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Into The Wamp

The Cost of Art (Part I: the finances)

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I have been asked a few times on the process of commissioning a sculpt. So here is my experience and thoughts on the process.

I will start by explaining that I have not really gone down the usual route but it may be of interest anyway.

The first thing to note is that commissioning a sculpt can be very expensive. The top artists can easily charge 1000 for a 32mm sculpt. Add in more complexity and that could rise and that's just for the sculpt.

Having an idea is the easy bit. For some people producing a sculpt is a personal treat, done purely for the sole purpose of showing off something of their own and viability isn't an issue. For the vast majority of us though commissioning a sculpt has to be financially viable. Some people may have a large budget and can look at producing several miniatures without the success or failure of one having an impact on the whole project. For others though we need the first minis profits to fund the next mini and so on.

So you have your idea, you think its unique, clever and sexy and will sell but will you make any money?
We need to consider costs.

We have already mentioned the price some sculptors are charging. Now those are top end prices but theres a whole range of sculptors to suit most budgets. Generally you get what you pay for and that can be critical (we will come back to choosing the sculptor later). Lets base this on the ever popular 32mm scale and for that size there are plenty of decent sculptors that would do a mini for say 300.

So that's 300 ok you have that in the bank so you're good to go?

Erm well no. There's a few more costs involved. First up before you even get to the sculptor you need to consider concept art. Are you going to have concept art? It's not vital but having it is the easiest way to show the sculptor exactly what you want. So how much will this cost? Well for a simple black and white single pose picture something along the lines of 60 would get you a reasonable image. Add colour and your looking around 100. Go for a top renowned artist or multiple pictures of the mini (need a side and rear view?) and you could soon be paying a hefty amount more. But we will go with the simple black and white image so we are at 360 total so far.

So now your sculpt is complete you need to consider casting. the two simplest and obvious choices are metal or resin (plastic is a whole other ball game!). Lets go with resin for this example. Well you need to find a caster and these range in price and reputation just the same as sculptors. Again you often get what you pay for and its no use having the worlds greatest ever sculpt if the casting looks like Morph!

But we have a caster chosen (more on choosing on later). Casters will usually charge one of two ways. Some will charge you a per cast price with moulding costs included. Others will charge you the moulding cost then a (cheaper) cost per cast price on top.

For a 32mm miniature (these are all based on a standing man) a mould will be somewhere around 30. Mould life varies but somewhere around 30 casts is about average (the complexity of the sculpt affects this). So basically each cast costs 1 moulding cost on top of the actual casting cost. So if the caster quotes us 5 for a cast it becomes 6 per cast including the moulding cost.

So we have our sculpt we have the caster in place what's next? Well how about a painted version for the box art? This isn't necessary and many companies don't bother. For every Studio McVey that wows us with wonder paint-jobs there's a Kingdom death that shows of the naked cast so its a personal choice. But we will assume a lovely painted version is desired.

Again as before we will look at choosing a painter later on but for now we'll consider the cost. As before theres a whole host of painters out there with abilities and budgets to match. you could get a mate to do it for 10 or a slayer sword winner for 1000. On average for middle of the road 250 will get you a very nice paint job.

So the model is now donning its lovely paintjob but you need photos of it. Are you going to take these yourself or get the painter too? If there is the set up for good shots then that's great but no point spending hundreds on a paint-job and sculpt if the photos look like your holiday snaps from a week in Filey in 1987. So if your now adding in professional photos you could easily add another 60 to your total.

What else do we need? Well packaging. As ever several options here. You can go full out for an uber fancy bespoke cardboard box with fancy artwork and you could easily blow the budget getting all this in place. You could go the other end of the scale and just buy a few small poly bags and bung your minis in those.

We will go for the most common option which is a clam shell blister with printed insert. Now your blister prices vary depending on how many you get (some companies sell them per thousand which means a huge outlay). For now we will buy a few off ebay. priced around 12 for 50 that works out at about 0.24 each.

Now we need some blister artwork doing. Cheapest option is have a go yourself and print at home but we will go with getting it designed and printed properly. There are plenty of graphic designers on the web so we could get some simple blister artwork done for say 60 and printed off at about 0.20 each. You should also consider whether you need a company logo designing at this point.

