How to build a graphic design budget

How much should graphic design cost? Tricky question. You’re bound to get dizzy seesawing between the extremes that some designers and agencies charge. For every designer who charges $300 for a full website design, there’s someone else who bills in the tens of thousands. You’ll also quickly realize that high prices don’t always equal high quality.

There’s a lot to think about—so what’s the best way to go about building a graphic design budget?

Whether you’re just starting your business or you’re planning some design changes for the one you already have, we’ve got a few guidelines you can follow as you’re setting your graphic design budget. And, although the adage “You get what you pay for!” is somewhat true, we promise you can find great talent without completely blowing your budget.

Build your graphic design budget

Factor in your graphic design costs by building a estimated monthly budget with this simple five-step process:

  1. Estimate your monthly income
  2. List your fixed design expenses
  3. List your variable design expenses
  4. Anticipate your one-time design expenses 
  5. Create the budget

By VelikiMetilj via 99designs by Vista.

Fixed costs can usually be carried over from one month to the next, like your lease, utilities and payroll. Variable costs are those with prices that fluctuate each month, including your cell phone bill and supplies. One-time expenses happen only once.

Design needs can be fixed, variable or one-time expenses—depending on the need. For example, a logo and a website are typically one-time expenses (at least until you rebrand), while digital ads are likely fixed or variable expenses.

Once you know your creative needs and have an idea of how much you’re able to allocate toward design expenses, you can start researching the best design solutions for your budget.

Budgeting for an agency

When you are pricing out graphic design agencies, chances are you’ll be hitting the higher end of design rates.

via Pentagram

Professional agencies generally charge in the thousands (and beyond) because you’re paying for a company to handle everything for you—from creative to administration. Agencies often conduct market research and competitor analysis to see how they can make your brand stand out. They’ll employ entire creative teams that will approach your project from lots of different angles.

Not all agencies are created equal. Just like hiring for any position, you should do your research into their work, style and client satisfaction.

Yes, one of the biggest hurdles to hiring a design agency is the high cost, but if you’ve got the budget, it’s definitely an option for you.

Budgeting for a freelancer

For small- to medium-sized budgets, you will likely look to hiring a freelancer for your graphic design needs. An awesome professional designer will get to know your brand and the message you’re trying to communicate, then use their training and expertise to create marketing materials that make your business stand out.

Unlike an agency, when you work directly with a designer on your own, you get an additional level of control. You can look through portfolios yourself and find someone whose style you like. You can even initiate a brief phone call in which you get a feel for whether you’re work well together.

Find freelance designers

How do you find a great designers? Start by browsing portfolios and look for someone whose style matches your preferences. You’ll be able to ask for project quotes and compare rates to see who will best fit inside your design budget.

A second option is to work with several designers at once by launching a design contest on 99designs by Vista. After you post your project, multiple designers will submit their concepts based on your design needs. Then, you select your favorite! This is a great way to collaborate with a variety of designers so you can find the perfect one for you and start building an ongoing working relationship.

Get quotes and ask questions

As you start searching for freelance graphic designers, you’ll likely notice costs are all over the board, even when you’re pricing the same type of item with multiple freelance designers on the same site.

Once you get a few quotes, start a conversation with your potential freelancers and ask lots of questions so you can understand exactly how much your design will cost and how your money is being spent.

  • How long do you estimate this design will take?
  • What will the review schedule look like?
  • How many revisions do I get?
  • What is included with the project rate?

So, how much is too much? Here’s a look at some typical graphic designer rates:


Hourly rate*

Project rate*


  • $50-$150
  • $300-$5,000

Brand guide

  • $50-$150
  • $200-$3,000

Website (template)

  • $50-$200
  • $700-$2,000

Website (full)

  • $50-$200
  • $800-$5,000

Digital ad

  • $30-$75
  • $180-$500

Business card

  • $30-$75
  • $150-$500

*Please note that these are only rate estimates. Freelance designers are able to charge whatever they’d like for their work, so you may find rates outside of these ranges.

Hourly vs. project rates

Hourly rates

Many freelancers charge by the hour—especially for ongoing creative work like social media posts, digital ads or emails. When you see an hourly rate, keep in mind that freelancers take on the full responsibility of running a business, including healthcare, equipment and marketing.

Project rates

Other freelancers charge a one-off fee per project—usually for projects that have a clear beginning and end. Think a logo, business card, flyer or template. This means you’ll get a flat fee for your design rather than a surprise invoice for 20 hours once it’s complete.

Freelancers typically have a rate structure they prefer, but ask questions and negotiate with your designer to come to a rate that works (and makes sense) for both of you.

Put your graphic design budget to work

The more you know about how much you can spend on design, the easier it will be to find a designer who can work within your budget. Whether you choose to buy all your design in one month or spread it out over months or years, once you’ve found a good designer, hopefully you’ll be able to keep that person around for affordable, high-quality design work whenever you need it.

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Author: Guest Blogger