Freelance graphic design rates: A practical guide to setting yours
When you’re setting rates as a freelancer, it’s hard to start from scratch. Your rates need to take into consideration many factors that are unique to you, but pulling a number completely out of thin air won’t help you set realistic rates that compensate you fairly and work for your clients.
All of that is true no matter how seasoned a freelancer you are—and it’s even more difficult to find the right graphic design rates as a beginner.
Benchmarks: Freelance graphic design rates in 2021
To make things a little easier, we’ll start by setting some guardrails. Let’s take a look at some average rates and pricing for a freelance graphic designer at a variety of experience levels.
What is the average hourly rate for a freelance graphic designer?
When most graphic designers launch their freelance business, they start working at an hourly rate. To quote potential clients, then, they estimate how many hours the work will take and multiply by their per hour rate.
Hourly rates are one of the easiest ways to compare pricing since they don’t have to factor in the specifics of individual projects. They do, however, vary greatly based on the experience of the designer.
According to Upwork’s own internal data, the median hourly rate for a freelance graphic designer on their platform falls between $15 – $35 per hour, with an average of $25 per hour. Within that, there’s a wide range of anywhere from $15–$150 per hour.
Given the realities of Upwork as a freelancer website, it’s safe to assume that their data skews more heavily toward entry level graphic designers—so designers should think of that $25/hour average as more of a starting point than a cap.
It’s also important to note that many graphic designers shift toward project pricing as their rates and experience go up. That means the rates of more seasoned graphic designers aren’t as well represented in these numbers—so these rates are the floor, not the ceiling.
PayScale, accordingly, places the overall average a little higher, at $29.55 per hour.
Based on those estimates, we’d say $25-30 per hour is a good benchmark for where beginner rates start.
Average freelance graphic design rates by project
Project-based design rates are a little more difficult to compare side-by-side. They vary based on the type of work, the scope of the work, and more. That said, we’ve pulled together some broad estimates of the average pricing for 5 common freelance graphic design jobs.
Standard logo design: $100 – $850
Thumbtackestimates this range based on their nationwide network of freelance graphic designers. Variation within that range comes down to the number of logo options that are mocked up, revision cycles, whether you start from a template or from scratch, and of course, the experience level of the designer.
Basic website design: $5,000–$7,500
For an average high-quality site with 5-6 pages, Thumbtack provided the estimate above. Web design rates vary a lot, even by our standards here. The number of pages, whether the site is custom or built from a template, and the complexity of the design can all yield huge swings in price.
Ebook design: $200–$2,500
Eksposure estimates the average cost of turning copy into a fully designed and formatted ebook falls around $1,000. Factors like the complexity of the design and the number of pages are the biggest determinants here.
Social media graphics: $5–$10 per graphic
Simple social media graphics are one of the lowest cost design projects. According tographic designers on Quora, they can start as low as $5 per graphic and range up to $40 – $65 for more experienced designers and complex designs. Notably, freelance graphic designers often sell this type of project in a package—say, eight designs for $50.
Business collateral: $75 – $450
Design for print business collateral also falls on the lower end of the projects we’ve highlighted. According to PsPrint, beginner graphic designers charge rates starting as low as $75 for jobs like flyers, brochures, and business cards. More seasoned graphic designers may charge closer to $450 for these assets.
How much should a beginner graphic designer charge?
Given the benchmarks above, we’d argue that a good hourly rate for a true beginner freelance designer would start between $20–$30 per hour. That said, it’s important to steadily increase that rate as your experience, design portfolio, and skills grow (we’ll share tips for how to raise your rate below).
While it’s easier to define a good benchmark for per hour rates, we do recommend project pricing over per hour pricing. (we’ll explain why later). Even if you start out charging hourly, you can transition to project-based rates as your freelance business grows.
You can use the project-based rates above to estimate—based on the time involved, plus complexity and scope of a project—where you should price.
Factors to take into consideration when setting your rates
Now that you have a few benchmarks for where to start, let’s talk about how to customize rates to your work and your clients’ needs. It isn’t as simple as taking the benchmarks above and running with them—they’re a reference point for where to begin.
To set your actual freelance graphic design rates, you’ll need to take into consideration several other elements.
- Your experience level: Perhaps the most obvious—if you’re new to freelance but have a decade of graphic design experience behind you, you shouldn’t charge $20 per hour. On the flipside, if you’re looking at completing your first ever logo, you shouldn’t charge $850 for the project.
- How you’ll price: Will you set a per hour rate and run with it? Quote specific project rates? How will you charge for other services like fixing the design of an existing website or giving a client additional logo options to choose from? Will you charge for extra rounds of revisions after you present your initial designs?
