How to Become A Freelance Graphic Designer

For those with a passion for design, an eye for color, and a flair for visual communication, graphic design may be an enticing career path. While many graphic designers do work in marketing agencies or design firms, working from home or freelancing is a viable direction, appealing to those who prefer to work from home or “be their own boss”.

With this freedom and flexibility comes extra responsibility, however! But, many find that this extra responsibility is worth the effort and prefer the idea of retaining creative control over their projects.

So, What Is a Freelance Graphic Designer?

Graphic designers are the technological and artistic wizards who present messages and information in an easy to understand and memorable way. They create and manipulate images, color, and styles, to fascinate, capture attention, and promote. They are masters of visual communication who use the technological tools of the day to generate their art in accordance with marketing principles to speak to a target audience.

Freelancers are independent contractors who don’t work for a specific employer. Instead, they may:

  • Contract directly with companies who request design services
  • Work with clients through an agency on a per-project basis
  • Find their own clients independently through networking or online freelancing resources

Instead of receiving assignments from an employer and a salary, they typically negotiate the amount they will be paid for the project. If there are other people that need to be hired, photographers or marketing consultants, for example, the freelancer may be in charge of that aspect, as well.

How to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer

With so many people interested in graphic design careers, artistic creativity in most cases will not be enough to carry you through. It is increasingly important to know and demonstrate your understanding of design basics and the latest technologies. For many companies, seeing a degree or certificate in graphic design in a candidate’s resume provides some security that they likely know what they are doing. Marketing know-how is also a huge asset, since in most cases, your work will be used to sell products or promote companies.

Having an education from an art school or through programs, such as those offered by Hussian College, is a good start. Not only will you learn the skills needed in your graphic design career, but throughout your program you will be building a portfolio and likely networking with other professionals in the field. This can open some serious doors for you in the future!

What Kind of Classes Do Graphic Design Students Take?

Upon acceptance into an art school, students will take a variety of classes designed to educate them on the fundamentals of design and get their creative juices flowing.

Depending on the institution, students may have different program streams to choose from. At Hussain College, for example, there are three paths available for those in the Graphic Design program:

  • Digital Media. This stream focuses on using design and technology to enhance interactivity and includes courses on design, sound, and programming. Students learn multiple image editing and design software, as well as programming languages, so that they can develop graphics, websites, web-based games, and more. They will also learn about best practices and workspaces in the context of digital media. Learn more about Hussian’s Digital Media concentration…
  • Graphic Design. This stream concentrates on the constantly changing marketing landscape. While mobile and web-based design are included in the curriculum, the emphasis is design in the context of corporate identity and branding, including packaging and how to use visual elements to affect consumer behavior. Learn more about Hussian’s Graphic Design concentration…
  • Visual Communications. This stream focuses on image as a means of communication and includes traditional painting and drawing courses that are combined with digital processes. Most students come away not only with multiple avenues of creative expression but a better understanding of their own personal style. They are taught how to weave stories through images, as well as creative writing and critical thinking/observation. Learn more about Hussian’s Visual Communications concentration…

Course offerings do differ from institution to institution, but most graphic design programs include a curriculum built upon:

  • Design Fundamentals.Consider design fundamentals the building blocks of graphic design. In related courses, students discover how to use the elements of design to effectively and meaningfully communicate. Art projects and lessons are designed to teach how color, shape, and style can be applied harmoniously to affect audience perception and reception. For example, color choices and other visual details may have psychological and cultural impacts of which many people are not consciously aware.
  • Web Design. As more and more of our lives are lived online, internet and multimedia publishing become specialties that prospective graphic designers must possess. Web design courses usually address technical environments and how online navigation works, as well as the importance of usability.
  • Digital and Print Production or Media Management. Courses like this usually focus on teaching students how to create designs and deliver files using current industry software and project management tools. Some also instruct on how to coordinate or oversee staff who are creating and delivering designs.
  • Portfolio Development. Ideally, this course will not only allow you to create a usable portfolio that demonstrates your artistic and technical skills, but also the ability to present and discuss these skills and abilities.
  • Many art schools offer some form of entrepreneurship or internships, serving as a “real world” experience that puts everything learned to the test. Ideally, students learn about the design business, and as well as various marketing and promotion techniques, helping them to prosper as a freelance graphic designer upon graduation.

View our catalog to learn more about the offered courses within our BFA degree program.

What Kind of Work Does a Freelance Graphic Designer Do?

