Cheap Graphic Design vs Expensive Graphic Design


Have you searched for a graphic designer, noticed a wide range in pricing and wondered why?  If you haven’t had much experience working with or a firm understanding of graphic design, you may feel that some designers are charging exorbitant fees.  Especially when you can find cheap graphic designers doing what seems to be the same type of work for a lot less.  I promise the vast majority of designers are not trying get over on you with what may seem to be “high” prices.

Today, I am going to attempt to explain why there is such a variance in pricing and few pros and cons to using graphic designers from each end of that spectrum.

What does it take to become a graphic designer?

To start off, what does it take to become a graphic designer?  I am often asked how I got into this field and if I went to school for it.  For me, the answer is yes.  I did go to school to become a graphic designer and I didn’t go to an “art school.”  My journey to becoming a graphic designer took me through a graphic design bachelor’s degree program at the University of Alabama, in Huntsville.  However higher ed, or “college” is not the only route one can take to becoming a graphic designer.  It  may be an easier route of entry into the field, but by no means the only way.

There are a host of very talented and successful graphic designers that are self-taught.  Some took classes in high school that gave them an introduction into the field, and others dabbled in it on the side and turned it into a full-fledged second career.

When it comes to pricing, experience is the biggest determiner.

The more experience a graphic designer has, the higher the cost to hire them.  This is because you are literally paying for access to their knowledge base, skill level and expertise.  On a corporate level or ad agency level, the same can be seen in graphic design salaries.  School is great, but seeing and learning how what I learned in school translates to the real world is an experience of its own.

There is no way that everything I know now, could have been learned in those 4 years of college.  From paper stocks; printing methods; translating print to digital applications; how marketing principles and advertising factor into design; down to the nitty gritty nuances of local, federal and international regulations for things like packaging design.  Add to that the fast and changing pace of technology, and you have to be living and breathing this field all the time to keep up.

I’ve seen a lot of great work come from newer and less experienced designers and there are some that I think are on track to have excellent careers.  I would recommend them in a heart beat to someone that may have a budget that’s smaller and I have referred work over to them.  However, I also have seen more rookie-type mistakes made that can completely be attributed to experience level. It doesn’t make them a bad designer, they’re just less experienced and the likelihood that they will continue to make mistakes of that nature are slim.  You learn from experience.

This is why salaries for graphic designers range in the same way you see pricing models and rates range with freelancers.

Full-time freelancer vs. A part-time freelancer

You will also see a variance in pricing in regards to whether or not the graphic designer you choose is a full-time freelancer or a part-time freelancer with a day job.  Let’s be honest, the financial revenue needs of the full-timer are probably going to be higher than that of the part-timer.  The part-timer with a day job has another source of income, the day job.  The full-timer has a day job as well…their full-time freelance business.

The part-timer can afford to charge below market prices because they can make up their income needs with their day job.  The full-timer has to charge at least average market prices (in relation to their skill level), because this is how they eat and earn a living.  It is their day job.

There are pros and cons to hiring each.  With the part-timer, you can potentially hire a more experienced designer at a lower rate.  However because they have to work around their full-time day job, they may have less time available to work on projects.  Their turn around times may be slower than that of a full-timer and because they have to be mindful of how much work they can actually take on and do, there may be a waiting period to start your project.

The full-timer may be more expensive, but you may also get quicker turn arounds and have better access to them for questions and concerns.

The proof is in the portfolio

Whether you choose a “cheap” graphic designer or an “expensive” graphic designer, make sure to really sift through their portfolio and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about it.  Unfortunately there are some not so great designers that lift the work of others and place it in their portfolio as their own. If you see a difference in the quality of work through out a graphic designer’s portfolio, it could be an indicator that this is the case.  Ask them to tell you more about that particular project.  If they cannot tell you why they went in the direction that they did and background about the project, it’s probably not a project they actually did.

If you are looking at the portfolio of a designer that is less experienced and you are seeing work done for large brands, don’t dismiss this work as being something they lifted from another designer.  It may be conceptual work done in school or as an exercise to build and broaden their portfolio; they are showcasing what they are capable of doing.  If you ask them about it, they should be able to defend the piece and tell you about the project’s background and why they went in the design direction that they did.  It is a good indicator of what kind of work they could do for you.

A more experienced designer may also have more recognizable brand’s in their portfolio and some may not.  However the majority of the portfolio, if not all of it, will contain real produced pieces.  These portfolio pieces will give you an idea of the type of experience they have and industries, methodologies and constraints they have worked within.

Choose what’s best for you and your budget.

At the end of the day, you have to choose the right designer for your needs and budget.  If your budget is small and your need is immediate, your choices are going to be a bit limited.  However, it doesn’t mean that you cannot still end up with a quality design product.  You may just have to make a few sacrifices with the amount of time it may take to achieve it, the number of revisions necessary and you may need to exercise a little more patience.  Almost every designer wants to please and make the client happy (within reason).  No designer wants to make a crappy design and less experienced designers want portfolio worthy work to showcase their skills.

If you want a more experienced graphic designer and have a medium-sized budget, someone that freelances on the side may be a good fit for you.  They will be more expensive than their less experienced counterparts, but they may be cheaper than someone of the same skill-level or higher that freelances on a full-time basis.  It may be a little harder to get on their docket and for them to take your project on though.  If you have a quick turn-around need, they may not be able to fit the bill.  Because they have a “day job,” they have less available time than someone that does it full-time.  If you can be flexible with your timeline and turn-around expectations, this may be a good fit for you.

For the more experienced graphic designers, you are going to need a reasonable budget because they are going to be more “expensive.”  Think of it in terms of hiring a lawyer.  You can get a “cheap” lawyer, fresh out of school and eager to please, to handle your case and they may do a good job.  However, the more experienced lawyer that has handled hundreds of cases like yours may get you a better result.  There is a lot of knowledge gained with years of experience.  They have been tested and proven by every client before you.  The same is true for graphic designers.  

For all three:  the entry-level designer; mid-level designer; and senior-level designer, you can get good work.  Use your budget needs, their portfolio credit and client testimonies to make a decision on the best fit for you.  Hopefully, after reading this, you have a better understanding on why some graphic designers are cheaper than others and what this can mean for you.

Read our article of Cheap Logo Design vs Expensive Logo Design

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