Whether you’re looking to hire a designer or looking to be a designer, you’ll need a basic understanding of how much graphic designers earn. Making art for a living is certainly an attractive lifestyle, but it’s important to consider practical expectations for your future finances. This isn’t as straightforward as you might expect.
So what’s the average salary of a graphic designer? A designer with medium experience earns between $45,000 and $55,000 in the US on average. But skill set, experience and level of responsibility all play a big role in graphic designer salaries (not to mention, country or state). That’s why according to sources like PayScale, Glassdoor and SimplyHired graphic designer salaries can fluctuate between about 30K and 80K! Don’t forget that’s just an average for “graphic artists,” and it turns out that salaries can vary significantly depending on your area of design too (especially if you are a web designer or art director). Luckily, we’re here to help you find out where exactly you might fit in on the ever changing salary scale.
Let’s first take a look at how experience affects average pay estimates for graphic designers (note: the research here reflects averages across all fields of design such as logo, web, etc).
0-2 years experience
This would include designers who have recently begun freelancing, have just graduated from a design school or just started a design company or firm. Designers in this range would typically be proficient in several design programs, but have yet to hone their style or make a name for themselves professionally. In a firm, you would expect these designers to be receiving regular instructions from a supervisor.
Salary.com estimates the yearly salary for this category of designers to be about $49,000 (or about $24 per hour), while PayScale.com estimates entry salaries to be closer to $40,000 (or about $20 per hour).
2-5 years experience
You can expect designers with this level of experience to have full portfolios reflecting both proficiency and personal style. As freelancers, they will often have a professionally made website with clear practices and terms for freelance engagement. In a firm, they will typically have additional skills such as team building and communication, and they will require less instruction from supervisors.
Salary.com estimates the yearly salary for this category of designers to be about $57,000 (or about $27 per hour), while PayScale.com estimates mid-career salaries to be closer to $45,000 (or about $22 per hour).
5-10 years experience
At this level, you can expect experienced designers who are well regarded as freelancers or who hold the position of senior graphic designer at a company, where they would manage teams of designers. They would have a firm understanding of technological advances in design, of changes or trends in the design world and of how to design effectively for a given target demographic.
Salary.com estimates the yearly salary for this category of designers to be about 71K (or about $34 per hour), while PayScale.com estimates late-career salaries to be closer to $51,000 (or about $25 per hour)
Salaries for specific roles within design
To narrow these salary estimates down a bit more, we need to consider different roles within the field of graphic design. SimplyHired.com offers some helpful estimates in that regard:
- Graphic Design Intern – $25,291
- Graphic Designer – $38,310
- Senior Graphic Designer – $55,149
- Senior Designer – $83,312
- Art Director – $76,602
- Creative Director – $108,833
- Instructional Designer – $60,294
- Web Designer – $61,970
- Visual Designer – $77,109
- User Experience Designer – $89,061
- User Interface Designer – $80,712
From these estimates, we can start to see that pay increases not only from experience, but also from skill requirement and level of responsibility. Take for example art direction at $76,602. In many cases this job puts you in control of coordinating multiple design teams to produce a cohesive look for an entire organization. That’s a lot of responsibility, and the salary estimate above reflects that!
What about freelancing and crowdsourcing?
Salaries are difficult to estimate for freelance or crowdsource designers given that they get paid job to job. Additionally, the huge variable of time input is generally proportional to income, so a designer who works 10 hours a month will make considerably less than one who works 100 hours a month.
With that said, it’s not impossible for a highly skilled designer to make upwards of $10,000 a month through crowdsourcing contests and referrals. That’s not bad! According to the estimates above, a web designer would only make half that amount—$5,000 a month.
Of course, not every designer has a steady client base, and the demand for freelance work can fluctuate. So one month you might find yourself choosing between a flood of client requests and the next month choosing between flavors of instant ramen for dinner. If you’re experiencing the latter, you may want to brush up on some best practices for freelancing.
It pays to be a designer
Charging a fair, competitive price for design work is not an exact science, but hopefully the numbers above give you a ballpark idea of what kind of compensation to expect. When you’re starting out as a designer, it can be hard to know where on the spectrum you might fall. By understanding the going rate for design work in your area and with your level of expertise, you can make sure not to settle for less than you deserve!