Cosplay is a fun hobby. If you’ve been cosplaying for a while, you know how much skill goes into creating and modeling your costumes. There must be some way to use your talents to make a little money doing something you love. Better yet, maybe you’re thinking of turning cosplay into a career.
You can make money from cosplay by selling merchandise, creating commissioned costumes, or by becoming an online content creator. If you build up a social media following, you can turn cosplay into a lucrative side hustle. However, very few people are able to turn the hobby into a full-time career.
Whether you’re looking to become a professional cosplayer, or you just want to make enough money to fund the expensive hobby, there are a wide variety of activities you can pursue to get paid. With the rise of social media and platforms like Instagram and TikTok, comes more opportunities to be found for sponsorships, modeling, and commissioning opportunities.
Is cosplay a viable career path?
If all you want to do is create costumes and go to conventions, being a professional cosplayer is probably not the career for you. In addition to constructing elaborate costumes and modeling them at conventions, a professional cosplayer has to:
- Build a following and interact with fans. This applies both to in-person events and online social media.
- Promote booths at conventions and other events. You won’t be able to enjoy the convention as much since you’ll have commitments running booths or making guest appearances.
- Learn to market themselves at conventions. You’ll need to network with cosplayers and companies in order to find better deals and start to be invited as a guest cosplayer.
- You have to go to a lot of conventions. It might seem like a good thing at first, but going to conventions every single weekend is exhausting and generally not sustainable long term.
Not only is the career much more stressful than the hobby, but you also need a lot of time, dedication, and a little bit of luck to build up a following big enough to be noticed.
I don’t want to completely discourage you from following your dreams of becoming a professional cosplayer. With the growing use of sponsorships in social media and the continued popularity of cosplay, there really are people who turn this into their full-time careers.
But it’s also important to be realistic in your expectations. You’ll have to put in a lot of work creating amazing costumes and marketing yourself if you want any hope of turning this into a career. On the other hand, it’s absolutely possible to treat cosplay as a side hustle and make some extra money out of your passion for the hobby.
When would you be considered a professional cosplayer?
The definition of a professional anything (cosplayer, photographer, etc.) is a little bit fuzzy. Some would say you could call yourself a professional if you are making any money at all from cosplay. You certainly don’t have to be cosplaying as a full-time career to be a professional cosplayer, but making $5 from the hobby probably isn’t enough to warrant adding it to your resume.
Most people wouldn’t call themselves professional cosplayers until they are making a substantial percentage of their annual income from sponsorships, appearances, or modeling opportunities that are related to the hobby. If you want a more concrete rule, if you are making about half of your annual income from cosplay-related activities, you would be considered a professional cosplayer.
How much money do cosplayers make?
The reality is, most people who attempt to make money from cosplay don’t make very much. For the most part, you can consider yourself lucky if you make enough to cover the cost of the costumes you create. For an expensive hobby like cosplay, that’s not insignificant. But it’s also not going to pay the bills.
If you do get to the point of being a professional cosplayer you can make a liveable income. If you can sell merchandise, get sponsorship deals, or regularly get hired to man booths at conventions you might be able to make $50k-75k in a year. Only the very top cosplayers are able to earn more than this, but they might even make more than $50k per appearance.
You don’t have to be a pro cosplayer to make money
There are other opportunities within the cosplay world for making money too. Many people make money at events and online selling costume pieces (like horns, wings, and ears), wigs, cosplay materials, contacts, and more. If you have any highly marketable skills related to cosplay, you can also look into one of these adjacent areas and look into opening a shop.
Top ways to make money from cosplay
While people may automatically think of professional cosplayers as guests at conventions or models at merch booths, there is a much wider array of activities you can use to make money from cosplay.
1. Social media content creators
In this day and age, social media is probably the most important aspect of making money from cosplay. With a presence on Instagram and TikTok, you can build a following and interact with your subscribers. The more fans you get the more you’ll be able to utilize the other tips on this list.
Social media can be monetized by achieving sponsorships, affiliate marketing (sending people to a website to buy a product, then getting a percentage of the sale price), and a fanbase for selling prints and merchandise.
While it’s a little more work, you can also create a presence on YouTube. If you grow your channel to over 1,000 subscribers, you can monetize it and get money from ads that play on your videos.
After you’ve been able to gain some followers of your work, you can set up a Patreon for your fans. This is one of the best ways to create continuous income every month. However, the amount you make depends on your followers and how many want to support you.
