Tips for Setting Rates as a Freelance Graphic Designer

Setting rates as a freelance graphic designer can be tricky, especially since, for some projects, it can be difficult to know how much time it will take.

Once, not too long after I finished my journalism degree, I was asked to design a logo. I had taken a graphic design class, and a Flash class, and I thought I could handle it. I quoted a price that I thought seemed reasonable for a logo, was accepted, and then got to work.

Unfortunately, I’m not exactly the most talented when it comes to design — and I didn’t know the software as well as I thought I did. By the time I finished the job, I felt wrung out, and realized that I had been working for less than minimum wage.

I made the decision never to take on graphic design work again. But the experience taught me a little bit about setting rates as a freelance graphic designer:

Hourly vs. Per-Project

Setting freelance graphic designer rates starts with the classic freelancing dilemma: Hourly or per-project? One of the advantages of setting hourly rates is that you are paid for the work you do. With a graphic design project, it’s easy for things to get out of hand, and for you to work more than you expected.

Unfortunately, most clients want you to give them an actual quote for the project, rather than an hourly rate. As you get better at estimating how much time it takes to accomplish certain tasks, you can translate your preferred hourly rate into a flat per-project quote. For instance, if your preferred rate is $75 an hour, and you are fairly confident that designing a flyer will take you an hour and a half, you can quote $112.50 (or round it up to $115 to make it look neater).

Even when you are pretty sure you know how much time something will take, you should consider building in a little breathing space. Perhaps you quote $125 on the flyer project, just to cover the possibility that it takes you a little extra time to tweak some of the design elements. You might even quote $150, in case you end up working two hours on the project.

When you do get a client that will allow you to work on an hourly basis, consider purchasing a timekeeping application. Some freelance graphic designers charge more than $300 an hour (although $75 to $150 an hour is much more common, and there are those, at the low end, that charge $25 to $50 an hour). If you are going to charge hourly, and get your preferred rate, you had better be working on the client’s project for all of the time charged. No messing around on Facebook for 15 minutes of the hour.

Another option is to provide a graphic design menu. There are some projects, like creating logos, that are fairly easy to do. (*Update* I’ve received a lot of flack for saying creating logos are easy. I don’t mean to devalue the work, and real graphic designers insist it’s hard work. Read the comments for a better idea of what it’s like to work as a freelance graphic designer.) Peter Anderson, the awesome designer that created the Planting Money Seeds logo, has made it kind of a specialty. He’s a great logo guy (and he does good work on other things, too). If you have a specialty, you can consider creating a menu for your work, and allow clients to choose what they are looking for, and base your fee on that.

Freelance Graphic Designer Agreements

As you work with your clients, and set rates, you want to make sure that you know exactly what the client expects — and that the client knows what he or she is paying for. When you create an agreement for work, here are some of the things to include:

  • Number of revisions you will perform on the project.
  • What, exactly, you will do.
  • Provisions for additional charges if you go beyond the original scope of the project (usually subject to approval before you proceed).
  • Some sort of pre-payment if it’s a big project. If the project will be large and expensive, you can work out a payment plan, or ask the client to pay half up front and half later.
  • Consider spelling out additional fees, such as a premium for rush jobs.

You don’t have to have a formal contract for each job; an email explicitly stating terms, along with a reply that the client accepts, works as an agreement.

As you consider how to charge as a freelance graphic designer, make sure you think about how long a project is likely to take, as well as the degree of difficulty involved. It can be a little difficult at first to accurately gauge what you should charge, but experience should help you more accurately quote prices in the future.

Image source: Bummelum via Wikimedia Commons


27 Responses to Tips for Setting Rates as a Freelance Graphic Designer

  1. Great post Miranda, I also believe that there are lots of things you need to consider when setting rates of graphic designers and tricky just like what you have elaborated. Another way that you could consider when figuring your rate is based on your skills and experienced. The cost of the living in your country also needs to be consider just like in the Philippines and India where the rate of graphic designers are low because the cost of a living is considerably low compared to UK and US. I’ve come across to a freelancing site called Staff.com where I’ve hire an affordable graphic designer. I also know that as employer we shouldn’t bargain quality over cost. That’s why before I hire a graphic designer I test them first which allows me to see who among them has the potential to do the job.

  2. @ Patric C.
    How would you test this freelancer you have in mind? Would a portfolio and a resume or possibly references not be enough?

