If you’re considering graphic design as a career path, you may wonder what the average graphic designer’s salary is and how you can make the most possible. You want to love what you do for a living, but you also have to pay bills, so finding a balance between pay and passion matters.
Graphic designers salaries vary a bit, depending upon what part of the world you live in and the demand for skills you have. When just starting out, they can expect to make less than after they’ve acquired experience.
Average Graphic Designer’s Salary by State
What Is a Graphic Designer’s Salary Yearly?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the highest 10% of graphic designers make $98,260 per year. The lowest 10% earn only $31,310 annually. A median income for the job is $50,710.
Designers offering specialized, niche services tend to make more than those with more general skills. Other factors impacting how much you’ll make include location, experience and industry.
Some of the graphic design job titles paid a bit more, according to Indeed.
Indeed estimated product designers make as much as $119,921 per year. Their tasks include product packaging design and ensuring the entire user experience with the product is a positive one. On average, a graphic designer’s salary who specializes in product design sits around the $100,000 mark.
Working for a larger corporation may mean higher pay than taking a position with a small business or startup. Consider factors such as how secure the job is, too. It costs money to get laid off, seek a new position and get up to speed. You’ll miss out on potential raises and promotions as well as potentially being without insurance for periods of time.
User Experience Director
User experience (UX) determines the customer’s impression of a brand. UX directors make around $113,219 per year. The skills necessary to design and create products fall a bit outside the range of a typical graphic designer.
You’ll also need to understand human psychology and apply tactics to draw consumers in and keep them engaged. UX designers are in demand because fewer have the needed skills to work to that level. You’ll need excellent communication, as you’ll pull in information from other departments, such as sales and marketing, to determine what the target audience truly wants.
Specializing in front-end development and design could reach $109,479 per year. Front-end developers work on websites and apps and design the look people see and how they interact with the page.
You’ll need added coding skills and an understanding of app and website development. You might have a number of clients and serve different types of businesses or work for a company on all their front-end needs. To ramp up your pay even more, add as many coding and user experience skills as possible.
Take courses online, attend conferences and experiment with features such as artificial intelligence (AI). Staying on top of advances in AI and technology can help you stand out in this field.
When designers work for themselves, they can set the types of work they do and prices in line with industry standards. There’s no middle man to take a cut of your earnings, such as if you work for an agency. Around 19% of graphic designers set up as freelancers, choosing to not punch the nine to five clock.
Although it can be financially difficult at first, you’ll be the only one in control of bonuses and raises. Seeking new clients that pay more or gaining productivity directly benefits your brand. You also can plan time off when needed without fear or making a boss angry.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks, such as lack of healthcare benefits and figuring out your own retirement fund. If you work for a company that doesn’t offer these things, you really risk very little striking out on your own. If you have skills, you can always land another position should the freelance gig not work out.
The pay varies so widely among freelancers that it’s impossible to pinpoint what you might make. Many entrepreneurs find they work longer hours at first, but once they have a steady stream of clients they can work fewer hours for the same pay or make more by working full time.
If you love animation and want to specialize in it, you can work as a digital designer for around $92,389 per year. You’ll work with television shows, films and video games, creating illustrations and bringing them into motion.
The specializations above show how adding a few additional skills results in big pay upgrades. Senior designers, creative directors and managers often have many years of experience and salaries to match their efforts.
Moving into the management side of design gives you opportunities for higher pay and more responsibilities. If you enjoy managing teams, talk to your boss about the potential to be a department head at some point. If your current position has only one senior graphic designer on staff and they aren’t likely to retire anytime soon, you may need to look for anther position with a new company.
Some graphic designers turn to web design work, catering to businesses or specific industries. Depending on your skills, you might work more on the creation end of things, getting the look and feel of a new website to match the brand’s style.
If you expand into development opportunities and work in both the front-end and back-end of web design, expect to make an average of $73,760 per year. Experts predict careers in this sector will grow about 8% annually through 2029.
As you work in design, you should try to learn some coding skills to take your work to another level. Make sure you understand basic HTML, CSS and PHP. A high number of websites are built on WordPress today, so familiarize yourself with the program.
