For those considering a career in graphic design, freelancing is an increasingly popular route with 19% of all graphic designers choosing this path. This article offers a comprehensive guide to what being a freelance graphic designer entails, the skills required, and how to navigate the freelance market.

Key Insights

  • Freelance graphic designers, making up 19% of all graphic designers, have greater control over their work, but also have added responsibilities in client interaction and job prospecting.
  • A successful graphic designer needs proficiency in professional design programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, strong time management skills, and the ability to work well with others.
  • Freelancing can provide opportunities to build a portfolio, develop client relationships, and offers control over assignments accepted. However, it also requires significant time for finding and negotiating contracts.
  • Freelance designers earn either by charging hourly or based on a standard commission price. Freelance job services might collect a fee and have oversight on how freelancers charge clients.
  • Key steps to becoming a successful freelance graphic designer include learning graphic design skills, establishing a place in the market, building client relationships, and deciding whether to expand freelance work or apply for advanced positions.
  • Noble Desktop offers a range of graphic design classes that can equip aspiring designers with the needed skills. The training options also extend to digital marketing and social media marketing which can help in building a brand identity.

While the majority of entry-level Graphic Designers will work for design studios, an increasingly large number of designers are finding work as self-employed freelancers. As of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 19% of all Graphic Designers are self-employed freelancers. These designers will have greater control over their own hours and the work that they do, but they will have more responsibilities in terms of dealing directly with clients and finding their own work.

What is a Graphic Designer?

A Graphic Designer is a creative professional who combines text and visually appealing imagery to share a message with an audience. This could be through advertising, social media, or product packaging, to name a few. They are well-versed in design principles like color and typography and are committed to staying up-to-date on the latest trends. Whether they work for an agency or freelancer, they collaborate with clients and other team members to create high-quality designs that appeal to new and existing customers. 

In addition to proficiency in professional design programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, a successful Graphic Designer must also work well with others. Graphic Designers rarely work alone, and since their job is to create a product that matches a client's vision, they must be willing to accept feedback and suggestions from others. Time management skills are also crucial for a Graphic Designer; since most of them work freelance, they often work on multiple projects for many clients simultaneously. 

Read more about what a Graphic Designer does

What is Graphic Design Freelancing Like?

Graphic Design freelancing involves self-employed designers finding and negotiating their own contracts and commissions for individual clients rather than receiving assignments from a firm that employs them. This means the largest responsibility distinguishing freelance design from other design careers is the amount of work that will go into finding and negotiating contracts with potential clients.

Most commonly, freelance Graphic Designers will advertise their services and their general prices on a digital platform like Fiverr or Upwork. They will explain their qualifications and specialties and then they will attempt to build a consumer base. Once a client expresses interest in a freelancer’s work, they will begin the process of negotiating rates and deadlines. Clients will tell a designer what they expect out of the project and when they want it completed, and designers will determine whether or not this is a project that they plan to take on. 

Once a designer has accepted a contract, they will decide whether or not they have reached their limit or have room for more projects. Regardless, at this point, they will start working on the design project and keep in contact with their contractor to ensure that they are delivering the project on time and up to the standard that is desired. This may result in more client communication than studio designers, though this will vary from client to client. Once a project has been completed, freelancers will turn over their work and receive their payment.

Freelance pay will vary. Some freelancers charge by the hour, while others charge based on a standard commission price. Sometimes, freelance job services will collect a fee and have a degree of oversight on how freelancers charge clients and how and when payment is processed.

Is Graphic Design Freelancing Right for Me?

Deciding whether or not they want to freelance is an important decision for Graphic Designers at the start of their careers. There are compelling arguments for freelancing, but there are also a lot of added potential stresses and issues associated with freelancing. As a general rule, freelancing is a reasonable choice if you don’t mind the added responsibilities and want greater control over your work.

Freelancers will be able to avoid the process of finding a job opening and going through the paces involved in getting hired for that job. For many aspiring designers, breaking into the industry can be the most difficult part of the process, and freelance work offers an opportunity to bypass the possibly disheartening process of looking for studio employment.

Once they start freelancing, designers can develop working relationships with clients and construct a portfolio of projects they opt to take on. This gives freelancers added experience working with clients, which is a useful skill to demonstrate once they start applying for more advanced graphic design jobs, and gives them added control over the assignments they accept. Rather than doing whatever job is assigned to them by a manager, they can pick and choose the contracts that they accept.

