The nation’s capital has long been a place where new college graduates head to start their careers. Located on the beautiful eastern seaboard, Maryland and Virginia border the state, making it a hub for those wanting to commute into the city. Graphic designer salaries in Washington, D.C. are quite competitive but the opportunity to work for news stations or government officials may offer even more perks.
The capital city is known for beautiful, fragrant cherry blossoms in the spring and hot, muggy summers. Something is always going on in the city, from social cause gatherings to historical events.
Young families are drawn to the area because of numerous free activities, museums and nearby historical landmarks. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates around 671,803 people live in D.C. The population is diverse and made up of all races, ages and backgrounds. Washington, D.C. is an interesting place to live if you enjoy architecture, history, events and a thriving town unlike any other.
How Much Is a Graphic Designer Salary in Washington, D.C.?
How does pay compare to graphic designer salary national averages? After all, Washington can be an expensive place to live with higher food costs and the price of housing. In this graphic designer salary tips series, we’ve looked at averages a lot, but they don’t determine how much someone can actually make.
Many factors come into play, including how much experience you have, the type of organization you’re working for and if you have specialized skills others don’t typically have. While most areas of the country pay somewhere in the $40,000s to $50,000s on average, that isn’t always the case.
We looked at a variety of sources to figure out how much people make on average in the area in and around Washington, D.C. A look at Salary.com, Glassdoor, Indeed and Payscale shows a pay range between $43,000 and $78,000 per year as a graphic designer salary in Washington, D.C.
Average Cost of Living in Washington
As you might expect, the cost of living in the nation’s capital can be pretty high. SoFi estimates a whopping $78,809 per year to live comfortably in the city. They pulled data from a variety of sources, including the Missouri Economic Research Center, which lists D.C. as the 51st in affordability.
Housing and utilities are some of the highest in the area, coming in at $12,593 per year. Food is also quite a bit pricier in D.C. at $6,241 annually. Nearly every Living Index category runs over the 100 mark, rising above the country’s average.
Although you’ll pay more to live in Washington, D.C., there are some perks to making the transition. Transportation around the city is fairly easy. Jobs are plentiful. You’ll never run out of activities and events, many of which are free and may save you on entertainment costs.
Another option is to live in one of the surrounding states, where costs might be slightly lower and commute in on the train. You’ll add to your commute time but may save enough to make it worthwhile.
How Much Is an Average Graphic Designer Salary in the City?
We started a search by looking at positions smack in the middle of the metro area. If you want to live, work and thrive in the heart of everything, there are plenty of opportunities listed on job sites.
Although there are numerous options to hunt down a new position, we pulled up results on Indeed to keep things consistent. A quick search for graphic designer jobs in Washington found 220 listings. Some of the companies hiring included Transwestern, law firms and the Smithsonian.
Surprisingly, the Smithsonian position paid quite well with a given range between $78,592 and $145,617 per year. With those wages came some special requirements, such as a bilingual speaker and experience leading projects.
Keep in mind that a studio apartment in the heart of D.C. runs between $1,896 and $3992 per month. The location and amenities will impact just how much you pay. You’ll also want to find a lower crime area for safety.
What About Surrounding Areas and the Pay Scale?
Since Washington, D.C. is so close to Maryland and Virginia, you can still gain the benefits of living near the city but working in other locations. People who live and work in Southern Indiana do something similar and travel to Louisville, Kentucky when they want to take advantage of big city attractions.
Some of the jobs that pulled up for nearby towns in Maryland and Virginia were with firms such as Fastsigns, General Dynamics Information and Deloitte.
Rent is still high but you’ll typically get more space in outlying areas. For example, Falls Church, Virginia still has a range of between $1662 and $3,098 for an apartment with lots of amenities. However, the higher end of the range is for a four-bedroom with washer and dryer in the unit and walk-in closets.
Move a bit further out to Alexandria, Virginia and you’ll see studios for rent for more in the $1,500 per month range with ample space and amenities. Google Maps estimates the drive from Alexandria into D.C. is around 20 minutes, but traffic and time of day all impact actual commute times.
Make the Most and Pay the Least
If you don’t mind a commute to and from work, your best bet may be to live in a neighboring state and travel into D.C. for work. A graphic designer salary in Washington, D.C. is going to naturally be higher to account for the expense of the city.
If you stay at a stop on the train system, you can buy a pass and catch up on things while going to and from work, such as reading, studying for a class you’re taking or even work you don’t want to take home with you.
Another option is to find a position that is a remote-hybrid one. Stanford’s study on working from home found about 12% of workers are fully remote in 2023, but another 28% work some form of hybrid arrangement.
You may need to go into the office every day for a bit to establish your value with your employer. The one-year review is a good time to bring up the possibility of working from home some of the time to save on commuting and for better productivity.
Should You Move to Washington, D.C.?
The District of Columbia is a unique place to live and work. There isn’t any other place like it in the world. The fast pace is calmed by the slower pace of historical buildings and museums in the area. The frenetic energy of protesters is balanced by people passionate about making the world a better place.
As with any location, there are pros and cons to living in Washington.
- Diverse culture
- Free events
- Cherry blossoms
- Good public transportation
- Plenty of open, good-paying positions
- One of the highest cost of living cities in the country
- Hot in the summer
- Rent is astronomical
- High poverty rates
- Lackluster schools
- Traffic gridlocks
Washington offers big advantages but alongside those come some huge disadvantages. Only you can decide if it’s worth the cons to live there.
Working as a Graphic Designer in Washington, D.C.
Living and working in Washington, D.C. is quite exciting for millennials and G-Zers. The city thrives with new ideas, nightlife, fun coffee shops and knowledge. If you are interested in being part of something bigger, countless nonprofits call the place home. When it comes to graphic designer salaries, Washington is one of the highest. It’s a location worth looking into as you search for your career path.
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.