The Complete Graphic Designer Salary Guide
The UK has the third-largest creative economy in the entire world – providing jobs for over three million people and design is it’s fastest-growing sector. According to the Design Business Association “design will undoubtedly be a key driver for growth in a post-Brexit economy.”
How much are you worth?
One thing we often get asked by our students is how much they can expect to earn as a graphic designer. It is important to understand how much money can be made as a graphic designer to know what your finances might look like once you are immersed in this rewarding creative world. You may be at the stage where you are negotiating your salary? One of the first steps to negotiating higher graphic design fees is knowing what your time and experience are worth.
You can start by visiting job boards like Reed, Guardian Jobs and reading this article. Many job board postings include salary data as well as the required years of experience, so you can see how much businesses are at present offering graphic designers and their level of seniority (Juniors, Midweight, Seniors and Creatives).
For this reason, we have created a synopsis of what you can expect to be paid as a junior graphic designer all the way up to a Creative Director and everything in between.
It may be that you are about to enter the creative profession and you are just too sure of what your financial situation might look like? Or, what kind of entry-level graphic design salary you can expect to make and after how long?
Look no further while we dispel the myths, hit you with the facts and get number crunching. High job satisfaction comes from working as a graphic designer due to the creative nature of work and the salaries are overall quite attractive.
At Blue Sky Graphics we know a thing or two about getting graphic designers into their dream job, whether it is their first graphic design post, or they are heading onto pastures new- usually greener and more creative direction. Our passionate graphic designers have helped many of their students with insightful tips and career advice in a field, we hold close to our hearts.
So, before we get into the nitty-gritty it is important to know that within the realm of graphic design there is different types of designers. There are a) freelance graphic designers that often have the most flexibility, b) graphic designers that are employed in-house staff for an organisation to work on promotional materials for that business or c) graphic designers that work in a design an agency with many clients and projects.
There is no hierarchy of best based on the three types of graphic designers and clients should often choose a designer based on their vision and expectations.
It’s worth not ruling them out simply because they’re either freelance or in-house because the graphic designers’ portfolio work should speak for itself. Han, Master Graphic Design Tutor as BSG affirms that “in reality many clients classify cost as their primary consideration, but as long as your graphic design skills come across as good value for process and quality, it shouldn’t matter if you freelance graphic designer, creative agency or in-house design.”
Each role has its own pros and cons but as a rule of thumb graphic designers will all work to produce material using colour, fonts, and illustrations to visually communicate a message or present a product. This could be by working with logos, stationery, digital banners, packaging, print materials, and websites, among other tasks.
It is equally important to know there is no shortage of jobs with more graphic designers needed to fuel the demands of an increasingly online economy. According to Deloitte’s in-depth analysis of the internet of things “the digital economy is taking shape and undermining conventional notions about how businesses are structured; how firms interact; and how consumers obtain services, information, and goods.” More online shops and businesses mean more visual illustrations and more graphic designers.
So, what do graphic designers earn?
Average graphic design salaries in the UK
There are several factors that influence how much a graphic designer will earn such as experience, job title, and location. That is what we will explore in this article, focusing on in the United Kingdom which is where we are based (pssst if happen to pass by our offices although we are an online school if you’re in town passing Shoreditch come say hello. We are a friendly bunch). Graphic designer salaries in other countries will vary substantially to that of the UK with certain EMEA countries that offer up to 1.5 times the starting salary.
Junior Graphic Designers
The entry-level of the bunch. Think enthusiastic but unexperienced creatives
In the United Kingdom, there is a regional difference in salary when comparing two cities (Manchester and London). According to Indeed in June 2019, the average salary for junior graphic designers around Greater London is approximately £21,500. In Manchester you can expect an average salary of £18,800.
According to Payscale.com “an early career Graphic Designer with 1-4 years of experience earns an average total compensation of £21,461 based on 2,211 salaries”.
Mid-weight Graphic Designers
As a mid-weight designer, they will typically take design briefs and implement them, but will still be supervised creativity by a senior designer.
The jump between junior and senior is quite large and many graphic designers that have spent several years working and built a comprehensive portfolio will often earn between £24,000 to £29,00 before they become officially senior. As a mere average number according to Reed Recruitment the average graphic designer salary in the UK is £26,717.
Senior Graphic Designers
Senior designers are typically responsible for managing all design projects from concept to execution and client delivery. Other responsibilities include creating original artwork and reviewing the drafts of those in their team (junior designers) to guarantee quality work.
In the UK, the average salary for senior graphic designers around the Greater London area is £40,000. There is a notable difference in Manchester where the average salary for senior graphic designers is £28,500.
Creative Director sits at the top of the upper-level managerial hierarchy and will have spent time in design agencies before heading up their creative team. These professionals act as the gatekeeper and have authority on what goes to the client what does not. Creative Directors may work on advertising and branding campaigns using a broad range of print and digital including magazines, TV, film, digital ads, animation, and applications.
