What is a Graphic Designers Salary?

September 14, 2012
5 min read
5 min read

Graphic Designers are a multi-talented breed of professional, whilst once we were bastions of the print industry, in today’s society we’ve become a one stop shop for pretty much everything media related. As it’s so difficult to nail down exactly what a graphic designer is, it makes it all the more difficult to know what you should expect as a reasonable graphic designers salary?

Location

Designers primarily working in major cities like London, Manchester, New York and San Fransisco are earning more than their leafy suburban counterparts

Another thing that needs taking into consideration when we talk about a Graphic Designers salary is location. Granted, speedy broadband internet has meant that it’s more possible now than ever before to work anywhere you like, but if you look at the figures it’s still very clear that designers primarily working in major cities like London, Manchester, New York and San Fransisco are earning more than their leafy suburban counterparts. Also you need to look at the actual country you’re in. It’s become a bit of a bone of contention in the graphic design community that designers based in countries like India and Thailand charge far far less than those in more developed countries, but that’s quite simply a fact of life. A ‘good’ salary comes down to what quality of life it affords you, if a designer can charge a lower amount than another for their services and have a comparable quality of life, then it’s fair to say that what they’re being paid is a good salary. Sure it can be irritating when you’re loosing clients who are being attracted to lower prices overseas, but you’ll find that people will generally pay a premium to work with someone close by, even if they never actually meet them.

Experience

What is more true in graphic design industry than in most is that experience pays. The more of it you have, the more you generally earn. Obviously I’m assuming that a person who has been designing for a long time has improved over that amount of time so the increased income can be compared to the increase in skill, but that’s not all experience brings you. The longer you’ve been working as a graphic designer the more clients you will have worked with, the more recommendations you will have received and the more impressive you reputation will be. This is more true of freelancers than of designers working ‘in house’ or for an agency, but a natural progression up the wage scale over time is standard in that kind of framework.

Importance

They will want the very best designers, and the best way to attract (and to keep) those top level designers is with top level pay

The last main principle that can effect your graphic design salary is how important you are. Put simply, if you’re working for big name clients like Coke or Nike then you’re going to charge them more than, let’s say your local café or friends band. Having those big names in your portfolio is a really solid way to justify higher rates than other designers. Likewise you can see a similar pattern in design industries. If the agency you’re working for primarily deals with prestigious brands then they will want the very best designers, and the best way to attract (and to keep) those top level designers is with top level pay. (-Click to Tweet this!)

General Salary

So now you have an understanding of how flexible and varied the career of a graphic designer can be, you hopefully should understand that whenever you read a “what a graphic designers salary is” style article, you need to take that with a pinch of salt as any one of these factors could throw it way out of sync. However, with that said, I can VERY generally give you an idea of what graphic designers are earning in the UK and America (I’m sticking to these two countries as they’re where I primarily do the majority of my work, plus if you’re reading this in English, then there’s a good chance you live and work in either of those countries too).

If you’re brand new to design and are trying to join a firm as an entry level or junior designer then you should be looking at around £14,500 ($22,000) upto around £25,000 ($40,000) max (any more than this and you’re more that likely to be classed as a senior designer). As a freelancer first starting out, it’s a bit more difficult to call as you may not have that guaranteed work every single day which can effect the amount you take home annually, I’d use the £14,500 ($22,000) as a good starting point and look at charging around £15 ($24) to £25 ($40) an hour.

As you move up to senior designer levels then you really want to be hitting that £25,000 ($40,000) mark as you’re base, and in time, depending on the agency you’re working for you can expect to push that rate as high as £45,000 ($71,000). As a freelancer, moving up into the big leagues it’s not unusual to charge upwards of £40 ($65) an hour for your work, with no real limit as to how high that rate can go. I’ve heard of designers so in demand they can charge £200 ($315) an hour for their time and still be booked up for months.

If you’re the McDaddy and actually own the design company you work for, your annual income can hover around the £65,000 ($100,000) range if your firm is enjoying a moderate success, although at this level, there are so so many factors at play it’s really tough to nail down what you should be earning. After all, you’re the boss now, you should be telling us.

So like I said, this is a VERY general guide to graphic design salary and I’ve done my very best to explain the factors that can affect your income as a Graphic Designer. So hopefully you have a better footing now in terms of what to expect from the industry, and remember – it’s not just about how much money you take home, but how happy you are about the work that you’re doing. Being a Graphic Designer is an incredible job in any capacity, but if you enjoy more creative work then maybe you should take a hit on how secure your income is and opt for the life of a freelancer. Maybe your dream is looking out over rolling hills every morning, in which case, maybe not earning those big city wages isn’t such a bad thing. At the end of the day, it’s your call and you need to be happy, not just with the salary you take home, but with the life that you have.

If you have any thoughts on what a designer should be earning, or any questions on the different factors that can affect your salary feel free to ask away in the comments below.

Photo Credit to Juhansonin

is owner of Hunting Town Design, a small design house based in Manchester UK specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration. Alex is also the founder and editor of The Design Range. Find out more about Alex on his website or follow him on twitter.
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