What Is the Highest Paid Graphic Design Job?
Zip Recruiter ranks Graphic User Interface Designer among the top-paying graphic designers’ salary ranges in the United States. Pay ranges from $60,500 to $107,000 per year, with opportunities for promotions and advancement. They also point out how active the category is, with plenty of job openings still available.
People have two schools of thought on the best way to move up in the industry. Some believe you should stay with the same company, gain promotions and raises and build relationships. Others think it’s better to seek a new position, gain new skill sets and seek higher pay with each job change.
In real life, there isn’t a right or wrong answer on enhancing opportunities and bettering your graphic designer’s salary. Play it by ear and see if your company offers raises that make sense for your situation. Do they give you opportunities to grow as a designer by sending you to training or paying for education?
A positive company culture can sometimes mean more than a raise. Does your current company waste your time with endless and pointless meetings? Do they appreciate your contributions or overlook you for newer workers who don’t have the same skill set or work ethic? A few thousand more or less a year shouldn’t determine where you work. Only you can decide on the best approach to make the most money you can and be satisfied with your work environment.
Do Beginning Graphic Designers Make Good Money?
When looking at graphic designers’ salary ranges, you need to consider where you’re willing to locate and what the cost of living is there. For example, $50,000 in Alabama may be sufficient, but $50,000 in New York City won’t go far.
One perk of doing design work is that you can often find remote positions. You might work for a company based in Los Angeles but live in Kentucky. One study found a marked increase in work-from-home opportunities. Researchers estimate 25% of all jobs will be remote in the next year. People from all over the world can connect with companies. If you aren’t happy with the open positions in your area, start expanding out in a circle. Cast as wide of a net as you’d like.
Do keep in mind that if you work with clients in Singapore, they’re going to be in a different time zone, so you may need to stay up late or get up early for meetings. You may also run into a few language barriers, depending on the company you’re working for and their leaders.
Is Graphic Designing a Good Career?
If you love art and creating things, then graphic design can be an excellent career choice. Starting pay may be in the lower range, but you’ll quickly build the experience needed to make more and move your way up to director positions.
A graphic designer’s salary tends to increase each year. Another option is to pick up side clients to enhance your earning potential fresh out of college. As you gain experience, you can command higher wages and lose the side gigs along the way–or keep them and make even more.
What Skills Earn More?
If you’re still in school or building the abilities needed to work as a graphic designer, be aware of the skills that help you earn more income.
- UX knowledge
- Ability to build apps
- Animation skills
- Analytics and testing
Think about the open positions you see on job board sites. What skills do they list as desirable? What software programs do the companies you might like to work for list on their job descriptions?
Can You Make More As a Freelancer?
Glassdoor recently reported freelance graphic designers make an average of $43,373 per year, with a range of $29,000 to $65,000. Freelancers working with big name clients and with specializations are typically on the higher end of the range.
However, you must also consider that working as a freelance graphic designer means you won’t have a steady income. You must be highly organized and able to budget inconsistent paychecks.
You’ll be responsible for marketing your business, bookkeeping, paying taxes and collecting payments.
You can set your own schedule, but you won’t have the buffer of a company switchboard when the client calls at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night to tweak a campaign. There are pros and cons to freelancing. It is sometimes best for beginners to work with a company and learn the ins and outs of the job, develop some contacts and then strike out on their own.
What You Need to Know About Graphic Designers Salary
The ranges listed in this article are all averages or best/worst case scenarios. Pay attention to job listings in your area to get a feel for how much entry-level positions pay versus a few years experience. Decide if you want to seek a remote position or go into an office. Think about what you need to live comfortably, and set standards you won’t sway away from.
One rule of thumb is that if you can make more working at a local fast food restaurant, you may want to walk away and find something different. Few companies can match the benefits of McDonald’s, so why would you give up potential perks for low pay?
Currently, the world is dealing with a worker shortage. Now is the time to ask for the pay you want. There may not always be as many job opportunities as there are now, but you’ll set a precedent for your salary and work your way up from there.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.