In the UK, the average salary for design directors is between £60,000- £72,000 with the highest figured apportioned to the Greater London area. And in Manchester, the average salary for design directors is £54,200.
What is the salary for freelancers?
Freelancers will make as much or as little as they are prepared to put into their working diary. Many freelancers rely on regular gigs but also from clients where you can earn anything between £200 and £400 per day with experience. The rate should increase as you grow, gain experience, and become more in demand.
According to glassdoor, many freelancers in the UK report an average salary of £22.00 per hour starting out.
Many freelancers are cashing in on selling digital illustration, designing apps, and working with a web designer with jobs readily available. As a freelance designer, you have the option to work from home and can take on multiple projects from different clients.
If you like planning, then make a financial year plan setting out an idea of what you want to achieve financially. A useful way to figure out your rates is to ask yourself how much you would like your annual salary to be – considering your weekly billable hours and the number of holidays you want to take. Check out Your Rate – a simple online calculator that will point you in the right direction.
If you want to freelance, check what others are charging?
Before starting out as a freelancer a significant first step is to do some research in your subject area to see what other freelancers with similar expertise are charging for their work. If you know anyone with a network of freelance friends, ask them what their hourly rates are. This will help you to see where your pricing strategy so that you can be competitive is in the market with a reflection on your skills and experience.
In London, we have known web/graphic designers and illustrators to charge anything between £22-£80 per hour; web/software developers between £30-£100 and copywriters to charge from £20 to £50 per hour. But how long is a piece of string? Your hourly rate will be specific to your skills and expertise. You may wish to start out at a low price point and have more volume of work?
Price up like a freelancer
When calculating your fees for client’s work – consider two ways of charging: time or project-based. Time is when you invoice your client for your hourly work; by comparison, project-based is when you invoice your client for execution of the work using an upfront cost method. The preferred method for many is hourly because if unforeseen challenges crop up that require some more work on your end, an hourly rate ensures you get compensated for all the work you do.
If in doubt over any project, explain to the client that you charge an hourly rate, based on the time it takes to complete the project – rather than guesswork on how long it will take the initiative and providing a fixed upfront fee. It is especially important for more complex projects, ones that could throw up all sorts of issues along the way.
Also, when costing up jobs, you must consider your productivity and how much you will realistically achieve in a set amount of time. It is always best to add on an extra day or two of your time as a contingency. That way, you will not lose any money on the job. Do not put yourself in a situation where you have not budgeted enough hours/days, you will lose money, and that is not where you want to be.
The reality is that most clients who are hiring a freelancer for graphic design contract projects will want an actual quote for the whole project, and as explained it is not always easy knowing how long it might take you. It takes some experience to be able to approximate the amount of work that will go into a project. Only you can know how long it takes you to finish tasks.
Our advice is at the beginning give a conservative estimate allocating a little extra time but do not get too upset about working more than you are paid as often repeat businesses will come your way.
With your client’s fees likely to differ from one client to the next, create a record or a spreadsheet to monitor your pricing models. Refer to this at the end of each financial year, so you can assess whether it is time to consider price increases and if they want more work. You cannot create a client £40 per hour at the beginning of the year to then jump to £70 without justification.
All being said, your client has a budget and there usually healthier than one might think. So, do not undervalue yourself either and remember your worth when quoting for work. It is worth bearing in mind that agencies – which have the responsibility and cost implications of staff and associated overheads can charge as much as £900 per day. As a freelancer, you won’t be able to charge anything near this amount, unless your skills are very niche and in-demand, but charging a fair and healthy price will go down fine as long as you show your clients value.
What do employers look for in graphic designers and what is needed?
If you are looking to freelance, then give your client what they are looking for and this is usually going to be a good portfolio of the work you are proud to show.
For in house roles many employers look for candidates that have either experience or evidence of this. It does not need to be previous graphic design jobs but must show your portfolio’s strength. For advice on what constitutes a good portfolio, you read what makes a good portfolio here.
For more senior roles such as Creative Director you are expected to typically have a minimum of 10 years’ experience across design and building websites, brochures, corporate branding, database mailers, packaging etc.
What are the working hours for graphic designers?
On average, a graphic designer will work 37-40 hours a week, but this is different from freelancers who can work flexibly on their own terms. There is generally some flexibility regarding start and finish times and putting in additional hours should be expected when campaigns deadlines are approaching.
Unless you are working from home the working environment is mostly studio based so expect lots of Macs, white spaces, large drawing tables and you may often find yourself working as part of a team. International travel is sometimes required to meet corporate clients.
Where in the UK has a graphic design presence?
In the UK, most cities have a graphic design presence including Leeds, Belfast, Edinburgh Manchester, London, and Liverpool. Graphic design agencies are available in most major cities with a larger concentration in pockets of London like Shoreditch and Soho and the South East There is a demand for British designers internationally, but industry experience is necessary.
