A guide to graphic design rates, with tips and advice from select professionals in the industry
Graphic Designers are masters of design. Comfortable with a number of different mediums and often possessing a large skillset, Graphic Designers can combine visuals, typography, sometimes illustrations and other design elements to create incredible work.
Though there is a consistent and quite large demand for graphic designers as an entry-level role in agencies, publishers and other companies, most graphic designers on Creativepool actually work freelance. Moreover, especially in this current climate, it is not uncommon for aspiring graphic designers to go freelance right out of university.
But establishing a freelance business can be tricky, especially if you are not sure about where to start. Usually, that will be with your rates and prices to guarantee a sustainable and stable income over time. But because I’m no graphic designer myself, I decided to interview two established professionals from the Creativepool community who could tell me more about the topic.
Some time ago I interviewed James Birks and James Round on the broader topic of how to price yourself as a freelancer. What follows is a collection of notes from that interview that are specific to graphic designers.
Also, how beautiful is the illustration just above? You can thank the Birks himself for that.
Artwork credit: Jamie Ansell
How do I charge for Graphic Design work?
It isn’t uncommon for Graphic Designers to charge per working day or per hour, rather than on a project basis. Though some designers, such as James Birks, do it, this appears to be more of an exception than the rule. Birks himself admits that he only ever charges on a project basis for larger projects – otherwise, his preferred choice is to charge per hour instead.
On the other hand, James Round charges clients on a per-day basis. There is always at least a minimum half-day charge in his quotes (to avoid small projects that could just take ‘ten minutes’ to do), and he puts an emphasis on communicating with your client. According to him, even before you work out your rates and offer the client a quote, it is important to understand the complexity of the project, and you can only do that by speaking clearly with your client.
When possible, James Round also offers a reduced rate for charities and organisations bringing a positive change into this world.
In all cases, it is recommended that you always keep in mind a minimum rate or figure that you wish to charge, to avoid undercharging at any time for any kind of project.
So in a nutshell:
- Graphic designers usually charge per day or per hour
- Some like to charge per project with larger clients/work
- Communicate with your clients to understand the complexity of the work
- Work out a minimum rate that you will always charge
- Work out your own house rules if it helps with your business or your values
Artwork credit: Tony Clarkson
How do I calculate the costs of a project?
Now that you have hopefully decided how you are going to charge your clients, it is time to start calculating the costs of single projects that you are going to tackle.
When it comes to client work, James Birks calculates the actual hours needed to complete the project, based on his expertise and skill level. He also considers the size of client, the kind of value he is bringing, and what kind of usage the client will do of the final work.
As a general rule that we have already seen in this series, you can calculate costs based on three main factors:
- Time needed
- Kind of usage
- Publishing rights
In other words: how much time do you need to complete the project? Is it going to be used on a national or international scale? How is the client going to profit and benefit from your work, and how much? But most importantly – and this is quite common for graphic designers – will you have to relinquish rights? If you create a design that cannot be used to make prints and generate additional revenue, you should take that into account, as you will never be able to profit from that work again.
Some freelancers can even charge double if they have to give up rights – but be wary of doing that with graphic design. As a designer, you are expected to create work that will grow someone else’s brand – meaning you will rarely have to truly consider rights. But if you are a graphic illustrator as well as a graphic designer – well, the story there may be different.
Other than that, James Round recommends doing some research before you set up your rates. He himself was unsure as to what to charge when he first started his freelance venture, but he has since increased his own rates and found something he is personally comfortable with.
So in a nutshell:
- Consider three factors:
- Calculate the actual time to complete the project
- Estimate the kind of profit and value you’re bringing to the client
- Consider rights if you are a graphic illustrator too
- Come up with rates that are in line with your skill level and make you feel comfortable
- Don’t be afraid to research or adjust your rates after some time
Artwork credit: Yingbo Qiao
Common mistakes when pricing graphic design work
You will hear it most often in this series, but the worst mistake you can do as a freelancer is undercharging for your services. It is a disservice to you and the industry as a whole, setting lower standards for other freelancers to cope with in the long run.
According to James Round, you should always be open with yourself and your client about timings too. Avoid offering lower fees hoping to work faster, and if some adjustment is needed on the go, communicate that with the client in advance and try to come to a common agreement. And as a general rule, if nobody ever questions your rates… It might be time to increase them!
James Birks also put an emphasis on admin fees. You should always consider all the admin costs of handling a project, communicating with the client and the usual back-and-forth required before reaching the end of a project. More time means you might have to charge for more money.
Being engaged in the industry is the only true way to be aware of what is going on and how to avoid undercharging/overcharging a client. Don’t be afraid to connect with other graphic designers – freelancers are always extremely supportive of each other!
Artwork credit: Christopher Dowding
Examples of graphic design rates & prices
Charging a client per project takes a high level of skill and years of experience to understand the demands of a project. When a client discusses budget with you, it can be relatively easy to gauge how much they may be willing to spend for a design work – but lacking that information, charging flat rates can be risky. Especially if you are just starting out.
But if you still want to go for this approach, the advice from the two Jameses remains largely the same: calculate the amount of time or days needed to complete the work, give yourself a little wiggle room (say 30% more time), then set a flat rate that matches your skills and experience.
Here are some examples of graphic design rates and prices:
- A logo design can cost around $1,000;
- If you are a graphic illustrator, prices should start from $500 per illustration (packaging);
- The average hour rate for freelance graphic designers in the UK is around £27/hour;
- A reasonable rate for a £35k desired annual salary would be around £200/day;
- Experienced freelancers may charge up to £400/day.
Artwork credit: James Round
There are several resources that you can use to do some research and find support for your freelance venture.
If you are in the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is pretty much gold dust. They periodically keep track of median pays, employment changes and job outlooks for all kinds of job roles, including graphic designers. Though it is more indicated for those looking for a fixed employment, it can give you guidance on the national average and help you set your rates according to your needs. For example, in 2019, the median hourly rate was $25.05, while the median salary was $52.000/year.
Whether you are UK or international, you can also rely on the Graphic Artists Guild. Other than providing guidance and resources for members to help them with their freelance ventures, the guild also advocates for a fair market and is of enormous support to the national community of freelancers.
If you are only interested in UK and Europe work, you can take a look at the Chartered Society of Designers. The chartered international body provides support for designers at the early stages of their careers, guiding them in finding their feet in the market.
Additionally, if you are a graphic designer working in film and television, you can join the Graphics Union. The Union offers support to all designers working in films and it even has a handy rates card to help you establish your rates for film work.
I hope this guide was useful and will get you on the right track to start charging for your projects straight away! Feel free to share your own experience with graphic design rates in the comments section and let us know if there’s anything we missed.