So everything is in place lets look at the costs so far:

Concept art - 60
Sculpting - 300
Painting - 250
Casting - 6 each
Designer - 60
Printing - 0.20 each
Packaging 0.24 each

So we have fixed costs of 670 for the drawing, sculpting, painting and designing.
Now we look at the per item price. For this we need to decide how many to get cast. This is finger in the air time and especially so on a first release. How many will you sell? Is it going to be a high end expensive limited edition or are you going for cheap as possible? Is you market display painters who will spend more or gamers that want are less bothered about sculpting and more bothered about the cost.
A good place to start would be a break even figure. This is how many we would need to sell to cover our outlay costs. Once we hit break-even then any subsequent sales are profits (after casting/packaging costs as they are constant deductions). To aid with this we need to look at sale price.

As with all these things this can vary and generally the better the quality the more people will spend on it. If its yet another dwarf then you need to compete with what's out there. If its a super unique monster then you can worry less about the competition. Again the painter/gamer point comes in here. A painter will buy what they like to paint so it comes down a lot to what it looks like. A gamer however may have to buy 40 dwarves so if yours is twice the price of similar ones he's going to go with the others.

We will work on the fact all our projections are on middle of the road so we will go for 12 RRP.

So if we sell a mini for 12 it costs us 6 to get it cast plus 0.24 for the blister and 0.20 for the printing giving us a gross cost per cast of 6.44 giving us a gross profit of 5.56 per mini sold.

Now we need to know how many we need to sell to break even. If we are making 5.56 per mini then to cover the 670 initial costs for the sculptor,painter,etc we will need to sell 120 minis!

So are 120 viable? well certainly though might take you a while depending on how well its received,marketed,etc. but now you have this break even price you can look again at your RRP. maybe you would like to up the price a little? Selling at 14 each would mean only 89 needing to be sold for break-even but will you sell as many? Conversely you might want to go the other way and sell cheaper. An RRP of 10 makes it more attractive but you would need to ship 188 miniatures for break-even.

We will however stick with our 12 RRP. Now the next question is how are we going to sell them? Are you just going to sell directly from yourself or are you going to sell through retailers?

Most retailers would probably not look at one off models and you would need a few products to get them interested but lets look at retailer scenario anyway.

In retail they say a 50% mark up is the golden point but in miniatures it tends to be less namely because of the small manufacturing quantities and not being made in China!

I tend to find with retailers that supply the WampStore that on average they offer a 30% discount. Some offer 50% some offer 10% but 30% is a good mean.

So if your looking at retail supply you need to account for this discount. Going on your 30% discount off your 12 RRP mean selling to the retailer at 8.40. Now our cost per item is 6.44 so gross profit per item to a retailer would be just 1.96. If we were to sell all our mini this way we would need to sell 342 to breakeven!!

So going via a retailer means a lot less profit but you could sell more depending on the size of the retailer but be careful to make sure they would add to your sales rather than just taking away some direct sales. Retailers are a good option to push you into new countries. if your UK based then getting an American retailer is ideal and vice versa. Another point to note on a retailer is while you make less it can help build up your brand awareness.

So there we are, thats how I look at the costs involved in commissioning a sculpt. Now I don't have the luxury of having any money to throw at these projects so I have to save costs to make it possible to produce a mini.

To start with I haven't used a concept artist. I have either drawn them myself ( I am no Da Vinci but with a little effort I can make an orange look roughly like an orange!) or I supply detailed descriptions and numerous photographs to the sculptor. Its a cheaper alternative (saving 60 on our example) but the final sculpt carries the risk of not being precisely what you envisaged, it depends how much variance you are willing to allow.

Another way to save money is on the sculptor BUT BE CAREFUL! you may think spending half as much will make you more profit but if you pay less you risk getting a less able sculptor and a poor sculpt wont sell so any potential profit saving is gone. What you can do though is look for up and coming sculptors, ask around. Less well known newer sculptors tend to charge less while they get their name known and there skills are often as good as that of those who are well established. This can pay dividends but you need to do your homework and look at their previous work. This could knock say 100 or even 200 of your costs.

Not getting a miniature painted is an easy way (and probably the least risky) to cut productions costs. Companies like Hasslefree, kingdom death, and Red Box Games sell very well without studio paint-jobs. So foregoing this can knock 250 of this. An alternative is do the paintjob yourself if you feel confident in your abilities. I have taken this route (partly to save money and time but also to promote my own miniature painting service). Beware though a bad paint-job is worse than no paint-job. If you happen to know a decent painter that will do mates-rates then that can work too.