Graphic design touches on many different areas of entertainment and marketing. So, the next time you ask yourself, “What can I do with a graphic design degree?”, here are just a few examples of the types of projects you could work on as a freelance graphic designer:

  • An animator creates images and illustrations that are meant to become moving pictures.
  • Brand Identity Developer.A brand developer makes sure that the visual elements of a company’s logo, signage, packaging, media campaigns, etc. convey the message the brand is trying to disseminate to consumers.
  • Broadcast designer. This person creates the content – graphic designs and electronic media – that are used in television productions via character generators.
  • Illustrator. Illustrations can be for printed materials – books, magazines, etc., or for textiles, packaging, greeting cards, stationery, calendars, etc. Illustrators can use a variety of media to conceptualize and create their illustrations.
  • Layout artist. This is the creative that makes sure the structure of the images and text in magazines, brochures, booklets, posters, etc. are pleasing to the eye, have the right flow, and fit the content of the article
  • Logo designer. The logo, of course, is an image that represents a company and its key points.
  • Multimedia developer. This is a graphic designer for motion, and may also edit images and sound.
  • Visual Image Developer. This work is similar to illustration but instead of creating art through pencil and paper, paint, etc., they develop images through photography, image editing, or modeling.
  • Visual Journalist. This is where infographics come from – visual representations of information that are used where concepts need to be explained quickly, such as signs, maps, articles, technical writing, etc.
  • Web designer. This person creates the layout and graphics for web pages and is a key member of the web development team. They sometimes make decisions on content but are more focused on where/how things are placed, aesthetics, and continuity as browsers surf the site.

Who Hires Freelance Graphic Designers?

Depending on the specialization of the designer, the short answer is: anyone! Essentially, any business or company using visual communications could contract with a freelancing graphic designer for work.

While some graphic designers take on full-time salaried positions with agencies or web development companies, the beautiful thing about graphic design is you really can work from anywhere. That means freelancing, working for yourself, is entirely doable. For freelancers, clients can be an entrepreneur in need of a single design, a small business in need of ongoing graphics, or an existing large company that needs work done but doesn’t have an in-house graphic design position. Your potential clients may include:

  • Theatres
  • Advertising/marketing firms
  • Studios (including animation)
  • Video game companies
  • TV networks, shows, etc.
  • Publishing houses
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Public relations firms
  • Stores and online businesses
  • Educational institutions
  • Government
  • Charities and non-profit organizations

How Much Can a Graphic Designer Make?

A salaried graphic designer with extensive training at a specialized design agency tends to have the highest income, especially in the larger metropolitan regions, such as New York City, Los Angeles, or even our own city, Philadelphia. However, a freelance graphic designer has the power to make just as much, depending on their qualifications, location, workload, and networking skills.

You may also consider the obvious bonus of freelance design work–the ability to work from home or have a mobile office, helping to cut the time and costs of commuting.

How to Market Yourself As a Freelance Graphic Designer

With so much competition, it can be challenging to promote your graphic design business and set yourself apart. Although many professions – especially freelancers within them – require some self-promotion, there may be higher expectations for graphic designers’ marketing. After all, graphic design plays a huge part in online commerce and marketing, so your work and capabilities better be on point! Here are a few tips.

Develop Your Brand. Businesses often have an established “personality” and style – a memorable image they try to create in the minds of consumers. What is yours? Are you no-nonsense and lightning fast? Are you friendly and consultative? Make sure that everything about “you” – your color scheme, the type of graphics you use in your marketing materials, your online persona – is consistent with this brand.

Define Your Target Audience. Not to say that you would necessarily turn down work, but what kind of clientele are you hoping to attract? Your brand and your target audience usually complement each other, because your brand is intended to attract a certain clientele. Consider whether you’d like to partner with larger entities that may require more clean, professional designed or small start-ups and single individuals which may allow for more creative or thought-provoking designs.

Showcase Your Best Work. For graphic designers who have already had clients and projects, it could be a simple matter of putting high-resolution images of your work online – and positive testimonials, if your clients are willing. How do you build a graphic design portfolio without clients, though? Here are some tactics for building a portfolio without having professional experience:

  • Approach potential clients directly. This could be intimidating for many people, so if you have friends or family who need some work done, you could approach them and offer to do the graphic design project for a discounted price (or even pro bono to build a portfolio).
  • Hypothetical projects. If you haven’t yet had the experience of working on a project for a client, create your own mock project! Building a mock website for your favorite restaurant or store can help to showcase how user-friendly, beautiful, engaging, and functional your work can be. Have a friend throw a business idea out there and design a few logo concepts. Then, put all examples in your online portfolio.
  • Network. Connect with other graphic designers and partner up with colleagues who may have a different specialization or strength. Get onto social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest and join groups for graphic designers, web designers, or freelancers. You may also join one of the many freelancing websites, which provide listings and referrals for people looking to hire a freelancer for their project(s).
  • Stay up to date in your field. In today’s world, technology is outdated in the blink of an eye. If you aren’t caught up with the latest design trends and technology, you may fall behind. Clients are looking for professionals who use tools that are best in class. People who are able to work with multiple systems and processes, show an adaptability and versatility customers love.

Start Off on the Right Foot with Hussian College

A good education is the first step to a successful career in graphic design. At Hussian College, we offer instruction in the latest technologies and graphic design specializations that are in-demand. During your studies, you will be creating items for your professional portfolio, which will be vital when you start your career as a freelance graphic designer. You will also have chances to meet and network with professionals in the field. It is our goal for you to understand the business aspect of graphic design so that you can establish yourself in the market right away.

Interested in starting your career as a graphic designer? Learn more about the graphic design curriculum available at our Philadelphia campus and contact us if you have any questions about the application process.