    Thanks,
    Jon B. in Tennessee

  3. Nice post and thanks for sharing this. I can say that there are many things on which rates depend like type of projects, duration of project, complexity of project, other issue related to it. So these are major factor on which mainly rates depend. I am also proving freelancing services. and by site is http://www.safefreelancer.com/. Ypu can check my rates for reference.

  4. Thank you for the article!

    I do have a question, however: I’ve been researching industry standard rates for the past few days, and I’ve found the highest rates are at this website. Other sites have said 25-100/hr or somewhere in the middle. And I have a problem faced by many other designers; I haven’t yet found a comfort “level” for cost. I’ve been out of college for 2 years and working for a company for a year and a half. Although I have been freelancing for those 2 years, I haven’t felt comfortable charging more than my “corporate” rate. What experience levels would you say warrant different tiers of costs you listed above? I’d like to make sure I don’t continue to undersell myself, but I don’t want to scare away this client I’ve been working with for future projects.

    • As I mentioned, charging $300 is probably not realistic for most freelancers — at least not for quite some time! Many of the graphic designers I know charge between $75 and $100 per hour, and there are a couple I know that charge $50. Personally, I think $25 is a bit low, but, as I mention, there are those who will go that low (kind of like how there are freelance writers who will write 500 words for $2.50 to $5.00).

      At any rate, one of the things I do is test the waters by charging a slightly higher rate to new clients. If you’ve been freelancing for two years, you should have some experience to draw on, so asking for a little more when new clients ask doesn’t hurt. Consider asking for 5% – 10% more than your corporate rate and see what a new client says.

      This also isn’t a bad time to ask for a raise for your corporate rate. There is something to be said for regular work, and usually accept a lower rate when the gig is on-going. You can talk to your boss about a raise of 2% to 4%, and if you get it, that will naturally bump up your corporate rate.

      I routinely give price breaks to long-time clients of mine, as a courtesy, rather than charing them my higher, “regular” rate. It’s nice, and keeps the relationship going. Hope that helped a little.

  5. Really great and succinct article. I’m a musician and these exact same points apply. There’s a whole technical field in music now which briefly stated involves preparing music out of the computer for live players – usually to record to accompany film or other visual media. There are many different steps and many different jobs associated with the process and the “per hour or per project” question always comes up.

    I was actually led to this site because I found myself in a similar graphic design position. I was doing it as a fun thing on the side but someone really liked my work and hired me. They needed a price upfront for approval. I wasn’t sure about rates but at the end of the project, even though it turned out great and I enjoyed it, I realized I’d been working for about minimum wage.

    I’m getting better now at setting rates in both fields as I’ve gained experience, but your post was most helpful!

  6. Hi there. This is a great post to help designers price their work. But as a designer for 25 years, with a BFA and professional graduate degree in communications, I am concerned by this bit of extreme misinformation: “There are some projects, like creating logos, that are fairly easy to do.”

    A clever, well-designed logo is one of the most difficult things a graphic designer can create. Flyers and publications are nothing compared to developing a simple symbol to illustrate complex concepts. Most good logo designers say the process requires upwards of 12 – 20 hours explore fully, dozens if not hundreds of sketches, and extensive research on the topic(s) involved. This is why the “Logos, $99 bucks!” approach or the online designer competitions for terribly low returns are so frowned upon by the AIGA and the Graphic Artists’ Guild. They cheapen the profession terribly.

    I take few logo projects because with the world assuming they’re “easy to whip up in 30 minutes” you wind up making $10/hr. Again, thanks for your post.

    • Yeah. It’s all relative. I worked for a graphic art company and they complained that clients wanted to pay only $2000 for a logo. I replied, “Hey, give them to me, I’ll charge $2000 for a logo.” ha ha
      I charge $80 an hour but hardly do any work cuz people do think you can just spit out the jobs. God bless. S

  7. I was thinking exactly what Elspeth said. As a 15+ year designer, it takes me 10-20 hours to design a logo including the consulting, drafting, producing, etc. I can see some people looking to hire a designer coming to your site and then getting the wrong impression that logos are easier than other types of materials, when for me and presumably many others, the opposite is true.

  8. “There are some projects, like creating logos, that are fairly easy to do.”

    Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. You literally start this article out saying that you’ve over estimated your skills before, but then make a profession devaluing statement such as what I quoted. Making a logo is one of the hardest things to do right, since it is going to be used in so many different scenarios that will challenge the mark due to the size changes. You may want to amend this article, since it is one of the top results when googling what to charge for graphic designers.

