Are you thinking about pursuing a career in graphic design?
If so, you will be pleased to know that graphic design can be an enjoyable and lucrative profession.
It also doesn’t require any special degrees or certifications. Although a bachelor’s degree is generally recommended. Especially if you don’t have a lot of previous work experience under your belt.
I’ve spent nearly my entire career working as a graphic designer.
I minored in digital media in college but consider myself to be mostly self-taught.
I’ve held a variety of full-time salaried graphic art positions. And I’ve worked as a full-time freelancer.
I’ve also made a lot of money along the way.
However, I find that the “poor starving artist” stereotype continues to plague perceptions about the industry.
And it doesn’t help that there’s a lot of conflicting information out there on the subject of exactly how much graphic designers make.
This is likely due to the fact that rates vary greatly depending on years of related experience, niche, and employment status.
Do graphic designers get paid well?
So let’s start out with the basic question on everyone’s mind: Do graphic designers get paid well?
“Well” is a subjective term. But yes, intermediate to expert graphic designers tend to be paid well. And expert-level freelance graphic designers monopolize the upper limits of that range with annual incomes as high as six figures or more.
But your particular definition of “well” will probably largely depend on where you live and the average cost of living (COL) in your area.
For the sake of this article, let’s mostly concentrate on Florida – the nation’s southernmost contiguous state.
First, let’s take a look at the state as a whole.
At the time of this writing, according to Ramsey Solutions, the average household income in the state of Florida is $55,660. Zillow lists the average rent for a 2-bedroom home in Florida at $1,843 per month. And they list the median home price as $331,533.
Next, let’s look at the data from a city level.
Florida’s largest city Jacksonville – with over 874 square miles (2,264 km2) – has the most populous municipality with almost 900,000 inhabitants. Jacksonville reportedly has an average household income of $74,873 with an average home price of $279,696.
|Area||COL Index*||Avg. Home Price||Avg. Household Income|
Finally, let’s take a look at some actual graphic design salaries and salary ranges and see if they stack up with these median incomes and the average cost of living in your neck of the woods.
How much do graphic designers make in Florida?
According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – or the BLS – the average graphic designer salary in Florida is $53,720 per year.
They also rank Florida as having the fourth-highest employment level for graphic designers in the nation right behind California, New York and Texas.
|Rank||State||Employment||Annual Mean Wage*|
How does that compare to other states in the U.S.?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following as the top-paying states (and districts) for graphic designers:
|Rank||State/District||Annual Mean Wage*|
|1||District of Columbia||$85,070|
Other top-paying states included – in no particular order – Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia.
What do freelance graphic designers make?
Next, let’s sample a collection of freelance graphic design incomes.
But before we dive in, I want to offer a disclaimer and a bit of clarification about the numbers I am about to cite.
I couldn’t find any specific state-level data or info on freelance graphic designers, only national-level statistics. But this didn’t surprise me in the slightest because I know that many freelancers, like myself, almost never work exclusively with clients from their own state.
Freelance designers tend to play on a national or even global level.
So for these stats, we will focus on freelance graphic design incomes across the nation.
According to Upwork.com, freelance graphic designers in the United States are currently charging anywhere between $5-$155 per hour. The largest percentage of designers charge between $30-$55 per hour. That’s the equivalent of a $60,000-$110,000 salary assuming the freelancer was working roughly equivalent hours to their salaried counterparts.
Again, assuming these freelancers are working roughly 40 hours per week and taking at least two weeks off, an intermediate-level full-time freelance graphic designer could make roughly $66,547 per year.
How can graphic designers make the most money?
There are two main reasons that freelancers tend to bring in more money than their salaried counterparts in the design field despite having similar jobs.
Firstly, freelancers are not receiving employee benefits like insurance or paid time off. And they will encounter expenses that the salaried employee will not. And so, they have to compensate for that gap by charging higher rates.
Secondly, they’re earning potential doesn’t have a cap.
They have the ability to charge whatever they want to charge. And they can work as many hours as they wish.
In the design world, top salaried earners, according to the data, are only bringing in about $70,000 per year while expert freelancers are making $110,000 or more.
|Top earning salaried designers||~$70,000|
|Top earning freelance designers||~$110,000|
What’s the difference between an entry level graphic designer and an expert?
While there is no definitive rule about what separates a beginner from an intermediate or even an expert designer, experience is key.
I would use the following as a rough guideline.
- Beginner: Less than 2 years of experience, small to no portfolio. Familiarity with at least one Adobe program like Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign.*
- Intermediate: 2-5 years of experience, strong portfolio. Familiarity with at least three Adobe programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.*
- Expert: 5+ years of experience, robust portfolio. Has expert knowledge of multiple Adobe programs and mastery of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.*
*Editor’s Note: Adobe is the industry standard when it comes to graphic design. I am well aware that there are cheaper alternatives out there. But if you want to play in the big leagues, Adobe is the way to go.
Experienced designers are able to fetch higher salaries and higher rates once they’ve been able to display an expert knowledge of color theory, layout, typography, composition, production management, production standards and best practices.
Additionally, they are usually well versed in a variety of design styles and understand how to deliver a variety of design solutions, visual materials and collateral as they apply to marketing, advertising and other forms of communication.
Additional skills that designers may be expected to demonstrate at the expert level, or at least be familiar with include UX design, UI design, web design and even copyright law.
And unlike their entry-level and intermediate counterparts who largely serve in a support role and assist in matters of limited complexity, expert designers are expected to, at times, play the part of both designer and project manager while serving a variety of stakeholders.
Why did I switch from salary to freelance?
I personally made the switch from salary to freelance because I wanted to own my own business. And I treat freelancing like a business.
The biggest benefits to me, are setting my own hours, setting my own pay and choosing who I want to work with.
When I was a salaried employee, I had to ask for time off and raises. As a freelancer, I inform my clients when I’m taking time off or raising my rates.
I also love that there is no limit to how much I can earn.
But I also know, had I not worked as a salaried employee for so many years prior to making the switch, it’s doubtful I would have had the experience needed to be a successful freelancer.
Are you thinking about a career in digital design? Are you currently working as a graphic designer in FL? Comment below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.