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The no BS guide to freelance design rates

freelance design rates

Let’s be honest: Freelance design rates are confusing.

After all, every project is different. Every freelancer is different. And every client is different. That means rates vary from project to project, and from designer to designer.

However, there are a few good systems to help find yours when freelancing—and we’ll cover them in this article.

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The no BS truth about freelance graphic design rates

There is no hard-and-set formula for finding your freelance design rates. We can spend all day throwing around different suggestions and survey statistics—but the fact is, your rate will be entirely unique to you.

After all, there are many different elements that go into a freelancer’s rates. Here are a few of the most crucial deciding factors:


Where you live plays a big role in how much you decide to charge.

After all, a freelancer in San Francisco will have more of an incentive to charge a higher rate than a freelancer in cities with lower overhead expenses, such as Boise, Idaho.

And it’s not just your location, it’s your client’s location as well. If your client lives in a major city, they might actually expect to pay a premium fee for your services. Whereas, a client in a small, rural community might be more inclined to charge less.

Pro tip: Consider benchmarking your rate to a specific city. For example, many freelance designers charge their rates by the standard for New York City.

To learn more about how to start a business across the US, check our our guides:

How to start a business in New York

How to start a business in California

How to start a business in Arizona

How to start a business in Florida

freelance design rates, location


Your level of experience matters—to a degree. The more experienced you are, the more clients will be willing to pay for your work.

At the same time, experience isn’t everything when it comes to freelancing. Beginners who create extraordinary work can still charge a premium fee for their services.

As a rule of thumb, though, you can expect your rates to reflect on your level of experience.

Type of work

The type of projects your client requires also determines how much you charge.

After all, a complete website redesign shouldn’t cost the same as a single hero image. So it’s only natural that your rate should change when faced with two very different types of work.

In addition, the type of project can affect not only the total fee that you end up charging, but also the type of rate itself (more on that later). For a one-time logo design, for example, you might decide to charge a flat fee. But for a more large-scale, ongoing project like a website redesign, you might want to go with an hourly rate.

Value for client

Another factor going into freelance design rates is the prospect of the project potentially bringing in a lot of money for your client.

For example, if you know that the product you’re designing is expected to earn the client millions of dollars, you should absolutely charge more for it. There are a few good ways to charge for high-value projects too, which we’ll get into below.

Personal budget needs

The last element to take into account is your personal monthly and yearly expenses.

Things like mortgage, rent, utility bills and other major spendings that you anticipate, should be added up to create your monthly and annual budget.

In addition, freelancers need to pay close attention to elements like insurance, taxes, savings, sick days, and long-term investments (a.k.a. the things that come with a full-time job). As a freelancer, you’re in charge of your own benefits package, so it’s up to you to make sure that those things are built into your rate.

Pro tip: To start, it’s helpful to figure out your annual goal salary. How much do you want to be earning each year as a freelancer? From there, you can break down your hourly rate or project rate.

freelance graphic design rates, budget, experience, type of work

While all types of rates have their pros and cons, project-based or retainers do have an obvious advantage.

The 3 types of freelance graphic design rates

There are three main types of freelance design rates. Here’s how to find the one that works for you:

Hourly rate

This rate is the most common amongst beginner freelance designers or people who've recently transitioned into freelance design—and for good reason. First, it’s incredibly simple: You charge a set amount for each hour of work. That’s it. Coming up with your hourly rate is fairly simple, too.

Here’s a handy back-of-a-napkin formula to help you figure it out:

  • Step 1: Add up all of your monthly expenses (utilities, rent, taxes, insurance, etc.), with what you’d like to save up on the side (savings, a pension fund, etc.).

  • Step 2: Divide that number by 52, for the number of weeks in a year.

  • Step 3: Divide that number by 40, for the number of hours in a work week.

Let’s say your goal salary number is $50,000 per year. Your calculations should look something like this:

  • 50,000 / 52 = 961.53

  • 961.53 / 40 = 24.0

Which means that your hourly rate should be around $24 an hour.

Note: This is only a rough estimate. It does not take into account taxes and other factors which are unique to each country, state, and individual.

Still don’t know how much to charge? Here are a few good rates to start off with:

  • Beginner freelance designer (<1 year - 3 years): $20 - $35 / hour

  • Intermediate freelance designer (3 years - 5 years): $35 - $50 / hour

  • Advanced freelancer (5+ years): $50 - $150 / hour

It’s worth noting that most advanced freelance designers tend to move away from hourly rate. That’s because they don’t effectively capture the amount of work that goes into a project. Time isn’t the only resource after all. There’s also mental energy, sweat equity, and more.


This rate is most commonly used by experienced freelancers. Instead of giving the client an hourly estimate, they charge a flat-fee based on the scope of the project.

Unlike hourly rates, this rate takes into account not just the amount of time a project takes, but also the energy and resources.

Pro tip: Double your resentment fee. Your resentment fee is the absolute lowest amount that you’d perform this project for. It’s so low that you resent it. Take that amount and double it. That’s your freelance design rate for the project.

freelance graphic design rates formula and calculation

Another good way to look at project fees is by taking into account the value for the client.

Are you designing a splashy landing page for a client's product? Estimate roughly how much that product will generate them, and make sure to reflect that in your rate.

Better yet, you can always ask your client how much they anticipate to earn with this product. They might be willing to divulge some numbers, which can give you a better idea of how much to charge.


This is the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for freelance designers. A retainer is when a client pays you a set amount each month your design services.

Think of it as somewhere between freelancing and full-time employment. Retainers offer the consistent work stream of a full-time job, with the flexibility of freelancing.

To find your retainer fee, you need to discuss the finer details of the client’s expectations of your work each month. Ask them for an estimate of how many hours they want you to be on call for work each month.

From there, you can use your hourly fee to come up with a good monthly retainer rate.

Which rate is the best?

When it comes to the best type of freelance design rate, the answer is simple: It depends. While all types of rates have their pros and cons, project-based or retainers do have an obvious advantage.

Why? Let’s look at an example.

Imagine you’re an experienced freelance designer who charges $70 per hour for graphic design work. A client approaches you asking for you to design a landing page for a product. Awesome! You agree and get to work…

...for 3 hours.

In less than half a work day, you just finished making a great landing page that’ll make the client hundreds of thousands of dollars in leads, and you only made $210.

That’s a problem. Instead, you could charge a project fee for it based on the value of the work. This would allow you to charge anywhere between $1,000 - $4,000 for that one landing page.

There are still a lot of reasons you might want to go with an hourly rate instead. You might even simply prefer it. But for the majority of experienced freelance designers, project-based rates or retainers are their best bet.

freelance design rates which is best

The most important thing about freelance graphic design rates

There’s one simple truth when it comes to your freelance rates:

You’re probably overthinking it.

Too many freelance designers sweat over their rate, when they can just pick one and start working. Freelance rates are dynamic, so you can start to adjust yours over time.

Ultimately, your rate is going to be entirely unique to you.

So stop stressing. Pick a rate. And earn money as a freelance designer.

Freelance design rates FAQ

What if the client disagrees with my rate?

That’s okay! A little haggling is actually good, and it’s an indicator that you’re in the right direction.

Why? You want to try and earn the most that you can with your work. This is your livelihood after all. If your client agrees to your rate immediately, it’s a good sign that you likely charged yourself too low.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to end up charging way below your worth - and that’s something that’s entirely unique to you

What if I end up charging too little?

What if I want to change my rate with a client?

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