graphic designer working using color swatches and tablet

If you want to become a graphic designer, you may learn how to craft stunning visuals that tell a story. Unlike many professions today, you don’t necessarily need a college education to land a lucrative graphic designer salary. All you need is skill and experience. Read on to learn how you can earn a living from your creativity and artistic talent. 

What a Graphic Designer Does

Graphic designers have a unique eye for design, and they may work on a variety of project types depending on their industry. Some work for companies, while others freelance and find their own clients. Regardless of work setting, graphic designers work to create impressive digital visuals to promote a product or brand. Their day-to-day duties continuously change depending on the project but may include:

  • Teamwork with creative or marketing staff
  • Strong knowledge of color theory, typography, and production
  • Developing and designing graphic art, whether web or mobile
  • Working with programs like InDesign, Photoshop, and Adobe Creative Suite
  • Meeting deadlines, within a pre-set budget
  • Learning continuously to stay up to date on current practices and technology
  • Adapting quickly to new technology

Graphic designers may work on projects such as designing a webpage for a company, creating designs for a mobile app, or making visuals for an advertisement. Whatever industry to type of digital experience you have, designers are expected above all to poses in-depth knowledge in proper theory and know how to execute ideas. They may need to present their work at times too, so verbal and written communication skills are vital. In this role, it’s important to be flexible and solve problems. 

top view of a graphic designer's workstation


If you work for a marketing or advertising department or freelance, you may also need to understand how to handle client relationships. Working as a part of a team is essential as well, even if you work in a remote position. Lastly, because technology is continuously developing, graphic designers must remain calm and roll with the punches in an ever-changing environment. 

Likewise, designers focus on a variety of different areas. Front end designers, for example, will focus on what the user actually sees whereas the back-end designer may have other tasks to perfection. Management positions may also come with various titles, such as Art Director, and they oversee teams of designers. Roles may include positions like:

  • Production artist
  • Commercial artist
  • Conceptual artist
  • UX/UI developer
  • Illustrator
  • Layout manager
  • Creative director
  • Art director

No matter what job title a graphic designer holds, they may work on a part-time, full-time, or contract/freelance basis with a company. 

Education Requirements

According to O*net, most graphic designers hold a bachelor’s degree. Although, not all employers will require graphic designers to attend college. Many people in the field may receive some form of technical training in graphic design or earn an art degree, and related fields will often allow you to find a graphic design position as well. 

In this profession, more emphasis is placed on work-related skill, artistic talent, design knowledge, and experience. If you find a position without a bachelor’s degree and begin gaining industry experience, for example, you may be able to still advance your career with ease. On-the-job training is expected with any new hire in this role. 

What is User Experience?

Well-designed content helps people want to interact and stick around longer. The brand stays on their mind, and they may buy your products and services or come back for more. The user experience, or UX, of design is all about how the user (i.e. your customer or reader) interacts with your plans. Bad content will turn them away, whereas a strong presentation with colorful visuals can keep them entertained for hours or more.

Whether a graphic designer works on a digital product or a service, they find the best solution to keep the customer’s attention while meeting business goals at the same time. It’s about much more than the images and colors used, it’s the entire construction of the product that makes a user experience better or worse. 

UX Best Practices the Best Graphic Designers Know

The best graphic designers got there by creating content people love. They know how to engage users by creating a story behind an interesting visual or honing in on what your audience enjoys, and they can move people into action through effectively relaying a great and simple story. Good UX doesn’t just happen, it’s built on over time and follows some standard best practices, including: 

  • Design strategy – How you organize the visuals and content in a way that effectively tells a story and makes people want to act.
  • Interaction design patterns – Form a brand icon, and you may save time on design tasks later, while users have a symbol to understand and interact with faster than words. 
  • Visual style guides – Keeps your brand colors and fonts consistent throughout all platforms and allows teams to stay on the same page when it comes to the design choices of a company.
  •  The rule of thirds – An understanding of how user’s eyes travel over a layout or image. 
  • Typography – Which fonts are right to convey the message you want, and how the weight of the font changes how it’s read. 

As a graphic designer, you will need to stay up to date on current visual design trends. Understanding the trend as well as why the trend works among customers today is important. You need to think about what a user wants and needs and establish a consistent style in all applications to produce stunning and reliable content. Don’t forget to communicate with teammates as well, especially if you’re only working UX while a colleague handles the UI design.


How Much is the Average Graphic Designer Salary?

Salaries tend to vary based on the industry you work in, your experience level, and your location. However, most graphic design salaries may also come down to skill. Talent is typically rewarded with higher salaries, and if you have extensive experience in a certain area, you may also be able to charge more for those particular projects. 

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graphic designers overall make a mean annual wage of $54,680. The highest paid designers average around $85,760 and tend to hold the most experience, while the lower 10% of entry-level workers in this professional earn around $29,610 per year. 

In addition to these wages, designers who work for a corporation may earn other bonuses as incentives for reaching company goals or doing particularly well on a project. Some companies may also reward their employees with stocks and bonds in the company or possibly match the money you save in a 401k while employed. 

Who Hires Graphic Designers?

