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Why is graphic design so expensive?

Why is graphic design so expensive?

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The unspoken question, haunting the thoughts of thousands of small businesses and start-ups: Why is graphic design so expensive? As a designer, most clients I had the chance to work with understand the value of my work. Some people however, usually new to the field of design, have a very abstract idea of what graphic design work entails and wonder why they should pay so much for it. Few will ever tell designers to their face that they do not value their work, but it can be read it in their eyes, or between the lines of the apologetic emails they send them once they receive a quote they do not understand; confusion, doubt and mistrust.

Here’s the thing; that people tend to believe graphic design is just “slapping text and colors together” in order to make ordinary-looking flyers or other printed material. They also seem to think that designers only need to sit in front of their screen, open Photoshop and that (somehow) the work will magically get done with 2-3 clicks. Worse: A few even believe graphic design is not a real job! These misconceptions are similar to saying that all police officers do is eat donuts, or that CEOs only sit at their desk all day doing nothing while only their employees do the work.

Being a designer is a blend of research, hard work and creativity. A good designer will ask you several questions and research the subject of the project before sending you a quote; every single project is different and its price varies according to some factors. But what exactly are those factors?

“Time is money” – Benjamin Franklin

This renowned quote is at the root of most freelancers’ price: How many hours will I dedicate to this project? A freelance designer that obtained a diploma in university will usually charge at least $40-50/hour once they graduate. It might sound like a lot but in reality, it’s not. Unlike designers who are hired to work in a studio, freelancer graphic designers receive no benefits, have to constantly be on the look for new clients and act not only as a creative but also as their own secretary, salesperson, research assistant, accountant and customer service representative. They do ALL the work, and it’s included in their hourly rate. The price each designer charges per hour also varies according to their skill level, education and professional experience. The more they know and the more they have done, the more they can charge.

A graphic designer will therefore estimate how many hours your project will take them to complete, including usually a few revisions and consultations, and will multiply it by their hourly rate. In my experience, most graphic design projects take between 10 and 40 hours. The complexity of a project and the number of revisions needed is usually what will increase the number of hours needed to complete it. For example, designing a 8.5×11′ minimalist poster for a single event will generally require less time than creating the corporate identity and branding of a company (which usually includes logo, business cards, letterheads and envelopes at the very least).

Printing costs

Another factor that will greatly affect the final price tag is the printing cost of a project. It will vary in function of the format and size of the document, the amount to be printed as well as the quality. A client on a tight budget will probably want to look for smaller, more economic sizes and thinner paper, for instance. Bigger firms will usually invest more in printing and get high-quality material that will “wow” their own clients (i.e. embossing, metallic colors, exotic or thicker paper, etc.). You get what you pay for.

A graphic designer will often shop for the best prices and will contact several print-shops before giving you a quote. Additionally, usually included in the price they charge is the time spent at the printing place asking for proofs, bringing them to you for approval if requested as well as picking up and delivering the material once it’s printed.

Actually not that expensive…

In the end, when you analyze everything a freelance graphic designer has to do, you realize that the service they provide is actually not expensive. Sure, there are some designers that will try to charge you more than what they’re worth. If you stumble upon one of them, stay away, especially if their body of work is unimpressive. But good designers work hard and deserve every penny they receive for their work.

About the author

Tina Mailhot-Roberge is a graphic designer, web designer and illustrator located in Montreal, Canada. She holds a BFA in Design from Concordia University and practices her craft professionally since 2007 .

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