Several factors are sure to play a role in the price a professional digital retoucher will be able to command for his or her services. Below are some tips and advice for determining an appropriate pricing level for the retouching work you perform for your clients.

Your Place in the Project Hierarchy
The position you occupy within the retouching food chain on a given project can provide you with a good indication of the rates you will reasonably be able to charge. Your relational proximity to the client who has commissioned the end product will have a significant influence on the amount of pay you should expect to command. For example, there may be projects for which you provide retouching services for a photographer who is employed by an agency. The agency then produces the final product for the client. For each stage of your removal from the end client, a percentage of your overall fee should necessarily be deducted. This stands in contrast to situations in which you act as the sole, direct provider of Photoshop services to the client who has commissioned the final product. You are entirely justified in charging premium rates under such circumstances.

Caliber and Exposure of Final Product
The quality level required by a particular client is something to take into consideration when setting your price for any given job. For example, bargain basement catalogue work commands a lower rate than Photoshop work that will be part of a large-scale, international advertising initiative. The intended audience and reach of the end product is therefore critical in determining the appropriate price to charge a prospective client.

Every retoucher needs to appreciate the fact that when a client provides them with a steady stream of work, it is customary to offer a proportional discount. It is important to be honest with yourself in determining a pricing floor below which you simply cannot afford to go. That will help you provide your very best clients a price break with which you both can happily live.

Work Location
The rates a digital retoucher are able to charge will also be impacted by the location in which he or she actually performs services for the client. Whether you work in your own studio or in the client’s space can significantly affect what you may reasonably charge. Working in the client’s studio rather than your own may prompt them to expect a discount you really do not wish to offer. It is therefore best to specify whenever possible that all work will be done in your studio. This will slash your commuting time and will allow you to charge more lucrative rates.

It is entirely appropriate to increase the rate you charge when a client needs a job completed on short notice. If a client’s deadline requires you to work overnight or on a weekend, do not hesitate to charge a premium for your time. Since this type of tight scheduling is not customary within the industry, it is important to maintain open communication with your clients to ensure your ability to meet their needs.

Hourly or Project-Based Work
When deciding whether to provide services on an hourly or a project basis, it is important to consider the ways in which the two strategies differ. Working on an hourly basis means that you stand to benefit if the work requires more time than initially expected. Project-based work generates the most benefits when the task takes less time than anticipated. Once you begin to provide price quotes with greater regularity, you may find that project-based pricing offers you the most flexibility. Another great feature of project-based pricing is that it allows you to gradually raise what is essentially your base hourly rate without it being jarringly obvious to your clients. A retoucher who customarily charges by the hour may encounter negative client reactions when announcing a rate increase that is instantly apparent.

Effects of Competition
Regardless of whether it is done by foreign competitors or industry newcomers fresh out of college, undercutting inevitably has a negative impact on pricing. The practice serves only to devalue the work done by all professional retouchers and should always be avoided. Some clients may occasionally experiment with less expensive alternatives, but the majority of them will come to appreciate the value your rates truly represent and will resume their relationship with you.

The ultimate arbiter of what you can legitimately charge for your services is the actual price in dollars and cents that the market proves willing to pay. For that reason, it is important to stay current regarding the rates your colleagues are charging their clients.

Excluding any applicable taxes, present market rates (USD) are as follows:

Basic – $30 to $40 per hour

Intermediate – $50 to $60 per hour

Advanced – $100 per hour

Expert – $150 to $300 per hour