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Graphic Designer Salary, Software and Portfolio Tips

Posted by Clash Graphics on

With the explosion of digital devices, industries and businesses are relying heavily on the Internet to market and promote themselves. To remain relevant, both companies and individuals need to produce compelling content consistently.

This movement has created demand and vast opportunities for graphic designers. Creatives with design ability are being hired for in-house positions, as contractors, and as freelance designers.

Graphic designer working with software on portfolio

When contemplating a career as a designer, it is important to look ahead and assess future demand, where the industry is headed, and the potential ROI (return on investment).

First off, you should consider the cost of a graphic design or arts degree. Next, compare the salary of working in-house for a firm or corporation, to the cost of starting a freelance design business.

Our team of designers at Clash Graphics has compiled a guide to help you further understand what it takes to become a graphic designer, and detail the various opportunities within the profession. Hopefully, the insights we outlined here will help you determine if becoming a graphic designer is - in fact - the right choice for you, and how to go about it.

What Is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is the creative vision and artistic execution to encapsulate and project ideas, concepts, and experiences through visual mediums. In short, it is conveying an idea, message, and feeling to a desired audience using visual design and typography.

Graphic design work exists in the form of virtual or physical media, and can include graphics, images, or words to create its experience. The visceral and visual experience may be instantaneous or one that progresses subtly over time.

Design work ever-present in our daily lives, and can be used personally or commercially. For example, an individual would use a flyer in announcing a community cook-out, whereas a business in displaying meal choices on the menu of its’ national restaurant chain.

Potentially seen by millions, such creative work serves the needs of clients in the varied private, commercial, political, and educational fields.

What Education, Qualifications and Design Software are Needed?

If you are looking to secure employment as a graphic designer with an ad agency or commercial organization, they typically seek the following requirements and skill sets:

  • Must possess a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art Design, Marketing or related discipline
  • Extensive experience with InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and/or CorelDraw
  • 3+ years in professional commercial design
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Willingness to absorb and apply constructive criticism from both peers and clients

Bonus Skills that Can Increase Your Design Job Salary and Value

  • Working knowledge of HTML, CSS or JavaScript
  • Experience with WordPress or Joomla CMS platforms

As with any profession, there are individuals that do not have formal training, but acquired the skills and are self-taught. Acquiring design skills through personal experience only requires an immense passion, dedication and persistence to learn the discipline and relevant software platforms.

Graphic designer doing freelance work with software

For an individual that is considering going this route, they should be highly motivated and possess an advanced skill or talent in:

  • Art / Design
  • Computer Platforms
  • Determination in task completion

In freelance or in-house design, the more experience and complementary skill sets brought to the table, the better equipped and successful a designer will be. Ultimately, the ability to produce desirable results will determine your demand and the value of your creative design services.

What it Costs to Start a Basic Graphic Design Business

For an individual choosing the entrepreneurial path, it will cost somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 to get your freelance design business up and running. Some of those expenses include:

  • Business Incorporation and Licensing
  • EIN (Employer Identification Number)
  • Bank Account
  • Computer
  • Design Software (CorelDraw, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign)
  • Printer
  • Phone
  • Website
  • Business Cards

To fully equip your business, another $3,000 to $5,000 can easily be invested in the following:

NOTE: As you launch your business and exchange services for money, you will want a business entity (LLC, Inc., etc.) to limit your liability while providing tax benefits. As the sole proprietor, it will be your responsibility to adhere to local, state, and federal tax codes and regulations.

  • Hire a lawyer to prepare or audit the contracts your clients will sign.
  • Consult an accountant to fully understand the advantages / limitations of your business structure, how to account for all allowable expenses, and the total amount of taxes to withhold and submit each quarter.

Graphic Designer Job Salaries and How Much to Charge for Freelance Services

A salaried graphic designer is like any other salaried employee. You get paid a set amount, regardless of how many designs or creative assets you produce. With time and as you gain experience, your salary potential increases. The following salary ranges display entry level to highest level salaries by city:

Graphic Designer
Atlanta GA - $33,000 to $61,000
Houston Tx - $31,000 to $58,000
New York Ny - $34,000 to $71,000
San Diego Ca - $35,000 to $60,000

Senior Graphic Designer
Atlanta GA - $44,000 to $78,000
Houston Tx - $43,000 to $72,000
New York Ny - $50,000 to $93,000
San Diego Ca - $45,000 to $85,000

While the security of a salary provides certainty, some individuals opt for more upside potential, and are attracted to the freelance route where you can earn more over time if you're willing to put in the work.

However, placing a price tag on your work can be a difficult task when starting out as a new designer. The time you are investing in a project is your sole source of revenue, thus your prices should reflect your level of experience, the quality of your work, and the value you produce.

