I Spent $550 on Board Game Artwork and This is What I Got

When I spent five hundred and fifty dollars and forty cents on icons for me to use in prototyping my own board games. I was worried. Why?

That’s $550.40 more than is recommended by most professional game designers. “You should never buy artwork for your prototypes, noob!” And they are probably right in most cases. But I wanted more than just nice looking icons for my prototypes.

I had 4 main goals with this project:

  • I wanted to know how to find artists for board games
  • To learn how to work with artists better (improve my communication skills and to develop a deeper understanding of the details of art for board games)
  • I also wanted to understand a bit about how much art costs for board games.
  • And to create a library of icons to be used when making my prototypes quickly while still looking fun for playtesters to try out.

So now that you know the goals of this project, let me explain a bit more about the original idea I had for making these icons for board game prototyping.

About the Icon Project and How It Evolved?

(5 Icons shown above from the final project. Unlock all 42 of the icons here or get a few of them in our free art pack.)

I originally wanted to spend “a lot” of money on art and to work with professional artists. A lot of money to me at the beginning of this project was exactly $250.

Game design and the balancing of games comes very natural to me. I’ve enjoyed it and knew I wanted to make games since I was a kid (around 8 years old).

But making the games “look cool” and attracting playtesters is not one of my strong points, naturally. I can be a bit shy at times and worry that I may be bothering people to play my new card game that was assembled with notecards and a pen.

So often times my prototypes would stay hidden away in my backpack at gaming conventions and meetups.

Over time I have found that if my prototypes look decent, then players are much more willing to play them. Also, I then have more confidence to ask others to play without feeling like “a bother”.

(Related: See how to make efficient and good looking board game prototypes using this free software)

What steps I took organizing board game artists to create these icons for prototyping

So I wanted a library of icons for me to use during my prototyping process that would work for almost any game I could think of. My goal was to have amazing looking artwork that I could use without having to search all of the free art websites every time I made a new prototype. That would slow me down too much.

Facebook groups were a good place for me to search/poll game designers and board gamers, asking them which icons they thought were the most commonly used in board games.

Of course these questions were met with the inevitable “Don’t pay to have icons made when this site exists already!” Again, they were just trying to help and I appreciate it. But I wanted something more out of this project (see reasons above).

So I first compiled a list of 32 of the most common icons used and suggested by people in the Facebook groups. Then I narrowed it down from there.

Several of the icons were so popular that I wanted multiple versions of the icon so that I could pick which one I liked best. Also so I could get a better feel of which artists style would be best going forward should I need more art for my games.

And that is how this art project evolved into the $550.40 collection of awesomeness that it is today. (Now it’s time to start making some sweet prototypes!)

Where I Found Professional Artists to Make Icons for my Board Game Prototypes

(5 more Icons shown above from the final project. Unlock all 42 of the icons here or get a few of them in our free art pack.)

There are many places to find artists as Jamie Noble Frier told me in his interview with SLG, but for the icon project I focused on Freelancer and a Facebook group for board game artists.

Freelancer

Here is my affiliate link to Freelancer. If you want to use this link, then we both should get some credits on our account.

Click Here to see Freelancer’s website and search highly talented people for your project.

I have used Freelancer before for several different reasons and would recommend them with or without the affiliate link above. I have used them before for:

  1. Hiring a web developer to help with SLG’s website.
  2. I’ve also used it to find an audio technician to provide consulting for setting up the audio for our Youtube videos.
  3. And one time to talk with experts about what software I should use to accept payments on my website (this was MUCH more difficult to do correctly than I had imagined).

But I’ve also used Freelancer one time before this to hire an artist to make some concept art for one of my first prototypes. I had enjoyed that experience a lot and now wanted to see what other talent was out there.

Cartoon Image of Lil' Calvin wearing a blanket cape and carrying a stuffed horse
Concept art from a Freelancer of a younger Calvin Keeney for my board game prototype Memaw’s Monsters

Time Spent on Freelancer – 8.5 hours

The most common way to start working with artists in Freelancer is to create a project. You can also use their search function to find artists for your board game, but it’s almost always easier to simply create a project. When you create a project, you say what type of freelancer you are wanting to hire, your budget for the project and other details. And then the freelancers that are interested contact you.

