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This is a topic that comes up on a pretty regular basis on the groups and forums.  How much do I charge for a piece? How do I do estimates?  Very common questions and there are a million options but I’m going to share what I do.  Its super simple and easy and it works for quick estimates and jobs big or small.

Before you can charge for something you need to know how much it costs.  Open an excel spreadsheet or just make a simple table like the one below.

With the table below I can quickly determine my cost on a full sheet and break it down to a price per square inch.   It has the added benefit of telling me weight.  So I can determine how much a piece will weigh both for shipping and customer inquiry.  All this information can be obtained from your steel supplier.  You can build on this sheet each time you get a request for a new material and pretty soon you will have a portfolio of materials you can choose from and compare for the customer.  I have about 60 sheet materials that I track.  Steel prices vary, they are always changing and your prices should be rounded up just a bit to account for that and check your prices from time to time to make sure you still in the ball park.


Weight 4x8

Weight SQIN

 Cost 4x8


Cost x3

Cost x4

Cost x5

Cost x6

20g Cold Roll









18g Cold Roll









16g Cold Roll









14g Cold Roll









10g Cold Roll









So how does this work for estimates and quoting and why the Cost x3, x4, x5, x6.   We can see from this table how much the material will cost us down to the sqin.  So when a customer calls up and says I want a sign made.  I ask:  What do you want it made out of: Steel, Aluminum, Stainless  How Thick / What Gauge? And How big do you want it to be?   With these three simple questions I can determine my cost in seconds.   

Knowing what column your in for charging the customer x3, x4, x5, x6 Will take a few jobs and a little experience to determine. When I first started out and I was learning and practicing so I operated in the x3 column.  I knew this covered the material and If I made a mistake I could make another without loosing money and I would likely cover my expenses if I did not mess up.  This is a good place to start, you will have low prices you can get people in the door and learn your craft and gain experience.  While you gain experience you need to be tracking time and expenses.  

When you use this chart its main purpose is telling you what your material cost is.  The x3, x4, x5, x6 is where you can figure in add-ons like painting or powder coating.  You can label the x columns with paint or powder, bare steel ect.   With a little tracking in the beginning you can come up with a very accurate way to quote pieces.   I have seen many people try and quote based on time it takes to cut and number of pierces ect.  But all of these rely on doing all the artwork prior to being able to quote.   If the customer decides not to use you then you just wasted a bunch of time.   

Find a margin that allows you to make money and pay for expenses.   I operate my shop at about a $60 per hour rate.  This is covering labor, consumables, electricity, business expenses ect.  Considering that most mechanic shops are $80 to $120 an hour this is a pretty good deal.  Every area of the country is different and competition in your area will also be a factor.  But I have found that this is a great and easy way to quote.  

Artwork / CAD Time -   For doing artwork design and CAD time for customers I charge $60 per hour and bill in 15 min increments. This is a very fare wage for CAD time.   If there is a design or something simple I can do in 15 min or less I usually do it for free just as a way to keep customers happy.  I will also do some items for free if its a design or object that I can use and resell and I think it will be useful to me.   If I charge a customer for artwork or CAD time for a piece ethically I believe that the design belongs to them, just something to consider.    

Summary - So that is my take on estimating projects and pricing things out.   With a little tracking of time in the beginning and determining how much materials and consumables costs you have, you can create a very accurate picture of your operating costs. Then factor this into a pricing column per sqin of material cut and you get a very fast and accurate way to price. Taking only seconds to do so your not wasting time or money.   You can also create custom columns for secondary operations like paint or powder coating.   With also tracking weight it will help when you make things that will need to hang to determine what wall anchors you will need and you can do a pretty accurate estimate of shipping cost before you have even cut one piece.   Using this system also makes your pricing very consistent and accurate.   When your just throwing prices out there and you have a repeat customer your not going to look professional and your prices will be all over the place.  This way you are accurate and consistent from one job to the next.

If you have any questions on this please EMAIL me.

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