How Much Do Graphic Designers Make? And Other Questions About This Creative Career
You have the creative spirit, the drive and maybe even some of the technical skills. But when it comes to graphic design, one major concern keeps jumping to mind: Will you earn enough as a graphic designer to make a decent living?
You’re curious about how much graphic designers make, yes—but there are also a lot of other important questions you need answered. If you want a well-rounded perspective of the job before you commit to this creative career, then you’ll need to know more than just graphic designer salary information.
So how much does a graphic designer make? What skills do graphic designers need to be successful? And how do you become one? We have the answers to all of these questions and more. Keep reading to uncover the info you need to determine if a graphic design career is right for you.
Common questions about being a graphic designer
Graphic design salary information is important. But beyond meeting your financial needs, a career should also fit your personality, skills and lifestyle. Take a moment to read up on the answers to some other important questions about working as a graphic designer.
1. How much do graphic designers make?
There’s a lot of factors to consider when assessing graphic designer salary information. Earning potential can depend on several elements, such as experience, education, geography, specialization, job setting and more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual graphic designer salary in 2020 was $53,380.1 Compare that to the $41,950 national average for all occupations and you can see these creative pros earn a respectable living.1
The industry graphic designers work in can also have an influence on their earning potential. According to the BLS, salaries for graphic designers working in advertising, public relations and related services earned a slightly higher 2020 median annual salary ($55,800) than those working in other common industries such as printing and publishing.1
Keep in mind, there are other advanced positions in the field that graphic designers can potentially work towards to increase their earning potential. For example, graphic designers may have viable paths to pursuing roles as special effects artists and animators, art directors or web developers and digital designers.
2. What are some important technical graphic design skills to have?
This is a key question for any aspiring graphic designer. You’ll need to take some time to assess yourself and identify the areas in which you need to improve to align with what employers are seeking.
To help with that, we used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 52,000 graphic designer job postings from the past year.2 The data helped us identify some of the top technical graphic design skills and competencies employers are seeking.
Here’s what we found:2
- Adobe Creative Suite® (Photoshop®, InDesign®, Illustrator®, After Effects® Acrobat®)
- Social media
- Website design
- Digital design
- Project management
- Marketing materials
- Art direction
3. What are some important qualities of graphic designers?
The technical skills outlined above are necessary for graphic designers to execute the actual tasks assigned to them. But that’s not all you’ll need to be successful. There are several transferable skills needed in order to successfully bring an idea from concept to creation and navigate the world of professional graphic design.
Here are some of the top non-technical skills, qualities and abilities you’ll need:
- Creativity: This one probably goes without saying, but graphic designers are tasked with identifying creative solutions to deliver a message or solve a problem. This requires an innate ability to think outside the box and bring forth innovative ideas on a regular basis.
- Analytical: A graphic designer should be able to step outside their own mind and view the product or service analytically and from different perspectives. That way, they can help anticipate how the audience will receive it.
- Communication: Graphic designers must possess strong written and oral communication skills to effectively work with team members and clients alike. Smart, incisive questioning helps them understand expectations so their designs will align with their client’s vision.
- Collaboration: The final output of a graphic designer is more of a team effort than you might think. They need to work well with copywriters, project managers and other key client stakeholders and navigate the challenges that can come with competing priorities.
- Time management: Designers are often faced with the challenge of working on several projects with various deadlines at the same time. Being able to juggle multiple projects and meet stringent deadlines is essential to a successful design career.
- Research: Graphic design techniques and trends are constantly evolving, which means the learning is never done for designers. In order to ensure their designs are meeting client objectives, they need to be willing to dig up insights about their audience and explore new strategies.
4. What are some common graphic design specialties?
Beyond designing for print or web, graphic designers can specialize in a number of different niche areas. Some common design specialties include:
- User interface (UI) design
- Web design
- Application design
- Animation and motion graphics
- User experience (UX) design
- Information architecture
As you can see, many of these specializations lean toward digital design. Employers are placing a premium on ensuring internet users’ interactions and experiences with their websites or applications are both intuitive and aesthetically pleasing.
5. What education and experience do graphic designers need?
For any graphic designer looking to enter the field, there are a few key factors employers typically consider.
While it may be tempting to forego a formal education and try to become a self-taught designer, there are some good reasons to be wary of this approach. For one, the BLS reports graphic designers typically need a Bachelor’s degree in design or a related field.1
Our analysis of graphic design job postings also supports the case for pursuing a formal education. The data revealed that 86 percent of job postings are seeking candidates with at least an Associate’s degree.2
This is a tried-and-true way for job seekers to round out their resumes. A graphic design internship shows employers you’ve handled yourself well in a professional environment. Often, this experience also provides you an opportunity to build your portfolio with real-life work examples.
Not only that, but internships can also offer excellent networking opportunities. A reference or recommendation from established professional connections can certainly help your employment prospects.
Relevant projects and work experience
Sometimes the best form of education for graphic designers is to learn by doing. If you’re looking to build your graphic design portfolio, you’d be wise to take on as many projects and small jobs as possible. Not all of these projects will be absolute showstoppers, and that’s ok! Keep in mind you’re trying to highlight smart aesthetic choices while staying within the practical bounds of a project.
If possible, you should try to build up a variety of different types of design projects for your portfolio. Versatility is valuable, particularly for smaller employers that may not have the resources to hire a full team of specialized designers. If you intend on pursuing a specialization, make sure your expertise is well-supported in your portfolio of work.
6. Where do graphic designers work?
Graphic designers can work nearly anywhere—particularly as more employers embrace remote work. But similar to most professional-service jobs, employers tend to be concentrated in areas with larger populations. Most of these jobs can be divided into three categories: in-house, agency and freelance.
In-house graphic designers work as part of a standalone company’s internal creative team. Agency graphic designers are employed by a business that provides design services for several clients, and freelance designers are self-employed—typically working with multiple clients.
For a more in-depth look at the different work settings, check out our article: Where Do Graphic Designers Work? In-House vs. Agency vs. Freelance.
Launch your graphic design career
So how much do graphic designers make? You now have the information you were seeking, and the answers to other important questions you should be asking. But there is still a lot you don’t know about a career in graphic designer.
Now is your chance to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the position by hearing from seasoned designers themselves. Hear their insight in our article “What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Graphic Designer.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed February 2022]www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 52,935 graphic design job postings, Feb. 1, 2021 – Jan. 31, 2022).
Adobe Creative Suite, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, After Effects and Acrobat are registered trademarks of Adobe, Inc.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2022.