- Project details and scope: The biggest factor—the size, depth, complexity, timeline, and other details specific to each project are the most important determinants of your rates, especially if you’re quoting by project.
- How long you expect the project to take: Whether you opt for hourly pricing or not, it’s important to factor in how long you expect the project to take—to ensure your rates are profitable.
- The value your client will get from the project: One of the biggest mistakes a freelancer can make is charging based on what it costs to complete a project (in terms of time, effort, and other expenses). Clients hire you for the value they’ll get from the completed project—your rates should reflect that value.
- The value you’ll get from the client: The value conversation goes both ways, too. If a client can offer steady, regular work, or the brand equity of having worked for them will help you build authority in your niche, those can factor into your ultimate rate.
- Your expenses and overhead: Freelancing comes with its share of expenses, like health insurance you need and the software your work needs. Keep those costs in mind when setting your rates to ensure your freelance business is profitable.
From 2015-2020, the average graphic design industry growth was 2.6%.
To charge per hour or set a project-based flat rate?
Okay, we’ve mentioned this a few times, so let’s dig into it: Should you charge hourly rates or opt for a project-based flat rate?
Both pricing structures are common in the freelance graphic design field, so both are realistic options for you. That said, there are some definite advantages and drawbacks to each type of rate.
PRO: Hourly rates are easier to compare across the industry and land on a rate that works for your experience level.
CON: Hourly rates often don’t take the value of the end project into account.
PRO: Charging hourly ensures you’re paid for the time you spend on a project, especially in the case of scope creep.
CON: Charging hourly puts a cap on your earning—you can only work so many hours in a week.
CON: Per hour rates lose their appeal as you get faster and more efficient at your work. You shouldn’t earn less for a project as you get better at it.
CON: Hourly rates require you to meticulously track all the time you spent working on different projects.
PRO: Project rates allow your business to become more profitable as you gain the experience and work faster.
CON: Project rates can be a little ambiguous. Landing on the right project rate can be more difficult than an hourly rate if you’re new to freelancing.
PRO: Charging by project enables you to easily charge different rates for different types of work—charging more for projects you have expert-level experience with.
CON: Charging per hour is slightly more popular, sometimes making project-based rates a harder sell for clients.
PRO: Project rates get you off the hamster wheel of selling your time. Instead, you’re selling your expertise, your skill, and the final product you create.
Our recommendation: Project-based pricing
Given the pros and cons of each, we recommend that the typical freelance graphic designer opt for project-based pricing.
Even if you’re charging per hour today or you opt for hourly pricing as a beginner, you can always shift your rates to work by project. Doing so will make it easier to grow your income and ensure you’re earning more as your experience and skill level grow.
Tips for setting your freelance graphic design rates
Now that you have a general pricing strategy and a few benchmarks under your belt, onto the good stuff—let’s set your rates.
If it feels like you’re still cobbling together estimates from a bunch of disparate factors, that’s okay. There’s no exact science or concrete right answer to setting your rates. It’s all about setting the best rate for you and your clients based on the information you have. And your rates are never set in stone—you can negotiate with clients you really want to work with, you can increase or decrease your rates as you go, and you can change your pricing method if it doesn’t work for you.
With that knowledge in mind, you’re ready to set your rates. Below, we share a few tried-and-tested tips to help you along the way.
- Do your research: A lot goes into this tip (and reading this guide counts!) Research competitive rates in your niche and based on your experience level. Solicit key project details from clients before quoting them a rate. You can also ask around within freelance graphic designer communities to see what your peers charge.
- Know your worth: It’s easy to set your rates too low. When you aren’t busy enough and need the work, when you’re negotiating with a client you really want to work with, when you just plain aren’t confident enough in your skills and the value your work creates for clients. Understanding that value is imperative to setting rates that enable you to earn your worth.
- Start high and negotiate: If you quote a client a little above their budget, you can always negotiate down. It’s much harder to make the case for earning more than your original quote (unless the project scope changes, of course). That’s why it’s always better to start negotiations a little high and go from there.
- Regularly raise your rates: We’ll get into this more a bit later, but it’s worth keeping in mind now, too. The rates you set today are not the rates you should be charging this time next year. Your value as a freelance designer increases with every project you complete, every bit of training you participate in, and more. Your rates should increase along with it.
- You can be (a little) flexible: There are other benefits you get from your work in addition to the obvious financial ones. If working with a particular client will substantially boost your authority, for example, that’s a type of currency—and it can warrant flexibility on the monetary side.
- Don’t forget about your overhead and expenses: As we mentioned above, freelancing comes with expenses and costs that in-house graphic designers don’t incur. Because of that, your costs are higher and your clients’ costs are lower versus hiring a full-time designer—your rates should take both sides of that equation into account.