Take for example: An in-house designer with mid level experience makes approximately $50,000 as a yearly salary, which translates to $24.00 per hour. That’s $50,000 divided by 2,080 working hours in a year.

As a freelancer when bidding or quoting a project, you must…


  • Define an equivalent salary based on your experience and work quality.
  • Divide the annual SALARY by 2,080 which equals $/HOUR.


  • Estimate the number of hours required to design, revise, and complete the project.
  • Multiply that by your $/HOUR value to give the project an estimated value.


  • Define the costs for all materials, travel expenses, stock photos, or other digital assets needed for the project.


  • Add the “project labor value” to the “material value” to arrive at a “full project value”.
  • Local, State, or Federal taxes may apply, so consider this if you are required to collect tax

A skilled and experienced freelance designer willing to put in the work has the potential of making $5,000 to $10,000 per month. Reaching said earning potential will require an aggressive print and digital marketing campaign, consistent referrals, retainer fees, and monthly contracts.

As a freelancer, you are only paid when you have a client or project, so your marketing ability must be as strong as your design skill. Otherwise, you will be forced to accept cheaper rates and projects to stay busy and earn an income.

Watch this video to see how this freelance graphic designer makes his income.

What You Need To Know Before Becoming A Freelance Graphic Designer

Of the many difficulties a freelance graphic designer will face, we identified several that - if understood from the beginning - can greatly improve your chances of creating a successful design business.

Your Portfolio - The face of your business is your portfolio. Having your portfolio in print and published online (on the Internet) will allow potential clients to see your capabilities, and provide a reference of the quality and implied cost of your work and time.

Do not cut corners with your portfolio, the beginning and future of your business depend on its excellence and ability to convey your value.

You Will Work With Difficult People - At times, your clients may approach you with an undesirable attitude or unreasonable expectations. It is their view of perfection that matters, and despite how they make you feel, it is ultimately your job to fulfill their needs, or reach a resolution that leaves them completely satisfied with the finished product.

As a graphic designer you are an artist, but if you are a freelance contractor, this means you are in the service business also.

Learning to effectively overcome obstacles and please your clients will help you establish a strong reputation; as a result you will increase the flow of referrals and generate new business opportunities.

You Work for Your Client - The work you do is not all about your artistic abilities and preferences. It is in fact more about delivering a product that satisfies the vision that your client possessed before they even hired you.

At times, you may have leeway to make suggestions; just remember you are a conduit that creates their vision, not your own. Likewise, since they control the check book, your job is to effectively discern their taste, and intuitively produce the creative that will appeal to them and their customers.

Efforts to ensure a smooth business transaction

Being a successful designer means working well with clients or project managers. This is key, and having clear terms and expectations will help you limit misunderstandings.

Here are a few considerations and ways to ensure a smooth and more pleasant design process.

Require A Deposit Before Beginning Any Project - When negotiating a contract, define the price, what’s included, what’s not included, payment terms, options, and finally require a non-refundable deposit. This will protect your time in the event the client backs out of your contract prematurely.

Ask Questions for Clarity - Although your clients are not designers or may have had little experience in creative production, it is important to ask questions and clarify anything that seems ambiguous or ill-defined.

Business freelance graphic designer project and client

You will find many clients are unable to fully and/or clearly articulate what they want. Often it is easier for them to say what they don’t want and point out designs that they dislike. Thus, your job calls for paying close attention to their responses, becoming intuitive, reading between the lines, and learning their true taste.

Without clarification, you will risk presenting a project outside of the client’s parameters. The result of this is wasted time, resources, and the potential loss of the client.

Start intentional dialogue to get the information you need, ask the right questions, help your client identify their design goals, and further clarify their expectations.

Your Graphic Design Business

Starting your own business requires a defined and well-known target audience. Next you must convey who you are as a brand, and the differences or unique advantages that set you apart from their other options.

Your print and digital marketing campaign should accomplish this goal while showcasing the experience of working with you, your professionalism, and the quality of your design services.

The success of your career as a graphic designer freelancer ultimately lies in your hands. Keep yourself up-to-date with cutting edge software releases, the latest in design trends, and remain flexible enough to make changes in your approach and delivery methods.

Being a successful designer requires flexibility, effective communication, and great interpersonal skills. Be honest, audit yourself, and think whether you will fit best in an agency or as a freelancer. Choose the path that best suits your personality and provides growth and opportunity in the future.

We live in a dynamic world that is quickly evolving, so continue to educate yourself and improve your skills daily.

Clash Graphics Print Shop Atlanta Flyer Printing

2140 Peachtree Rd NW #301 Atlanta, GA 30309
(678) 235-3464