What being a 3d artist costs

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

In this article I’m going to break down some of the costs you have when you are a 3d artist. Beginning with hardware and software costs, going on to office costs and how you might save some money. In the last chapter I’m going to talk about my personal experience and how much it costs me to run my business.

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Office
  • save some money
  • own experience

Hardware

With hardware you can go the more or less cheap way, but you can also go all in and invest a lot of money. I will start from the low budget solution and tackle my way up to the expensive solutions. Whether you need all things mentioned in this paragraph is up to you and your projects.

Let´s start with a cheap setup. You need at least one computer. The cheapest way to go is to buy a used workstation or even a laptop. Besides the computer you also need monitors, keyboard and a mouse. But that shouldn’t be the main budget killer. If you want you can buy a server too to store all your assets, textures and projects. I think that´s quite necessary because it keeps things organized and you can build up a system where you can enter project folders from on the road.

If you want you can get all of this for around 1000–1500€. This won’t be the best computer on earth but as you’re about to start that might be enough to do the job.

For the ones who want to invest more there is more or less no limit. You can purchase a powerful workstation from Dell, HP etc. They start around 1800€ and the sky is more or less the limit. You can order them specialized to your use. If you want you can even lease them, which might be a solution if you want to spread the costs over months.

As one computer is enough to render your work, sometimes you don’t want to wait for ages for a rendering. This is the time you need to think about getting more power. It doesn’t really matter if you render with GPU or CPU. There are plenty of options available on the market. You can setup some computers/workstations/graphiccards to act like a little renderfarm. You can start by buying one used workstation for around 800€ or building your own. That will speed up your rendertimes significantly. The more you add the more time you save on the rendering part. If you’re going crazy you can easily spend 25000€+ on professional renderfarms. There are many ways to go here.

You also have to think about the fact that every 3–5 years you should think about upgrading your setup. So these costs are some kind of running costs when you break them down to every month.

working desk - Photo by Alexandru Acea

Software & Assets

After purchasing your hardware setup it’s time to get the right software. As this is pretty much a personal decision with which software you can work the best I will just point out different costs.

Starting with the cheapest variant. You don’t have to spend any money on software if you don’t want to. No I’m not talking about pirate software, I’m talking about open source software which is free. The first software that comes to my mind is blender. It’s basically a full functioning 3d software in which you can build your 3d scenes and render them. There is even a render engine included in it. For post production you can use for example gimp as an alternative. If you need any materials or assets, there are many free libraries where you can download them for free for example www.textures.com or www.dimensiva.com.

The more expensive alternative to blender is for example 3dsMax or Cinema4D. 3dsMax will set you back around 1600€ every year. Cinema4D on the other hand do still have a perpetual license which costs around 3000€. Besides the 3d software you can also purchase different render engines like Vray, Corona, F-Storm, Octance etc. There are plenty out there and every one of them has their own advantage. For Vray you do pay around 850€ once. For the other render engines I do not know the exact prizes. But I have to say I´m pretty interested in switching from Vray to Corona. But which renderer you choose is completely up to you. In archviz these are the ones the most people use. If you want to you can also spend money on plugins like Marvelous Designer or ForestPack etc. They can help speeding up your workflow and results. Of course there are many resources for 3d models or textures, too. To name a few sources: https://www.arroway-textures.ch/, https://cg-source.com/multitexture.php, http://www.designconnected.com/, https://www.turbosquid.com/... This list is more or less endless so I think this should be enough.

startscreen 3dsMax

Office & Equipment

The next paragraph will be about your working space. As we covered the costs of the hardware and software I’m going to talk about the costs of an office space. The cheapest way you could think off is working from home, because you save the rent for an extra office space and many running costs like telecommunication, internet connection, electricity or cleaning up. Some things should be bought nonetheless. You do need a desk, a good chair and of course internet, electricity and a telephone. But you should cover these costs easily.

If you don’t want to work from home you have the possibility to rent an office. Which size and how many rooms is mostly up to you and your needs. Personally I’d say you do not need that much space because most of the time you’re pretty stationary at your desk. There’s one thing you should keep in mind. With an external office you also have external costs. You pay an extra fee for Internet, telephone, electricity and cleaning. That could easily build up to 300€/month. But if you got a space in an office building you can also network with other people there so there might be a new potential client next to you. Also the fact you can communicate with other humans is a major advantage.

Besides the working space you should also have some sort of basic equipment like business cards, maybe a printed portfolio etc. But these costs aren’t really immense.

portfolio - Photo by Andrew Neel

Save Some Money

Now I’m going to give you some tips how to save some money on some of these expenses. As I mentioned earlier on it isn’t always necessary to have the hottest and fastest computer. Most of the time it’s okay to have a fairly used on. So the first tip is buying used workstations or renderfarms. You can easily save up to 70% depending on the age of the machines. The next tip is using online renderfarms. The most time we only use one computer to work on 3d projects. Only in the end we are going to need the full force. So it can be an idea to work with a fairly fast workstation for the editing and building process. You could even render previews on such a machine. After getting the “ok” from the client you can use online renderfarms. Of course this isn’t always the cheapest way to go, but it can save you the additional costs of buying a renderfarm and the licenses for it. You should make the maths which is the better solution for you. Another tip to save some money is joining shared working spaces. So for example if you find some friends or people you want to work with you can rent an office together and share the rent and also the hardware. This has the positive side effect that you do have social interaction and people around you who you can ask if you’re stuck.

Own Experience

In the last chapter I’m going to show you my average personal monthly costs.

  • office
    including cleaning, electricity,… 260€
  • hardware
    computer 50€
    renderfarm 166€
  • software
    3dsMax 70€
    Vray 20€
    Photoshop/Affinity 10€
    AfterEffects 30€
    ForestPack 8€
  • office & equipment
    desk & chair 15€
    business cards & portfolio 2€

___________________________________________________________________ result 631€

If I´m honest I wasn’t expecting ~7600€ yearly costs for running my business. But there’s something true with the quote:

without spending money you can’t earn money.

I know there is plenty of optimization that I can do. Maybe you also do have some tips for me to bring down the costs. Feel free and leave a comment.

Take care and be creative.

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