The Calculated Creative

How Graphic Designers Make a Living

The most successful designers diversify their income streams for the most stability and the highest earning potential.

Graphic design is a competitive field, but talented graphic designers have many potential career paths and ways to earn income.

Creativity, persistence, and good business skills are key to succeeding financially as a graphic designer.

Here are some of the main ways graphic designers can make a living:

Working as a Freelancer

Freelancing provides a flexible way for graphic designers to earn income working for various clients. Many designers start out freelancing, then transition to full-time work or continue freelancing long-term.

As a freelancer, you need to be self-motivated to find your own projects and manage your business. Freelancers get work through networking, referrals from past clients, pitching to companies cold, and posting their services on freelance job sites like Upwork. Rates can vary greatly depending on the designer's skill level and experience, but may range from around $25 per hour for basic graphic design work up to over $100 per hour for highly skilled and specialized designers.

Freelancing provides freedom and flexibility, but also comes with challenges. Freelancers are responsible for negotiating contracts, invoicing clients, managing taxes and finances, obtaining health insurance, and more. Finding a steady stream of clients takes time and persistence. Building up a portfolio and reputation over time will allow you to increase your rates and be more selective about the projects you take on.

Full-Time Employment

Many graphic designers, especially later in their careers, work full-time jobs at companies, agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, and other organizations. While not as flexible as freelancing, full-time employment provides stability and structure.

Entry-level graphic design jobs tend to pay between $35,000-$45,000 per year on average. More experienced senior designers can make $60,000-$100,000+ per year depending on the role, skills, experience, location, and size of the company. Full-time designers earn a steady, predictable paycheck and enjoy benefits like health/dental insurance, retirement savings plans, and paid vacation time.

The day-to-day work tends to follow a structured schedule and involves collaborating with teams like marketing, product, engineers, and more. Designers maintain brand style guides, create visual assets for campaigns, design for digital and print, and help problem solve through creative thinking.

Selling Design Assets

Thanks to online marketplaces, graphic designers today can earn passive income by selling creative assets like templates, fonts, graphics, illustrations, and more. Sites like Creative Market allow designers to upload assets like logo templates, icon packs, and font families. The assets then earn royalties each time there is a new sale.

While it takes time up front to create quality assets, over time they can earn passive income through multiple sales. Especially popular assets can continue generating revenue for years after the initial upload. This provides an interesting way for designers to diversify their income.

Print on demand platforms like Redbubble have opened up another avenue for graphic designers to earn income passively. Designers can upload their unique designs and art, choosing from products including t-shirts, phone cases, wall art prints, mugs, bags, and many other products.

Whenever a customer orders one of the products with the designer's work, the item is printed and shipped on demand, and the designer earns a commission. This requires no upfront production and inventory costs for the designer. It allows the designer to reach a broad audience of users who may want to showcase the artwork on everyday products.

The Takeaway

Graphic designers have many potential avenues for earning income.

The most successful designers diversify their income streams for the most stability and the highest earning potential.

Persistence and creativity in pursuing new opportunities is key.

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