The average graphic designer salary you earn, however, can also vary based on the industry you work in. Each place of business may alter the type of work you do on a daily basis. Those who work in publishing could design book covers, for example, while designers in advertising may create visuals for ads. Graphic designers tend to find jobs in the following common industries:

  • Scientific and technical consulting services - $60,110
  • Specialized design services - $56,600
  • Advertising or public relations - $55,750
  • Newspaper, book, or periodical publishers - $48,530
  • Printing - $44,430

Jobs may also vary within the industry as well. Printing job involving print design, for example, have decreased while the move toward digital publishing techniques is still evolving. 

Nearly one in five graphic designers is also self-employed, meaning they opt to work for themselves and seek their own projects rather than work for a large company or print shop. Freelance or independent work is becoming more common than ever, especially because the job can be performed remotely as long as you have the right software and technology for your needs. Many remote workers travel to meet up with clients or use video chat software like Skype, and some will work as a part of a team this way. 

Group of Multiethnic Designers Brainstorming


If you work as a freelance graphic designer, you will set your own salary. However, you may ask for higher wages than a company would pay you simply because you complete all the administration tasks that an employer would normally take care of, like marketing, bookkeeping, and hiring new clients. Self-employed people also tend to have more irregular working hours, as they take on projects when they can and can choose when they work. 

Which Industry Pays the Highest Salaries?

Although most graphic designer jobs are found in advertising or publishing in recent years, these are not the highest paying companies to work for. Industries with the top wages tend to require at least a bachelor’s degree and extensive experience, often in government work or computer systems design. 

The industries who pay graphic designers the top graphic designer salaries include:

  • Federal executive branch - $83,090
  • Aerospace products and parts manufacturing - $79,250
  • Semiconductor or electronic manufacturing - $79,250
  • Legal services - $72,160
  • Natural gas distribution - $70,850

Which States Pay Higher Salaries?

Wages also vary based on your location. Graphic designers commonly find great pay in areas with the highest employment rates, such as large cities like New York City or Los Angeles, or places with the greatest need for people in these positions. The top 10 areas that pay the highest annual wages, according to the BLS, include:

  • District of Columbia - $71,180
  • New York - $64,840
  • Massachusetts - $64,010
  • California - $61,100
  • Connecticut - $60,700
  • Virginia - $60,540
  • Washington - $60,530
  • Alaska - $59,640
  • New Jersey - $59,140
  • Maryland - $58,610

You may also be able to charge higher wages as a graphic designer if you have a high skill set. When it comes to digital art, there is still a level of talent and skill that comes into play. Many designers learn over time as they gain experience, some take advanced education courses to stay on top of trends, and others simply have a better design eye or industry connections that can land them big paychecks. 

Job Growth Trends

Graphic designer positions have been increasing in recent years due to an increase in online publishing options, and tech-savvy artists are needed to work with publishers to create a range of work. However, those who find roles in computer systems design may see the most growth and job prospects according to the BLS whereas jobs involving print design will drastically decrease.

Overall, O*net shows the job growth for graphic designers at 2-4%, which is slower than the national average for all professions until 2026. There will be projects 26,000 jobs open nationwide. This means finding a position may become more competitive, especially if you live in a top metropolitan area known for hiring graphic designers like Los Angeles or New York City. Expect to polish your artistic skills and learn to follow clear instructions. 

Freelance Salaries vs 9 to 5 Salaries

Freelancers set their own salaries and do all the hard work it takes to run a business, so they tend to charge slightly higher rates for their services. The average freelance graphic designer, according to a survey by How Design, makes the highest rate in the Northeast, at $74 per hour. Most freelancers will also charge added fees for anything beyond the scope of the project terms or rush orders. These rates are much higher, on average than in-house graphic designers in any state. 

Self-employed people also have the availability to make extra income on the side, and side projects can encompass just a few added hours each week. Many designers will choose to split their time working in a particular niche with a side-gig in another industry. Being self-employed means you don’t need to do only one type of project, although people may stick with one thing they know how to do well. 

Man editing photos on a computer


Money isn’t typically the reason most graphic designers decide to live a freelance lifestyle though. It’s all about freedom. You pick the projects, rates, and when you work. You choose who you work with and have more flexibility in where you work. On the other hand, working for a corporation offers a steady paycheck with perks like insurance benefits and bonuses. For many, the free lifestyle is worth the risk of an inconsistent paycheck. 

Although freelancers tend to make higher salaries than people employed by a company, they also pay more in taxes. When you’re self-employed, you don’t have taxes taken out of each paycheck that is matched by an employer. Freelancers must pay more in taxes than traditional employees, and they often need to set aside money for quarterly tax payments to the IRS throughout the year. Otherwise, they may face steep penalties. 

A Final Thought

Appearance matters. Graphic designers use their eye for design to work on a variety of projects, from developing tv graphics and magazine to electronic media. The job prospects aren’t necessarily in high demand in the near future, making this creative role potentially highly competitive. 

With less than a bachelor’s degree and some artistic experience, you may be able to earn a lucrative graphic designer salary in no time. If you love art or graphics, it’s never too late to begin working toward a career as a graphic designer. 


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About Diane Turner

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