Designing/printing. We can also save money here. Firstly you could design the packaging yourself (or even do without design and just print some labels with model name and number on it (Like Hasslefree do) you could get these done for about a 0.01 each or long term invest in a thermal label printer for about 50 ( I use one and think they are fantastic - also they can do shipping labels for a professional appearance).
Most of us in this hobby know someone who could cobble together a basic design in exchange for a beer or two.
Using Poly bags instead of blisters is another money saving option, costs going from about 0.24 each to about 0.02 per bag. be careful though with resin as these dont offer protection and a nice blister will look better in a brick and mortar retailers (but not essential)

So after our scrimping and saving lets look at our costs again:

initially they were: Now:
Concept art - 60 Concept Art - 0
Sculpting - 300 Sculpting - 150
Painting - 250 Painting - 0
Designer - 60 Designer - 0
Total fixed costs: 670 Total Fixed Costs: 150
Casting - 6 each Casting - 6 each
Printing - 0.20 each Printing - 0.01 each
Packaging 0.24 each Packaging - 0.02 each
Per Item Cost - 6.44 Per Item Cost - 6.03

So we have saved 520 off our fixed costs and the cost per item has been reduced by 0.31 giving a per item gross profit of 5.97. How does that affect our break-even point? Well based on our RRP of 12 the first costing needed us to sell 120 minis to cover costs.
But what about with our reduced costing? Well now for break-even at 12 RRP we would only need to sell 25 minis. thats almost 100 less! Not only can we get more profit per mini but we can also get there quicker. Selling 120 minis on the first pricing gives us a 0 balance. Selling 120 minis on the second pricing would give us around 566.40 gross profit. So we could bag that extra profit and fund the next mini or we could lower the RRP to make it more saleable.

So thats about it on costing, I apologise for the long windedness of it but I hope its of interest. There are plenty of people out there with better knowledge on this than me and dont forget this is a simplistic view of the process. it doesn't account for other costs you may incur (websites, taxes, shipping, etc).

in Part II I will explain how I choose a sculptor and caster and the process involved (but without the maths!)

If you have any question feel free to ask

Updated 11-02-2014 at 02:36 PM by Darklord

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  1. Brambleten's Avatar
    Great article Brett, looking forward to part II.
  2. swoods's Avatar
    Fantastic article DL. Very informative, especially for someone with absolutely no idea about the finer points of miniature production!

    Out of interest, will you be covering the casting/manufacturing process? I'd be very interested as to how a sculpt is cut up and cast.

    Looking forward to the next article.
  3. Darklord's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by swoods
    Fantastic article DL. Very informative, especially for someone with absolutely no idea about the finer points of miniature production!

    Out of interest, will you be covering the casting/manufacturing process? I'd be very interested as to how a sculpt is cut up and cast.

    Looking forward to the next article.
    I will touch on it in the second part though only what I know which is somewhat limited but hopefully enough for a decent overview
  4. Jona's Avatar
    A good read, and I expect part II to be even more interesting.
    I'm particularly curious to the difference in manufacturing process between resin and metal (and to a lesser extent plastic), so I hope that will make an appearance.
  5. phatkid1966's Avatar
    Brilliant article and very informative. I am certainly in the category of one day commissioning a one off sculpt to call my own. That seems a step closer now that I have a rough insight into the cost involved. I certainly have a few ideas (the easy bit). It also makes a bit more sense now in terms of the long wait customers have to endure after seeing artist impressions from the renowned miniature companies. Who knew there was so much involved! Anyway, lots of food for thought there - nice one bud!
  6. Darklord's Avatar
    thanks guys.

    @Phatkid a lot of the delay can be down to just waiting. if you are using a well renowned caster or sculptor.painter then they often have a long waiting list. Some sculptors I know are currently booked up for the next 12 months. Another aspect to consider is kick-starter has booked up a lot of casters. Again I know of companies that have sculpts waiting for casting a year down the road.
  7. NeatPete's Avatar
    Thanks for the info DL! great write up.
  8. Mako's Avatar
    Awesome write up, and very interesting. I'll look forward to part 2!
  9. ScottRadom's Avatar
    Love it, thanks so much!