Mistakes to avoid when setting rates
As you work through the process of setting your freelance rates, it’s easy to fall into a few common traps that yield too-low rates, cap your earning potential, and make it harder to project your income.
Below, we highlight a handful of the most common mistakes a freelance graphic designer may encounter when setting rates.
- Undervaluing your work: Creatives are notoriously prone to impostor syndrome, but the process of setting your rates is no place for that. Your work creates real value for your clients, and you deserve to be compensated for it. One way to mitigate this mistake is to ask clients for testimonials or any data they can share on the impact of your work. Keep these in a swipe file for when you want to raise your rates or whenever impostor syndrome strikes.
- Pulling rates out of a hat with each project: We recommend project-based pricing, which means your rates for one project will vary from another. What that doesn’t mean is you should be pulling those rates randomly out of a hat. Forecasting your income and feeling confident in your rates requires that you have a concrete pricing strategy in place from one project and one client to the next.
- Maintaining the same rates for years: Even if you only ever adjust your rates to match inflation, they shouldn’t be flat from year to year. Beyond that, you should be increasing your rates as your expertise grows and your availability shrinks. (More on how to do that in the next section!)
- Time-based rates: Whether hourly or a day rate, tying your earning potential to your time inherently caps your growth. You have to work more hours to earn more, and you’re disincentivized from working efficiently.
Marketers use original graphics 34% of the time.
How do I increase my freelance rate?
Hopefully by now, you have a good sense of where you’ll set your rates. You know whether you’re going to price per hour or per project and you have a baseline range for those rates.
Now, let’s bump them up.
There’s no annual Christmas bonus or automatic cost-of-living raise for freelance graphic designers. You have to be the one to ensure your rates move up over time.
As you gain more experience and build a name for yourself in your industry or niche, your rates should reflect that growth. More experience means you can bring more value to your clients. It also means your time and availability are likely to get more scarce. Simple supply and demand means it’s time to up your rates.
Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast formula for increasing your freelance rates—but you should put a plan in place for doing so regularly. Develop a set process for how you’ll define new rates and communicate them to clients, for whenever the time comes to boost your rates.
So how do you know when it’s time? Here are a few common clues that you’re ready to bump up your rates:
It’s a new year. Regardless of any other factors, your rates should increase at least once a year.
You’re swamped with requests for work. When availability is limited, that’s a sign that your bandwidth is more valuable than what you’re charging for it.
You’ve created demonstrably great results for clients. Did your website design increase a client’s conversion rate by 10 percent? Did the ebook you designed bring in 300 new leads? Demonstrably great results are a hint that you’re creating a ton of value for clients—your rates should reflect that.
You’ve upped your training. Taken a new course or mastered another design software? Time to up your rates.
You’ve settled into a niche and are now an expert. Expertise is one of the biggest things clients pay for. Whether you’re growing in general graphic design experience or you’ve become an expert in a specific niche, that’s added value you bring to every project.
You’ve put processes or tools in place to make working with you even easier for clients. The value you offer clients doesn’t start and end with your creative work. It’s also about your business—your professionalism and the processes you put in place. When you invest in making that process easier or faster for clients, your rates need to reflect that.
67% of small businesses are willing to pay $500 for a logo.
Tips for increasing your rates
If any of the scenarios above apply, it’s time to raise your rates. While vital, we know that that can be an intimidating prospect, especially if you have regular clients who are used to paying your existing rates.
Will they balk at your new rates and find another graphic designer?
How do you communicate the reason for the increase?
Is your work actually worth the new rate?
Money conversations in general—and especially those related to increasing your rates—are uncomfortable and scary. But they’re a key part of growing a successful business as a freelance graphic designer. So, here are a few tips for making the process a little easier:
- Be proactive and over-communicate with clients. Rate increases should never come as a surprise.
- Connect the increased rate to the increased value you create.
- Consider allowing repeat clients to stay at a legacy rate, while you increase rates for new clients.
- Assure clients you won’t be raising your rate after every project. Including a guarantee or lock-in rate for a set period of time (say, 6 months) can help put clients at ease.
- Be flexible—if your new rate is outside the client’s budget and you don’t want to walk away, offer to meet in the middle.
- But also be willing to walk away from clients you’ve outgrown. Not everyone will be able to afford your work, and that’s okay.
A lot goes into setting your freelance graphic design rates. While there’s no silver bullet pricing strategy for freelancers, you can take concrete steps to ensure your rates enable you to earn your worth without breaking the bank for your clients.
With the tips and benchmarks above, you’re ready to land on the right rates for you.