(This is a guest post created by guest author Jun Anover)
You have many options to make money as a graphic designer. That’s especially true today when companies put a premium on graphics and visual design for their many business activities.
In addition, the process of design now is highly specialized. Not anyone can apply the principles and elements of design using the latest technology and digital tools. It takes special skills and expertise to do that.
What then are these income opportunities for graphic designers? We’ve listed several and will go through each of them.
But first, what’s the income rate for a graphic designer? There are some eye-opening statistics, so read on.
How Much Does a Graphic Designer Earn?
As of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 254,100 graphics design jobs nationwide.
The median pay in the U.S. for graphic designers is $53,380 per year. That’s around $25.66 per hour. This is actually much higher than the median pay of all other occupations which is $41,950.
Of course, there are certain industries that pay more. For example, the Federal Executive Branch, aerospace parts and products manufacturing, and software publishers, among others, all pay top dollar.
In the aforementioned industries, graphic designers can expect annual incomes ranging from $77K up to $88K.
But here’s the score. Even with a good salary as an employee, why does a good chunk of graphic designers work as freelancers? You’ll learn the answers in our section on freelance services.
Anyway, from regular employment to freelance and everything else, we’ll tackle all those to give you the widest earning options in your profession.
How to Make Money as a Graphic Designer: 9 Income Areas for Graphic Designers
1. Join a Design Team
This means you apply and get hired by a company and be part of their design department.
It’s good if you are able to join a creative studio or design agency. This way you can truly harness your skills, get mentored by a supervisor and be abreast with the latest tools of the trade.
If it’s not an agency and there is no dedicated design team, you’ll likely be working with the marketing, advertising, or corporate promotions group.
Wherever your posting is, you have the great responsibility of helping define and execute the company’s visual communication and design strategies.
Be aware there are certain considerations for hiring. LinkedIn listed 10 criteria employers look for in graphics designers. These are:
- Experience – Have you worked with different clients and agencies before?
- Portfolio – Have you done a wide variety of work from a broad range of industries?
- Expertise – Do you have a blog and use social media to give advice and tips?
- Testimonials – Do you have good words/feedback from clients and colleagues?
- Expectations – Are you confident you can deliver quality work?
- Accessibility – Do you value open communication? Are you easy to reach?
- Rates – How much is your rate vis-à-vis your skills and experience?
- Bigger picture – Can you tackle bigger goals and larger projects?
- Open to advice – Are you willing to give and receive suggestions?
- Other skills – Can you write or manage people and projects?
Being a regular employee has its advantages such as a steady income stream and employment benefits. With good performance, you also have the chance to rise up the ranks.
But why do many graphic designers take the freelance route? We’ll find out next.
2. Offer Freelance Services
In 2019, a sizable 21% of graphic designers in the US were self-employed. Meanwhile, a 2020 global survey by 99designs of 11,000 graphic designers revealed that more than half of respondents were full-time freelancers.
The biggest attraction to freelancing is that you are your own boss – you make your own decisions. The other “perks’ include the following:
- You follow your own schedule
- You’re not bound by contracts
- You can choose clients or projects
- You’re not limited by time or boundaries
- You can set your own rates
- You’re able to work from home
The rise in demand for online design jobs during this time of the pandemic makes freelance work a viable option.
Of course, there are downsides. As a solo entrepreneur, you do all the legwork – finance, marketing, client prospecting, etc. You may find yourself working beyond eight hours to juggle all those chores.
Also, there is less stability. Most likely a good part of your time and effort will be spent looking for clients to sustain your income.
So, what is the rate of freelance graphic designers? According to Upwork, it depends. There are factors that affect pay rates such as:
- Experience – a seasoned designer commands higher rates; you pay for value and expertise.
- Scope of work – does it entail simple concepts or all else in between up to the finished product?
- Timeline – rush job and tight deadlines cost more.
Considering the above, you’re looking at a range of $15 to $150 per hour. The average pay rate per hour hovers at around $25.
Where do you advertise yourself for free? You can post your services like photo editing, usually at no cost, on freelance platforms, career websites, job marketplaces, online design communities, and social media.
3. Teach Courses
There are two ways to do this – teach in an actual school or teach online. Either way, you need to have the proper education and experience.