My 8.5 hours spent working with artists on Freelancer looked something like this:

  • 1.5 hours brainstorming and creating the project
  • 3 hours sorting through about 50 artists who were interested in the project. I narrowed this down to 20 artists after looking through everyone’s proposals and portfolios.
  • 1 hour distracted by all of the amazing art – This sounds goofy but it’s true. There was so much talent available here that it was hard to stay focused. Seeing all of the great art made me think of about 5 other projects that I would want to someday make with the help of these talented people from all over the world (including a children’s book idea I thought of recently. based on my grandma’s stories of course).
  • 1 hour sorting through the 20 artists that I had narrowed down to
  • And finally 2 hours discussing the project with the 5 artists I ended up hiring. This also counts revisions to the original artwork they made (though not many were needed).

I would like to point out that Freelancer has some really talented artists, but they are often not from the board gaming world. They are just awesome artists that create art based on your specifications.

This means that it is much more important to be diligent in explaining what type of art you want for your project and how it is going to be used. Showing them images of similar types of art are very helpful for the artists I found.

Total Amount of Money Spent on Freelancer- $362.50

$219.20 on the original 25 icons from 5 different artists

As you can see, I had already come close to exceeding my original $250 budget for the entire project. And that was just with the 5 artists on Freelancer from around the world.

I was very happy and impressed at the skill that these artists had.

What was even more surprising was that their communication skills didn’t cause too many problems. These artists were from Serbia, Romania, China and Vietnam (2). And even though their native language wasn’t English, we were able to communicate rather effectively. They did an amazing job overall at understanding what I wanted to accomplish with the project.

Again, sending images to artists helps A LOT. “Can you make it look like this but with the other art style?” *sends 2 pictures of examples*

$143.30 additional for 13 more icons from my favorite artist

3 of the 12 artists from the project ended up backing out and not wanting to be a part of the project. I am unsure as to their reasons but it was probably because of the project details I had made. My budget wasn’t large enough for some I’m sure though I’m not sure what other reasons (see more about this below in the Facebook group section). Maybe they got busy and just didn’t have time to follow through?

So after I worked with the 5 artists from Freelancer and the 4 artists from the Facebook group, I still had some icons to be made for the project.

By this time I had started getting artwork back from the Freelancers and I was loving it.

One of the artists from Vietnam was my favorite based on skill, value and understanding of the project details. So I had them make 13 additional icons. Several of which I planned on having made by the 3 artists that backed out, and several icons that I wanted multiples. This way I could see the different styles that the artists brought to the table.

I would like to point out that this “artist” was actually a team of artists. I’m unsure if they had different people work on my project or if they had the same person work on it. But either way, they did amazing and the 18 total icons this studio made for the project looked great both individually and as a group of icons.

My Experience with Finding Artists on the Facebook Group for Board Game Artists

Here is the exact Facebook group I gave my icon project details to. Almost immediately I had responses from artists that had experience making art for board games. Overall I had much less responses than I did on Freelancer. However, the quality of responses were much higher on average.

On Freelancer, you typically receive a lot of copy pasted responses. “I have read your project description and am happy to make your website for you now.” (I don’t need a website!!!)

It was a relief to only get messages and responses that were directly related to the project details I laid out in the Facebook group.

One mistake I learned from in the Facebook group for board game artists

I had used a very similar project description as I did for Freelancer. However, I had forgot to mention my budget. Well, saying “I forgot” is probably wrong. I actually left out my budget because I had no idea what to even expect in terms of cost.

There was an overall budget in the back of my mind that had grown from “$250 total” to “about $50 per artist”. And even more specific, about $10 per icon.

Considering I was looking to get around a dozen artists, this would mean that the total cost of the project was now estimated at $600. Though I quickly found out that artists on Freelancer were much less expensive than artists in the board game world. Most likely due to cheaper costs of living around the world.

So the mistake that I had made was expecting about $10 per icon to be the average cost for this project. This was based on the $5-$10 cost per icon I had been quoted by professional artists on Freelancer.

However, artists that are established in the board game world work for much more money than that. Again, it is likely all related to cost of living based on the artists location and years of experience.

The average cost per icon I have found when getting quotes from artists that have made art for board games was about $25. Some of the newer artists typically quoted around $10-$15 per icon while board game artist veterans charged anywhere from $20-$300 per icon.

How this increase in price affected my budget

As you can imagine, my budget was not cut out for this cost per icon.

I originally had asked artists from the Facebook group to make 5 icons each. But once I had received quotes, I quickly realized that I would have to either:

  1. Have fewer artists participate from this group of board game artists
  2. Or have the artists make less icons each

I went with option 2. One of the primary goals of the project was to get a feel of different art styles while also learning how to work with artists better. So this made it simple to decide between the 2 choices above.