Patreon works by giving fans a chance to support independent artists. They can commit to giving $5-$10 (or more) to you per month so that you have the chance to continue producing costumes and going to events. In return, you would typically offer some exclusive content for these top supporters. Cosplayers will offer anything from exclusive photos of a new costume to tutorials or work-in-progress images.
3. Photo prints and merchandise
While not quite as popular now, prints of professional photos of cosplays used to be one of the major money-makers for cosplayers. They still have their place in the cosplay world, since many people like to hang posters and wall art of people cosplaying their favorite characters. However, you might also want to venture into other merchandise opportunities.
Other items that people find useful include calendars, notebooks and folders, mugs, or even T-shirt designs. Even though simple prints and posters seem like the obvious thing to sell, you can see there are so many more options that might be more appealing to people.
4. Commissions for other costumes
One way to turn cosplay into a legitimate side hustle without having thousands of followers is by taking commissions. If you have developed skills with costume construction, prop making, or wig styling you can make these items for other people.
You can actually make a significant amount of money doing this, especially if you are very good at the technical aspects of making a costume. One commissioned costume could make you $300-$500 or more, especially if it has an elaborate design.
Of course, creating other people’s costumes is a little more difficult than making your own. You need to work with different measurements and have to make sure the quality is top-notch for the person purchasing your services. No cutting corners.
5. Selling patterns
Because cosplay costumes often need to be made in unusual shapes that don’t match normal, everyday garments, it’s difficult to find patterns that work for specific characters. If you’ve taken the time to create your own patterns for the characters you cosplay, you can sell digital copies to other cosplayers looking to recreate the same character.
The same can be said for EVA foam patterns. Good EVA foam patterns for armor and props are incredibly useful to other cosplayers. You can sell yours for a digital download to anyone who’s looking to create a similar look.
6. Selling old cosplays
At some point, you will need to create space in your cosplay closet for all the new costumes you want to make. Instead of tossing the old outfits that you’ll no longer wear, you can sell them online. If it’s a well-constructed costume and you’re a fairly popular cosplayer, you can make a lot of money by selling the old costumes.
As someone who is definitely not a professional cosplayer, this tactic is pretty hit or miss. The costumes for popular characters sold pretty easily, but nothing else ever left the shelf. So, this is something where you’ll have a better return if you wait until you have a following.
7. Build a cosplay website
Oh, look! This is something I have a little experience in. If you like to write about your cosplay experience or want to make cosplay tutorials for people to follow, you can make money by publishing a website. If you have you’re own site, you can place ads to make money every time someone visits the page.
You can also easily recommend products you use and provide affiliate links within your articles. This way you can make a small commission if someone purchases the item you recommend. It’s not easy to build a website. In fact, it takes quite a lot of time. However, if you have the patience it can create a monthly income for you that can be enough to fund your next cosplay project.
Sponsorships are typically something you can achieve once your social media following is large enough. You can reach out to a company with your stats (or they’ll reach out to you) and promote their products or services to your audience.
To start with, you might only be able to make $10-$50 per sponsored post. However, as you build a bigger following, you’ll be able to work with better companies and make more money. Even though all sorts of companies might approach you, it’s a good idea to stick with companies or products within the anime, comic, gaming, and cosplay communities so that you don’t alienate your audience.
9. Booth cosplayers
You might be approached by companies who hire cosplayers to man their booths at conventions. The idea is that skilled cosplayers will attract more attention and help to sell more merchandise. In some cases, you’ll be expected to be a salesperson and help sell items at the booth. In other cases, you will stand near the booth, maybe dressed as a character from an upcoming game or anime.
You can also be involved in promotional events and selling at booths outside of conventions. Big gaming and comic companies will hire cosplayers to create costumes from their games and promote the company.
10. Cosplay competitions
Almost every anime or comic convention has some sort of cosplay contest. These will judge the craftsmanship of the costume, so they’re great for people who are good at the technical side of sewing and garment making.
Most of these competitions will only offer small prizes. You might get a simple ribbon, but you can also receive a small cash prize (up to $300 if you win). However, there are a few really big contests (like the World Cosplay Summit) that offer larger prizes.
11. Convention guests
This is what many people immediately think of as professional cosplayers, but only those that make it to the top tier end up getting invited to conventions as guests. You have to have a lot of followers and be well known in the cosplay community before you can expect to be a convention guest.
You don’t have to wait for convention organizers to reach out to you though. If you want to build up your name in the cosplay community, try contacting the staff at a smaller convention. If you show them that being there could attract more people to the convention, they may take you on as a guest. In this case, they will pay for your accommodations, at the very least, but you might also receive a few hundred for your appearance. As you get more popular, you can reach out to larger and larger conventions.