According to Study.com, these are the steps to become a graphic design teacher:
- Obtain a graphic design degree – at least a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.
- Get a teaching license – this is required in all 50 US states.
- Pursue design experience – internships and certifications are needed to advance to higher positions.
- Undertake further education – some colleges require a Master’s degree.
The teaching route may need early career planning on your part. You will need to invest time and resources to reach this goal.
Teaching is rewarding, and it pays good money too. As of 2019, graphic design instructors earn an annual median wage of $69,530.
Now the other way is teaching remotely. You have two approaches – offer e-tutoring or teach/sell courses online.
Just to give you an idea. One tutorial service that offers live graphic design lessons from instructors charges an average of $45 for a 60-minute session. Prices vary depending on the tutor, location, and type of lesson.
Teaching or selling courses online is usually through popular online course platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare, and Coursera.
But first, understand the fine terms they offer. After all, they are businesses you tap for your business. So they get the big cut and you get a percentage share.
Your earning potential as an instructor is also influenced by many factors like price, promo effort, competition, demand for graphic design courses, and quality of your course.
Course creator and instructor John Purcell struck it big teaching at Udemy, earning over seven figures. His reply has often been quoted when asked how much one makes through learning platforms: “Some none, very many a bit, many quite a lot, and some are positively getting rich.”
The nitty-gritty on how to create and sell online courses is discussed by Eduard Klein in his blog. There you’ll find actual case studies of those who’ve engaged in this undertaking and how much they’re making.
4. Sell Digital Designs
You’ll have to muster your entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to this activity. But just what digital design items can you sell? Below is a short list:
- Design templates – Examples are templates for ebooks, e-cards, invitations, posters, Facebook ads, etc.
- Custom fonts – Create unique fonts and sell them independently, through a reseller or to a type foundry. You can sell fonts at Etsy for $100.
- Logo packages – People now can easily design a logo for free although many others prefer professionally designed, customizable logos. Right now, you can use nifty logo design software to create different ones on the go. These offer a lot of versatility, allowing you to quickly tweak designs depending on your needs.
- Branding packages – This includes the whole stuff– logo, fonts, color scheme, patterns, and other branding assets. This is big bucks – up to $4K or higher for a complete package.
- WordPress themes – It has been reported that some designers who develop and sell WP themes earn serious money – in the vicinity of 6 figures per year.
- Web design templates – For years this has been a lucrative business, bringing in $500 to $30K per month to designers.
The above figures are estimations and income ranges from a variety of industry sources. It’s good if you can earn more. At least you have an idea of the income potential from selling your designs.
After knowing what to sell, you may ask where you can sell. There are many suggested sites you’ll find online.
5. Sell Physical Products
There’s a high demand for personalized physical products, like branded merchandise, as consumers always look for ways to show their support for their favorite brands. Social media and event marketing campaigns have spurred the popularity of such items.
You can start selling branded merchandise online or at events. The profit margins can be high because many people are willing to pay for branded merch.
There is a whole assortment of products that are offshoots of your graphic design skills that you can sell.
Below are some of them:
- Coloring books
- Wall art
- Holiday cards
- Party decorations
- Illustrated publications
Meanwhile, Shopify listed 10 most popular print-on-demand products you can sell even without keeping inventory. These are:
- Unisex t-shirts
- Children’s t-shirts
- All-over print hoodie
- All-over print yoga pants
- Engraved jewelry
- Champion jacket
- Tote bags
- Fanny packs
Online selling of products has become the norm especially during this time when places have been locked down due to the pandemic. You have two options to market your merchandise – DIY or tap e-commerce platforms.
If you prefer to do it all yourself, be ready to multitask. Aside from designing and making your products, you have to put up an online store, find a web hosting service, and take care of packaging, shipping, delivery and after-sales.
The less stressful option is selling through an e-commerce platform or fulfillment service where the majority of the operational activities are taken care of. Essentially, all you have to do is mind your virtual store.
Again, study the agreement and terms of the e-commerce company. See where you are better off – earning just enough with a little effort or earning more with a great deal of work.
In addition, you can start a print-on-demand business without investing in expensive equipment or a physical location. You only need a computer, graphic design skills, and an internet connection. With print-on-demand, customers don’t have to order a minimum quantity of products. Instead, they can order different prints without committing to a large order.
