May 3, 2017

I recently found quite a few angry posts on craigslist which were posted in response to ads offering graphic design jobs with high qualifications and experience requirements – and they were only offering $8-$10 an hour.

Lowball OfferMany graphic designers seemed to be offended by this, as they should be. Real graphic designers are talented, knowledgable and professional. To be fair to cheapskate employers, however, there are too many recent tech school grads who may have some talent, but very little knowledge and experience who will work for very low wages. But you get what you pay for and will end up paying a professional to fix the mistakes. This can be extremely costly – especially when dealing with print media. You can’t change ink on paper on thousands of printed pieces!  New, $9 designers may know something about design and they may have a little hands on experience with the appropriate software, but think about this:

Your neighbor or nephew knows something about dental hygiene and teeth. He also knows where  he can buy a bunch of dentist’s tools. You don’t want to pay your overpriced dentist. For half of what you pay your dentist, he can do your next root canal.  You probably wouldn’t go for that, and will likely end up at the real dentist eventually.
So why should your business be any different? Bad design can hurt and you’ll end up paying much more to fix it!


If you have already learned some of this the hard way, Ker Communications can help with 20 years of fixing rookie mistakes in the printing industry. If you are looking for graphic design that will look great, get your message across, AND will work properly, contact Ker Communications.


What follows is one of the posts I found on craigslist which, in addition to a well reasoned rant, also contains proper suggested rates for graphic design work.
These are not Ker Communications rates as we prefer to quote on a per-project basis.

$9 an hour?? When will you people learn? Seriously!

Here’s a very serious breakdown for you of fair market rates for freelance design services in the Greater Pittsburgh region:

$20-35/hr 0-2 years experience (entry-level)

$30-45/hr 3-5 years experience (junior-level)

$40-55/hr 5-7 years experience (mid-level)

$50-65/hr 7-10 years experience (senior-level)

$60-75/hr 10+ years experience (director-level)

If you’re looking to hire full-time, the rule is half the contract rate times 2000 hours per year. Can’t do the math? No problem:

$20-35k/yr 0-2 years experience (entry-level)

$30-45k/yr 3-5 years experience (junior-level)

$40-55k/yr 5-7 years experience (mid-level)

$50-65k/yr 7-10 years experience (senior-level)

$60-75k/yr 10+ years experience (director-level)

At no time in a qualified designer’s career is $9/hr a fair market rate for services rendered.

You job seekers out there, take notes! This is how you should be pricing yourselves. Consult the AIGA or any qualified professional in our industry, and he/she will tell you the same.

These are not Ker Communications rates as we prefer to quote on a per-project basis.

  • Kris

    Hi, and thank you for posting this information. I needed to know these rates as a freelance artist working through a print broker. I am so tired of being made feel like my 10+ experience is worth very little. Funny, the broker is now asking me to turn over all my graphic art files (10 years worth) so he can give them to a printer that he recently became employed full-time with. He wants to give my files to their graphic arts department. Do you know copyright law? I do, and even taught a class in it several times. I’m not a lawyer, but I am very familiar with AIGA and the Graphic Artists Guild’s policies on the subject as well. I am thankful that you seem to be aware of the rules governing our industry and am shocked that some printers/brokers do not. ~ Thanks again.

  • Steph Louden

    this is great! do you think this applies to the philadelphia area also?

    • Unfortunately, probably not. This is also not what most designers are making here in Pittsburgh either, but the rates should be much closer to this than where they are.

      In the almost 3 years that have passed since this was written, things have taken a turn for the worse for graphic design rates. The economy is always a convenient excuse for low pay – especially when it is an under-appreciated skill like design. The belief that since you work with computers, it is “easy” and the computer does everything for you is still very common among people who have never tried to create something, whether it is for print or digital. So the same employers who didn’t want to pay an experienced designer more than say $15 an hour three years ago, can now blame the economy and offer even less. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of hungry designers who lack the self respect or the reserve food supply to hold out for a fair wage. It is frustrating, but it isn’t just design these days. I know other skilled workers who can’t cover the bills without a lot of overtime or a second job because the cost of living has gone up, but wages have not really moved up much for about 15 years.

      To be fair to employers, it is tough to price some things in a way that is fair to all involved. For example, a very small business needs a logo, and they may not understand the importance of brand identity. They would be happy to mess around with a graphics program and a couple pieces of clip art and call it a logo, or pay you or me for what they think is something that simple. They may not understand that this is going to be a huge part of how people see and remember them, and it should look more than awesome and be a memorable image that truly fits who and what they want to be. So they think it should be $100 or less, total. So the sales person at your job gives it some thought and accept that this is not a Fortune 500 company, this is a local plumber. The logo is not going to be on the side of a blimp, or on a huge lighted billboard at Times Square, so maybe $150 is ok if you can wrap it up quickly.

      Here’s where that falls apart: After several meetings, revisions and so on, the time on the job is about 10 hours. The sales person gets a commission, and your company ends up losing money on this if they are paying you anything close to respectable. So as a designer, you are held hostage by what the sales people or your boss thinks you can do in a short amount of time. Some never quite get the complexity and just want to make that sale, regardless of the lack of profit. Those sales people should be let go, but more often than not, employers don’t see the big picture and keep the sales guys and continue paying peanuts to the people who actually do things. When you get fed up and leave, some recent grad will take your place – maybe for even less.

      My best advice, I am sorry to say, is to hold out for what you can really accept, consider any additional benefits (job security/stability can be an important one) and only give it away when it will really benefit you in the long run. Like, if you have to take super low pay in order to get some portfolio pieces from non-school projects, or to be able to put a well known agency on your resume. I have worked for low wages at a place that just could not afford to pay better, but this was otherwise a very cool gig. Very flexible on things like time off and scheduling, and just generally good people to work with. They made up for the low pay by allowing me to use their computers, printers and other materials for freelance work, and let me print my clients’ work for the cost of ink, paper and press supplies. That way I got my freelance rate, was able to offer printing without having to shop around to different vendors, and even take a little profit from the printing.

      Hang in there – graphic design can be fun and rewarding, but maybe not as romantic and profitable as the recruiter at the art school made it out to be.