In-house vs. Agency vs. Freelance Graphic Designer what you need to know

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March 11, 2021
5 minute read

Graphic design is an incredibly flexible industry that allows you to work in all sorts of environments while still expressing your creativity. If you’ve just completed, or are near completing, a graphic design course, figuring out where to work can feel overwhelming. To help, we’ve outlined the three main paths that graphic designers take, and what you need to know about them.

In-house graphic designer

In-house graphic designers generally work in an organization’s creative or marketing department. As an in-house graphic designer, you’re usually the sole person with this specialization, or have just a few team members. Your work is focused on one industry, though you might still tackle a range of projects. You also have fixed duties within your position, though there are typically opportunities to grow into roles with increased responsibility like a senior designer or creative director.

In this scenario, the employer handles much of the behind-the-scenes tasks in the business, like budgeting, billing, and getting clients, so you (hopefully) can focus fully on the creative work.

Pros of the job

  • May have employment perks such as paid time off, health care benefits, 401k matches, and more.
  • More opportunities to climb the corporate ladder and advance your career.
  • Hone your expertise with a hyper specific focus on an industry.
  • Gain experience building one company's brand design
  • Easy to clarify questions on design projects, since you work in the same space as your client.

Cons of the job

  • Variety of tasks and challenges are limited by working with one brand that may already have an established style.
  • Difficult to refuse jobs you may not want to do, especially if you’re the only graphic designer.
  • Work environment may be challenging because of fewer opportunities to collaborate with colleagues or the need to justify designs to management personnel unfamiliar with graphic design principles.

Agency graphic designer

Agency graphic designers work for an organization that delivers creative and marketing solutions to companies who either have too much design work to handle themselves or lack the expertise. Graphic designers in agencies work within many industries and niches, usually on numerous types of projects at once.

As with companies using an in-house designer, agencies have departments to take care of the administrative and accounting work that keeps the business running smoothly, leaving you to focus on your design tasks.

Pros of the job

  • May have employment perks such as paid time off, health care benefits, 401k matches, and more.
  • Opportunity to build a portfolio with a variety of project types and showcase work for high-profile clients.
  • Allows you to gain skills in various areas of graphic design and build connections in different fields.
  • Work alongside others with similar interests and learn new skills and techniques from them.

Cons of the job

  • Pressure can be high, and you’re often required to juggle multiple projects and tight deadlines.
  • Less job security, since agencies may cut designers if there aren’t enough clients with projects.
  • Hours can be long when you need to hit difficult deadlines.

Freelance graphic designer

Freelance graphic designers work as contractors and run their own businesses. While their livelihood depends on creating a steady stream of clients, they have the last say in all aspects of their business. This includes when, where, and how they work, as well as the prices they charge and the type of projects they take on.

While graphic design might be your business, you’ll also be spending a good part of your time on marketing, content creation, finding design gigs online, and communicating with clients.

You’ll also be responsible for billing your clients, an area where Wave Invoicing makes easy with professional, customized invoices templates you can quickly create—for free! Clients easily pay straight from your invoices you send them with a credit card or bank payment, so you spend less time waiting for your hard-earned money.

Pros of the job

  • Significant freedom in choosing work environments, locations, and schedules.
  • Income potential is limited only by your willingness to work.
  • Flexibility in selecting types of projects you work on.

Cons of the job

  • Inconsistent income and no employee benefits.
  • Must find your own clients, and may have to bid on projects.
  • Often takes on many roles beyond graphic designer when growing the business.

How do I choose what’s best for me?

Choosing a path to pursue starts by knowing what you like and your financial goals. Some people love the certainty of fixed paycheck and workplace perks. It makes budgeting, saving, and long-term planning easier, plus it’s nice to know vacations are paid for.

Others know they were born to freelance because they love the personal freedom that comes with it: making their schedule, choosing which projects to work on, being in control of their income, not answering to a boss. You’ll be busy playing a multitude of roles, but Wave Invoicing takes the billing hassle off your plate with a 100% free software.