6. Be a Consultant
A graphic design consultant may be part of a freelance job or one who works in a consulting firm. Mostly it involves working with various clients – businesses, companies, organizations, and government agencies.
The work could be anything to help them with messaging and branding or executing graphic design projects to pursuing visual communications goals.
Consulting can qualify as a full-time job. It also pays well. According to career experts Zippia, a graphic design consultant makes an average annual income of $63,270 or an hourly rate of $30.42.
Of course, there are the usual requisites for the job such as education (bachelor’s degree or higher level) and experience.
As a graphic design consultant, you can share your expertise with students starting their careers. You can help them learn about the latest trends in the industry, the different types of jobs available, and ways to build a successful career.
Furthermore, you can also aid students in developing their skills, providing feedback on their work, and identifying areas where they can improve. It’s also good to allow them to work on real-world graphic design projects to gain experience and build their portfolio.
7. Social Media Graphics
What are social media graphics? They are the visual and graphic elements used on social media platforms.
Basically, they can be images, videos, illustrations, and gifs used for posts, profiles, stories, pins, ads, etc.
It’s vital that you know what social media graphics are and why you need them. That’s because social media is important not only for ordinary people but more so for businesses.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others have become battlegrounds for companies and brands. These are venues where businesses compete to connect with customers and reach more consumers.
Visual executions and strategies are essential for companies in social media. That’s where you as a graphic designer come in.
You’ll be expected to create templates, use proper formats, scale designs across different platforms, and apply consistent branding all throughout.
As a freelancer, you set your rates for social media design projects. Be aware of prevailing rates for specific design jobs as well as packages vis-à-vis the requirements and preferences of clients.
8. Enter Design Contests
Why should you join design competitions? For exposure, experience, and prestige. Oh you thought we forgot – certainly, the prize money!
There are dozens of design competitions both locally and internationally. Contests are sometimes focused on certain areas like graphic design, logo making, typography, packaging, UI/UX, website design, and many others.
Here are some premiere competitions that shell out big cash prizes for graphic design:
- Red Dot Design Awards – Prize: €10,000
- International Poster and Graphic Design Competition of Chaumont – Prize: Up to €3,000
- Joseph Binder Graphic Design and Illustration Competition – Prizes: €1,500 to €2,500
- TDC Communication Design Competition – Prize: $1,000
Do check out the organizer’s website to get more details on entry fees, eligibility requirements, contest rules, and other information.
9. Blog and Monetize
Before you even think of making money from blogging, you must first learn how to start a blog. Here are some tips:
- Create a professional website – You’re a pro hence your site should look and feel like one.
- Avoid using a free website builder – You don’t get full features so have limited options; and you don’t get to carry your own domain name.
- Have a real domain – pick a good name that represents your business since you’ll carry it for as long as your business exists.
- Plan your posts – consistency in publishing posts is the key to getting online mileage.
- Find great topics – content must be fresh, interesting, and show that you’re an authority on the subject.
- Hire extra hands – if you’re not that knowledgeable on SEO or any other aspect of blogging, do hire someone who is.
- Share your blog – spread the news and provide a link on social media so everyone knows you have a blog and where to find it.
Now there are six proven ways to make money from a blog. This topic is explained extensively in that article so do give it a thorough read. But here’s a quick rundown:
- Sell ad space
- Engage in affiliate marketing
- Sell products on your site
- Offer paid memberships
- Carry sponsored blog content
- Offer your services on your site
The article also contains a list of successful blogs and how much each is earning. Hint: 4 to 7 figures a month!
A smart, enthusiastic, and enterprising graphic designer will never run out of income opportunities.
Even if the job market becomes saturated, there are so many ways to make money with your graphic design skills.
Remember, it is a very visual world both for consumers and companies. A graphic designer gives life to design concepts. The results are then used by individuals and businesses to address their visual communication needs
Whether you do it by yourself or as part of a team, know that the returns for being a graphic designer are good and the efforts you put in are well worth it.
Jun Anover is a senior content producer at Colorcinch, formerly cartoonize.net. His background in art, design, and photography helps him craft informative articles and creative content pieces on these subjects.