

Deadlines and Revisions
Most obstacles that arise from working with freelance artists fall into the deadline and revision categories. Even a highly skilled professional artist may occasionally have a bad week or create a bad design.

This is where having a good line of communication and set of policies can save a valuable relationship. If an artist will miss a deadline, you need to know as soon as possible and there should be a policy that covers this. Maybe it’s a kill fee — the cost of stopping the job prior to finishing — or a credit for future work, but you need a fair agreement in order to avoid conflict.

Revisions can be another challenge. To be fair to the artist, you should have a revisions policy and the customer should be informed up front. For example, having a two-revision policy before additional charges — except instances that include a complete overhaul — can help avoid a situation in which the printer owes the artist for extra, subjective customer changes (see Figure 3).

With more expensive art commissions (more than $150), it’s a good idea to ask for an initial rough sketch in pencil or a rough graphic layout to show the customer a concept before the designer invests too much time. This can be a great way to keep communication lines open and avoid a poor result.

Copyright and Usage
It’s essential that you consult with an attorney to develop your business policy when working with freelance artists. The goal is for the artist to provide fairly priced original work that you will own and can sell to a customer. Having properly prepared policies that cover your business against any claims or issues after you have purchased artwork will provide peace of mind.

These laws can vary depending on where your business operates and how you will use the artwork, so having a local representative who understands laws that cover your specific business and art usage is key. A few key policies should cover the major issues, and a couple of agreed-upon principles can help avoid big problems later.

Finding talented artists, paying them a fair price for exceptional work and expanding your company’s capabilities requires just a few simple steps. In most cases, an artist can be located almost anywhere and still be a valuable asset.

Thomas Trimingham has been helping screen printers for more than 25 years as an industry consultant, freelance artist and high-end separator. He currently is the marketing communications manager for the M&R Cos. For more information or to comment on this article, email Thomas at

Remote Contractors

The current options for working with an artist are numerous — the most common being via email for most job-related commissions, approvals and even final submissions for smaller artwork. Other options include platforms like Slack, Trello or similar project-management software.

For sending and receiving large files, cloud services such as Dropbox or are easy to use and simple for transferring files that are bigger than those that can be emailed. The Adobe suite has some features that can be used to preview and track edits on files for revision purposes if your clients want to be involved in development. There are even some industry software products, such as Printavo, that include art-approval features.