How much should you pay for a custom portrait painting? 5 Simple Rules

June 17, 2021

While many things change with the passing of time, one tradition that has endured for centuries is the practice of getting custom or personalized portraits of someone. In the art industry, this is known as commissioning an artist for a custom-made portrait painting.

Whether you want a portrait painting of yourself, a custom portrait of someone who passed away, a personalized drawing of your pet, or any piece of custom artwork, you can rest assured there is an artist who specializes in exactly what you need.

Of course, the question becomes – how much should you really be paying for custom artwork; that is, a portrait painting?

Unlike pre-made & off-the-rack products, the process of getting custom portraits, drawings, and artwork is a little different because the art does not yet exist. In other words, you need to request for it to be painted or drawn. An expert artist won’t do it for free – so here are 5 simple rules to ensure that you are paying the right price for your custom portrait painting to make sure you get a fair shake. Of course, you do not want to overpay and you also do not want to undercut the artist.

Before we go over the guidelines, it is important to recognize that artwork is considered a luxury good around the world due to its nature of being hand-created by a real, professional artist. While some consider it expensive, we tend to see it as one of those products that everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime. Fortunately, a portrait painting is something that increases in value with the passing of time, and it becomes more and more valuable each year.

With thousands of happy customers, we have seen just how much of a tremendous impact a custom portrait can make on someone’s life. After checking out the 5 rules, be sure to start a request to find an artist to create your own portrait painting.

Rule #1 – Cost of experience

When you are commissioning a custom portrait, you are not really buying a portrait – instead, you are actually “buying” the artist. The portrait can only be as good as its master, the artist.

As a result, the cost of experience, or the artists’ time, is the first thing to consider when getting a portrait painting. So, how much should you pay for an artist’s time? 

The US Department of Labor Occupational Labor Statistics indicates the mean hourly wage of Fine Artists as $23.44 as of 2021. Keep in mind, however, that each artist is different with more expertise comes a higher wage. For instance, a top-rated artist with decades of expertise will charge hundreds per hour.

Take this average wage and multiply it by how many hours it will take to create your portrait painting. Depending on the detail and amount of “activity” in your portrait request (discussed below), it will likely take several hours for the artist to complete the portrait painting from start to finish. In some rare instances, it takes weeks for an artist to complete a single portrait.

For example, if the artist’s average hourly wage is $40 and it takes them 3 hours to complete your portrait, then the cost of labor is $120. 

Rule #2 – Detail of the portrait painting

The more detail you request in your portrait, the longer it will take the artist to complete the portrait painting. Since it will take more hours of labor, it will drive up the pricing.

What do we mean by detail? In short, the number of things you want the artist to include in the painting. If you want to turn a photo into a painting, then should the painting contain the same background that your photo includes? Naturally, a portrait painting with a minimal background will be easier to complete when compared to a background with lots of parts, such as other people in the background, a city skyline, or a robust landscape.

The simpler your portrait painting, the quicker the artist can complete it, passing those cost savings along to you. On the flipside, if you prefer a highly detailed & complex portrait, then expect to pay a little more.

Rule #3 – Number of subjects in the portrait painting

Similar to the point above, the number of subjects in your painting request will affect the cost. For instance, if it takes the artist 3 hours per subject and 1 hour for the background, then it takes 4 hours to complete the full painting. However, if you had an additional single person to your portrait request, then it now takes the artist 7 hours to complete the artpiece. 

By subjects, this primarily means close & up-front views of people (or pets, or whatever the main subject of the artwork is). Since background characters are further out in distance, they are typically smaller and can be done without refined details. Thus, the number of subjects in your portrait painting are the people close to it.

Rule #4 –  Materials

Since an artist is getting paid for their talent & service, the cost of canvas and painting/drawing materials are also included in the total price. You only need to cover the canvas and paint for what is used on your painting. You do NOT need to cover the cost for an artist’s unused paint, brushes, easel, stretcher, palette, or any other items not included in your finished painting.

The larger your portrait painting, the more materials it will consume.

As a reference point, pre-stretched canvas range from $10 - $45.

Depending on the material used, such as oil vs. acrylic vs. watercolor, the materials cost can range from $10 - $100.

Rule #5 – Packaging & shipping

Packaging typically will not exceed $10 and averages around $3 - $5.

When it comes to shipping, there are two driving factors: the distance and size/weight of the package. For medium-sized portrait paintings between shipped within the USA, you can expect to pay between $20 and $40 for shipping. On the extreme end, for a large-sized portrait painting being shipped from around the world, you can expect to pay over $150.


If you are searching for an artist to provide a custom portrait painting, our team of experts can provide free analysis & reviews to ensure you get a fair shake. Send us a message here.