When you venture into the world of freelancing, it is difficult to know how much to charge and what your hourly or day rates should be. There are no rule books, no apparent solutions – it’s a pure guessing game as you don’t want to charge too much and price yourself out of the market, but you don’t want to undersell yourself either. Above all, remember that your skills are valuable, so it is essential you get your rates right before talking to any potential clients.
Suggested Industry & Job Specific Freelance Rates
Some of the UK’s leading bodies, associations and agencies have put together some guidelines as to the RRP or recommended freelance rates, allowing you to make comparisons to your own. Here are some of the best sources, broken down by theme:
The Chartered Society of Designers is the professional body for design. Its remit is to promote high standards of design, foster professionalism, and the study of design, and to regulate and monitor the practice of its members for the benefit of society.
Below is a broad salary benchmark for London’s creative professionals (2020), including recommended rates for freelancers:
Senior Designer: £260 to £350 (day rate)
Motion Designer: £200 to £350
Junior Designer: £100 to £200
Senior Front-End Developer: £350 to £450
Junior Back End Developer: £150 to £280
What is the future of graphic design careers?
The good news is that graphic design on the up and it looks that way for a while despite possible recission talks post-Corona pandemic. Read the article on ‘is graphic design future proof’ here.
A massive 70% of design teams increased headcount in the past year. Employers rate UX/UI as the No. 1 most in-demand product design title. According to Business Insider ”the future of work is looking pretty bright, at least for nurses and software developers. Plenty of medical and tech jobs are likely to keep growing in the next several years and pay handsomely as well”.
It is likely graphic designers will be needed by more companies both in the UK and internationally. Traditional in-house graphic designer roles will still be needed requiring designers to work in a team or a shared space, but freelancers will be more in demand than before.
Freelancers will in turn work from home although predictions suggest more shared co-working spaces, office shared desks and rent studio space will be far more utilised than before. Most graphic design needs can be accomplished at home.
Here are our summarised 3 tips we offer you as to when it comes to making money as a graphic designer:
Tip 1- Factor in your overheads when pricing
When considering how much to charge your clients, it is worth considering all your business costs and checking your competitors. Costs might include stationery, office, insurance, travel, or materials. Ensure your rate is good enough for both of you (reasonable as well as realistic).
Tip 2- Start high to have maximum control
If you are working in-house and asked what your salary expectations then a salary range in mind have, you should start the negotiations at the high end of that range. If you don’t ask, you don’t get and if it is not, then you’re starting in a better position to negotiate than if you had offered your bottom line.
Tip 3- Improve your portfolio
One of the best ways to improve your graphic designer salary prospects is to make sure you have a pristine commercial portfolio. A great portfolio can show potential clients what you are capable of and is your ticket to more work. We have been teaching students for years and preparing Class A portfolios. During negotiations, the portfolio may persuade them that you are worth the money you are fighting for and it is the truth. To present your design projects in an attractive way, consider writing a few design cases studies for your portfolio. This will show employers all the work that goes into your designs. If you’re looking for some portfolio inspiration, take a look at these examples.
Why study graphic design?
For a career in graphic design, it is fundamental you learn the following industry-standard tools:
Adobe Photoshop is the most advanced image editing and manipulation application used by graphic designers, photographers, digital artists, web designers.
Adobe Illustrator is the industry-standard vector illustration application. Graphics Designers use Illustrator to create logos, digital illustrations, vector work for web, print and video projects.
Adobe InDesign is the industry-leading page design and layout application used by designers to create books, posters, flyers, newspapers, magazines, brochures, and digital publications.
At Blue Sky Graphics we are passionate about teaching Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop to our student online from the comfort of their home. Our lessons are live and direct, and our one-to-one class ratio ensures an interrupted dynamic experience.
We started an online space to teach junior graphic designers on how to improve their design skills and 15 years later we now train everyone wishing to study graphic design. When Solo-online evolved into BlueSkyGraphics.co.uk several years ago, we quickly discovered those wanting to pursue a career in graphic design, (but had never trained) loved learning in our online school too.
They showed immeasurable gratitude to our teachers and appreciated the easy-to-follow approach through our private one-to-one class format. Our industry-aligned syllabus, professional network, and are always accessible student support team.
If you are not yet a graphic designer and thinking of becoming one, then let us make it easy for you at Blue Sky Graphics.
We are an online graphic design school delivering the highest standards of one-to-one graphic design course classes led by expert tutors. Classes can take place from Sunday through to Saturday around the clock albeit morning, afternoon or during the late evenings for your convenience (subject to availability).
In addition to preparing you for professional work as a graphic designer by building your very own portfolio, you will learn to create, innovative graphics, images, and design visual constructions. Through creative techniques and operational tools, you will learn to operate Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign software to a proficient level.
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