Graphic Design Pricing Part-1

How to price graphic design is a question I’m often asked. As such, here are a few things to consider when setting your graphic design rates.

You have a skill

You’re offering your clients a service. You have a talent that they don’t, and they expect to pay good money for good design. You’re not in competition with the client’s neighbour’s son who has a copy of Photoshop. Far too many designers are undervaluing the wealth of knowledge and experience they’ve amassed because they feel compelled to compete with amateurs. Don’t devalue yourself. People expect to pay well for a quality service. They know that more often than not, you get what you pay for.

It’s okay to specialise

A potential client will sometimes expect just one graphic designer to handle everything from ecommerce websites and communication strategies to book cover design, page layout, and vehicle wraps. That needs a lot of expertise, and you deserve to be well compensated for it. That doesn’t mean you need to take on jobs that don’t excite you. If you want to specialise, and if you think you can make a good living by focusing on particular areas of design, go for it. I’ve been specialising in brand identity design since 2005 and it’s that specialism that’s helped me attract the clients I’m looking for.

Share a bit of “process”

Forget those $50 logo sites. I don’t need to tell you there’s a lot of work involved in a design project that clients don’t often see, but it’s worth remembering that your job is to show people the value of what you do. If you don’t, potential clients might think you just jump in front of a computer, type their company name using a nice typeface, then add a swoosh for some “visual interest.”
Competition, differentiation, market-positioning, audience profiles… these are just a few of the topics you need to question your client about in order to produce an effective design.

Streamline your initial discussions

I’ll often receive a request for a quote that’s similar to this:

“We need a logo and website for our restaurant. Please let us know how much this costs and how long it will take to complete.”

Thing is, it’s impossible to give a quote without knowing more. By having some standardised questions prepared in advance you can speed up your client acquisition as well as weed out those people who want it all for a couple hundred dollars.

I asked a few designers these questions:

How do you charge clients?
How do you accept payment?
Why do you recommend working this way?

Here’s the first of three posts, offering an insight into how graphic designers manage their finances.

How do you normally charge clients?
On smaller-mid sized projects I require a 50% deposit and the balance prior to release of production-ready files. On larger (longer-term) projects with several stages of deliverables, I require the same 50% deposit prior to starting any work, but break up the fee schedule based on deliverables. A retainer is usually applied to the end of the project, too.


I collect a percentage up front and at major milestones (determined in advance, like delivery of initial creative, if it’s a website then delivery of first level pages, etc). Usually something like 30% up front, 30% at milestone 1, 30% at milestone 2, 10% upon completion. At each stage, I send a separate invoice. A proposal up front will break down the cost. I calculate the total price with my own “secret” hourly rate (in other words, the client never knows the hourly) and how many hours I think each step will take me. Always remember to include extra hours for meetings (including drive time), email, phone calls and unforeseen problems — I never seem to include enough for this! I created an interactive form / worksheet for Tara a while ago for calculating an appropriate hourly rate.

What methods of payment do you accept?
I accept wire (bank) transfer for overseas clients, paypal when a client prefers this or is in a rush, and most often for Canadian/US based clients — a cheque by mail. I usually charge a small fee to cover the wire transfer and paypal payment methods.

Why would you recommend working this way?
This works for me. It spreads the risk yet gives the client (who may be a first time client in many cases) the option of not paying everything at once to an unknown designer/studio. It’s a pretty fair process. The only added advice is that even if a client has ‘proven’ themselves to be trustworthy by having paid your deposit and even subsequent payments, you must not continue to provide work into future phases of a project before getting payments as per the signed agreement / fee schedule. I have learned this the hard way. Trust me — it’s worth swallowing your pride and overcoming any fear of confrontation and not moving forward on a project until you get payment as per your mutual agreed-upon contract. Many unexpected things can come up – even personal emergencies or as we now know — catastrophic economic upheavals — that can upend even a trustworthy and fair client’s willingness or ability to pay you.

In terms of payment solutions, bank transfers are my favourite method of payment given the speed and ease, unfortunately this becomes a little tricky when overseas work is involved. This is where PayPal steps in, although the fees do tend to be a little depressing! But I suppose these are relative when considering the benefits.


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