The downside to freelancing is that you will often find yourself spending as much time finding and negotiating contracts and ensuring that they have enough work as they do working on their assignments. They may also quickly find that working with clients directly isn’t an aspect of the job they particularly enjoy. Freelancers may find it difficult to work with clients, particularly in very competitive marketplaces where clients can contract many different designers. Plus, freelancers who want to move away from the gig economy to start their own studio will need to handle all of the difficulties of starting a new business. However, this can be an incredibly rewarding career path.

Freelance Designers will also have to work to ensure that they get enough jobs necessary to sustain themselves. Pay will be far more inconsistent than with regular salaried positions, and freelancers may find that there are dead periods where they have less work than they might prefer. Combined with the increasingly competitive marketplace for freelancers and the possibility of contractors or service providers taking a cut of your pay means that working as a freelance designer may cause you to run into money problems more often than you might prefer.

Steps to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer

Once you’ve decided that freelance graphic design is the right path to starting your career as a Graphic Designer, there are a few steps that you can take to ensure that you succeed. Professional freelance graphic designers will need to take into consideration several factors that studio designers won’t have to consider.

Learn Graphic Design Skills

The first and most important aspect of working as a freelance Graphic Designer is having a firm enough understanding of graphic design skills. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate proficiency in skills like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign so that clients will be convinced to contract your services. This may seem obvious, but if you aren’t incredibly comfortable with the skills involved in graphic design, you will find it difficult to break into the marketplace.

One way to learn these skills is to enroll in a Graphic Design training course or career-certificate program through Noble Desktop. These courses are excellent places to start learning graphic design skills, a wonderful way to build a sample portfolio and provide students with useful networking opportunities.

Establish a Place in the Market

Once you are comfortable with your skills, the next step will be to establish your place in the market and start advertising your work to build a clientele. This will depend on the platform and contracting method you are using, but you’ll need to make yourself visible in the crowded freelance design market. This will often mirror the structure of a digital marketing campaign, as you use platforms like Instagram and Twitter to build a following. It may also involve personal networking projects designed to help find contracts.

To learn more about aspects of the marketing world, such as digital marketing and social media marketing, students should consult the training options available through Noble Desktop. While these aren’t as necessary to learn as graphic design skills, it will make building a brand identity much easier.

Build Relationships with Clients

Once you’ve started working as a freelance Graphic Designer, you’ll want to be sure that you are building good relationships with your clients and providing them with the kinds of work that they are requesting. This is vital to the long-term success of your freelance work, since you will be able to lean on these clients at later stages for more work. Plus, they will be more willing to recommend your services to other clients, which is an important part of building a stable of consistent work. This relationship building can also lead to more easily establishing relationships in other parts of the field, such as helping you find additional employees or better contracts with existing clients.

Expand your Freelance Work or Apply for Advanced Positions

At a certain point in your career, you will need to decide whether you want to continue working as a freelancer and eventually expand your freelance work into a legitimate studio business, or if you want to take your experience and expertise to a firm that is looking for an experienced Graphic Designer. If you’ve worked long enough as a freelancer, you may have become comfortable with the life it entails. At the same time, anyone who began freelancing to build a portfolio and seek more stable employment may find it an ideal choice to pivot to a more structured, higher-paying position in a mid-level to high-level graphic design job. 

Learn the Skills to Become a Graphic Designer at Noble Desktop 

If you want to start a career in graphic design, the graphic design classes offered by Noble Desktop are an excellent place to start. Students can take all their classes remotely or in-person at their Manhattan campus. For students who want to start slow by just learning one popular design program, Noble offers an Adobe Photoshop Bootcamp, an Adobe InDesign Bootcamp, and an Adobe Illustrator Bootcamp. These beginner-friendly courses take just a few days to complete and will provide students with foundational design skills.

For those who feel ready to dive into a more comprehensive program, Noble Desktop’s Graphic Design Certificate might be a better fit. Students will complete hands-on assignments using popular design programs, including Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. This program is ideal for those hoping to start a career as a Graphic Designer. Certificate students at Noble Desktop receive individual career mentorship, where experts in the design industry help craft resumes and portfolios and provide helpful tips for finding lucrative employment. 

If a class isn’t feasible for your current schedule, Noble Desktop has a host of resources on its website to help start your graphic design career. You can browse their collection of articles about Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign if you’re curious about how each program works. You can also review information about other design tools to see if another field might interest you more.