Each artist would make 2 icons instead of 5. And even though this would still put me way above my budget, I figured I would learn a lot from the experience and it would be worth it. (Oh, and I would have some sweet looking icons to use for my own games. Woohoo!)

After reaching back out to the 6 artists from the Facebook group, 4 of them decided that they still wanted to take part in creating the icons so on we went.

The Amazing Board Game Artists that I Hired for this Icon Project

(5 additional Icons shown above from the final project. Unlock all 42 of the icons here or get a few of them in our free art pack.)

As I mentioned above, I hired 5 artists from Freelancer to make 5 icons each. And one of those artists I rehired to create 13 additional icons.

Here are the 5 artists from Freelancer that I chose out of the approximately 50 artists that responded to my project (cost per 5 icons including fees taken by Freelancer in parentheses):

  1. Tucity ($53)
  2. Phamgia ($28)
  3. Dune ($28)
  4. Sasha (or look through his portfolio on his website here) ($33)
  5. Biboo ($58)

And here are the 4 artists from the Facebook group that I hired for the project (cost in parenthesis is for 2 icons).

  1. Crimson Studios (or contact Amit through Facebook) ($42)
  2. Sizigi ($60)
  3. Simon Crowley ($30)
  4. Shane Dick ($30.90. This was the current conversion from Canadian to U.S. dollars which was handled easily through PayPal.)

Out of the 9 artists that I hired for the icon project, I chose 1 (Biboo) to create 13 more icons for me. I really loved their style. This was actually a studio of artists which means that many artists work there. So I am not exactly sure if I had the same person working on all 18 icons, but they all looked great and went well together. It was $143.30 for the additional 13 icons. The last several icons cost a little bit more than the initial icons but were still great value and worth it to me.

Attack Icon that Biboo from Freelancer Created. I loved their style and how they had a nice circular background behind the images. This comes in our Free Artwork pack here.

Notes about getting art for your board games

I want to mention several interesting points about my experience working with artists from both Freelancer and the board game artist Facebook group.

  • Freelancer.com charged the buyer (me) several fees for using their site. I believe all of these were added on when I would pay the Freelancers. The fees added up and were enough to be annoying, but not so much that I didn’t want to use their service. They had 2 types of fees that I remember which ended up adding on about 5% to the final cost of the project:
    • About 3% was standard credit card processing fees
    • And another several percent was a “project fee” that went to Freelancer
    • There was also a tip that you could give the Freelancer. This was optional but I chose to give everyone of the artists I worked with because they did such great work and nice to work with!
  • The Facebook group of board game artists seemed to prefer to be payed through Paypal. The buyer (me) didn’t get charged fees for this but I believe the seller (the artist in this case) did have to pay some fees (probably for credit card processing though I’m unsure). Take this into consideration when getting quotes from different artists for your board game.
  • Most Freelancers were able to provide great icons with the style I envisioned that would work great for my board game prototypes. I was worried that it would be too difficult to communicate what works well for board game icons. But overall the Freelancers did amazing (even with my lack of experience communicating what I wanted for the project).
  • The Facebook group of board game artists were more professional as a whole.
  • I was worried about the communication barrier with Freelancers since their native language was not English. However, I had very few problems with a language barrier with the artists I worked with. While it still was a slight challenge, it wasn’t very bad at all.

My Final Thoughts on the Icon Project

So I ended up spending over twice my original budget.

“Was it worth it?”

I definitely think so. The icons look really amazing and I am excited to use them in my future prototypes. I think they will be great at attracting playtesters. Even if that just means my brother, mom and any other friend I can convince to play!

I’m also very grateful to have learned more about the process of working with artists for my board game ideas. I think this will be helpful for me going forward. Especially if I ever decide to publish a game.

What do the Board Game Icons Look Like from this Project?

There are several of the icons available in the free artwork pack that you can get for subscribing to the email list here.

I’ve also put together an entire library of premium board game icons from this project that you can buy here. The icons shown above in this article are also from the Freelancer and Facebook artists that I hired for this project.

I hope you also learned from my experience. Let me know what was helpful from this article in the comments below. Feel free to ask any other questions you may have as well.

Want to read more from SLG?
11 Board Game Pieces for Prototyping Your Game
See How You Can Make Your Own Trading Card Game
Our First Board Game Artist Interview with James Colmer

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