Anywhere from $0 to $120,000 a year.
Trying to pin down a forensic artist’s salary is difficult, since most forensic artists (about 300 of them in the US) do the work as a collateral duty to their full-time job in law enforcement. That’s why a patrol officer who does 30 composites a year could make $30,000, while a detective who averages 3 composites a year can pull down $60,000.
In comparison, there are only about 30 full-time artists, in state, local, and federal agencies. The artists in the state and local agencies make $35,000 to $60,000+, while artists at federal agencies earn $70,000 to over $100,000, depending on years of service. Of course, this means the competition for the federal jobs is fierce. To land a job with that kind of salary takes a Bachelor’s degree, solid drawing and sculpting skills, advanced computer graphics knowledge, the ability to hold a high security clearance, and more.
Freelance artists (those outside of law enforcement) find it impossible to earn any kind of real money, and often volunteer for free trying to get a foot in the door. Sometimes freelancers will work on a contract basis, but since most agencies are strapped for cash, job security is tenuous at best.
The most successful freelancers are retired law enforcement artists, who charge either volunteer for free, or charge a modest fee for their time. Most that I know will charge a wage equal to what they earned while they were on the job. So, if they made $60,000 a year, they might charge $30 an hour, earning $60-$90 for the typical 2-3 hour composite, or maybe a flat fee of $150-$200, no matter how long the drawing takes.
No matter how much a forensic artist makes, we all should be qualified and capable to do the job, and keep up with current scientific and professional practices.
We don’t go into this line of work to make money. We do it because we care about helping victims of crime.