  9. Hello, I agree strongly with some concerns here, that logo might be easy to do. In our experience at Tuumik it is very rare if logo is ready with less than 20 hours. Usually it takes more, because making logo usually means thinking through all the other materials where the company is going to use the logo. It is a system of mark+logotype+colours+type for all the materials+some examples of business cards/blank/objects+maybe even website design draft etc. It is never just the word/name and some mark that comes into your mind in first five minutes.
    Thank you for discussing this topic.

  10. “There are some projects, like creating logos, that are fairly easy to do.”

    Wow! As a designer and design educator at a university, I fully agree with the other comments posted. This statement conveys a lack of knowledge, research and lends to the devaluation of design. The process of creating a logo is actually a difficult one to tackle. There are Master level programs dedicated to Branding alone! You are asked to create a unique and timeless visual that expresses the entirety of a company and takes upwards of 20 hours. This involves research, brainstorming, consulting, understanding a clients needs, understanding their audience, sketching, creating vector iterations, choosing a typeface and/or creating type from scratch, providing variations, choosing color palettes, refining, providing variations of logos for use on multiple materials and instances.

  11. LOGO??? -From my experience is not the difficulty of graphic it self it is about the idea which will satisfy your client. You can make hundred of ideas, spend lot of time before you will find what makes them happy and than you spend half an hour on doing it. So what we should charge for doing graphic or idea? I believe that many people do not understand what it means SIMPLE. As if you have 1000x1000cm white paper and where will be the best place to put your black dot? How many combinations you will need to go through before they will say that is the perfect spot??? You place your dot there very tired and hungry and they will say that was simple to do!

  12. Charging by the hour is something I am moving away from, because it focuses on the effort put into a project, not the results.

    Value based pricing is something I doing more of, as it focuses on the overall return the work will give to the client.

    Daily or weekly rates are much better for a studio, as the client no longer focuses on small units of time. Hourly is something that everyone can understand, because of the systems we’ve grown up in, but it is overall detrimental to both the work and the designers providing that work.

  13. To put rates into perspective of other jobs. I was being paid $25 per half hour for dog walking by my best clients. 15 years experience. Min. $15 per 1/2hr. although other services charge $15 per 15 min.

    Graphic design and other art work is much more complex requiring skill, talent, education and business expenses.

    When you use your corporate rate you may not be including other benefits that are not on your paycheck such as leave time, holiday pay, insurances or company paid taxes.

    A lot of people take artists for granted and want them to work for free or cheap. Please don’t under pay yourself, they will not respect you or other artists.

  14. I base my estimates on how many hours Ithink it will take and then give a price range. (I.e.: 10-12hours @ $40 per hour – $400- $480) I spell out that the estimate is based on a reasonable amount of revisions and extra work will incur extra charges at my hourly rate. This helps the client understand they can’t go on and on with endless changes.

  15. Thanks for writing the article. Very interesting to see the different perspectives from people in the comments. I live in an area with a very low cost of living, the mountains of West Virginia, so my hourly rate is on the low end ($40) compared with most cities.

  16. I’m a self taught graphic designer. The only work I’ve done is for my church and I’m not comfortable charging them.

    I’m thinking of putting it out to other churches in the area that I’m looking for work (logos, flyers/posters, cd/DVDs covers). Do you think your prices would work or should I charge less seeing that it’s churches?

    • That’s up to you and what you’re comfortable with. I often charge charitable organizations less, or charge less for independent bloggers, or causes I believe in. But you have to be careful and learn when to say no, or you’ll be up to your neck in low-paying work that sucks up your time.

  17. Hello,

    I’m doing some freelance work for a former co-worker. I’m still in school for graphic design, so I don’t know how much to charge for this project. She is starting her own business from the ground up and there are many projects involved. Any suggestions?

    • Really, you two need to agree on what makes sense for you. You might want to give her a small break because you know her aunt because you’re still in school. That means charging at the low end if she can’t afford to pay that as a business owner. It comes down to whether or not you will start to feel burned out if you are doing too much work without getting paid. You can also see if some of the work you do for her can be used in school for credit.

  18. REally 10hours on a logo? that’s crazy! Ive been in this fiedld for 11 years and nothing has ever took that long except web design… I charge $50 a hour and on a normal project it might take 3 hours to finish.

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