How to turn passion into a paycheck for the average designer.
Whether you’re laid off, unemployed, furloughed, or want to make some extra money on the side as a designer — this article will give you ten ways to start making money from your design chops today.
There is no magic to making money as a designer, but I’ve had personal experience or seen all of the following methods be fruitful for anyone who gives it their best effort and is patient for results.
As a college dropout, I needed to hustle to make a living. I’ve tried dozens of ways to make money online — everything from getting rich quick schemes to building businesses from scratch. I ultimately found success through developing my design skills and using them to create content, build products, and sell services.
In this post, I’ll review methods to earn money with design skills and share my personal experience with a few of these techniques.
Fiverr is a marketplace for sellers to offer skills and services for a fixed price.
The beauty of Fiverr is that you can sell anything on there. No matter what it is, you’re sure to find someone selling it on Fiverr — Dancing in a hot dog outfit, flirting with your husband, minimalist logo design, and everything in between.
I got my first big break on Fiverr as an 18-year-old wannabee designer that resulted in unimaginable monetary success. At the peak, I was making $1,000+ every week on Fiverr.
I built my Fiverr empire step by step by offering simple design skills for less than $15. I offered services like icon design, custom geofilters for Snapchat, logo mockups, photo editing, illustration, and more.
Simple design tasks like superimposing a customer’s logo on a t-shirt in Photoshop, for example, took less than 20 minutes to complete making it possible to earn $30–50 per hour.
As I built up my repertoire of design skills, I offered them to potential buyers on Fiverr. Fiverr fueled my growth as a budding designer since every new skill I mastered, I could then provide as a gig on Fiverr, and further my earning potential.
I wrote an article about my experience with Fiverr if you’d like a more in-depth look at tactics and tips for that platform.
There’s a good chance that if you’ve been designing for a while, you have old Illustrator or Photoshop files collecting dust.
With the rise of on-demand merch websites like Redbubble, it’s now easier than ever to open an online shop selling shirts, coffee mugs, phone cases, stickers, and more.
I’ve personally only used Designbyhumans and, to my surprise, actually sold a few shirts of old designs I made for fun or rejected iterations for clients. I never took it seriously enough to make more than a few bucks, but there are certainly possibilities here for talented graphic designers.
The best part about using merch markets is no upfront costs and no need to keep any inventory. There is no downside to posting designs on these websites and then sharing the link online.
There are dozens of marketplaces to start selling your designs — here are a few to get started:
As an unemployed designer, it’s important to stay active and not let our skills falter. Consulting is a great way to continue developing while working on diverse types of projects with various businesses and industries.
I grew my client base while doing freelance design consulting in a few ways:
- I was actively updating my Dribbble and Behance portfolios.
- Posting regularly on LinkedIn about being available for freelance work.
- I joined numerous Slack communities for professionals like Denver UX and NomadList.
- Looking on Twitter and LinkedIn for companies hiring freelancers by searching “freelance UI UX designer” or “freelance UX consultant.”
- Using freelance job sites like Upwork.
Getting a steady client base didn’t happen overnight, but as I started putting myself out there, clients slowly began to trickle in. By delivering high-quality work and being attentive to my client’s needs, I was able to turn small projects into long term relationships, which led to consistent work.
I freelanced for a year or so, and although I didn’t get rich, I gained a lot of experience and valuable portfolio projects that ultimately lead to a full-time position.
Visual and graphic designers can make extra cash by selling their assets on various design marketplaces. There are dozens of different marketplaces, and each has its specialty.
Probably the biggest and most well known is Envato. On Envato, creators can sell product mockups, UX and UI kits, logos, powerpoints, sound effects, and really anything else you can imagine.
Check out Envato and see if there’s anything you might be able to sell in their marketplace. If you don’t have anything already, browse the possibilities and see what you can create.
When it comes to making money with design, you don’t always need to directly monetize your skills or sell your designs to make money. Design can be used to fuel another passion or entrepreneurial endeavor.
By understanding the language of design, you can use your skills to build a product, provide a service, start a website, or solve a problem.
This is my favorite way to use my design skills because I can create something that I give a damn about. Entrepreneurship allows me to stretch my skills to build something that excites me while occasionally earning extra cash in the process.
In 2016 I launched a website for designing custom Snapchat geo-filters and eventually sold that company to a marketing firm. I also made a cat website that someone actually bought for a few hundred bucks and a handful of other random projects that never went anywhere. Most recently, I created a free web app and Chrome extension called Confetti — a colorful daily habit tracker for people who like to achieve something every day.
If you have an entrepreneurial itch that needs scratching, then consider problems you’ve observed or gaps in the market and evaluate how your design skills could solve it.
One of the quickest ways to get a flow of potential projects and find clients already hiring for design jobs is by using freelance job sites like Upwork.
I started my freelance career on Upwork to gain my footing with freelancing and then soon gained traction finding clients outside of Upwork. I realized that Upwork wasn’t a great long-term strategy for my freelancing career, but it was a quick way to build my portfolio and meet clients. I was on Upwork for two yours, though, and applied for jobs on and off whenever I had a lull with my clients or if I needed extra cash.
Freelance websites are set up like a competitive game, and if you understand the game, then you can win at it.
Here are some strategies to win the game:
- Start with low prices and gradually raise them after you’ve received a few good reviews. Clients are more likely to higher someone new if they’re more affordable.
- Increase prices once you get comfortable to have fewer clients to work with but make more money.
- Cater your proposal to the job posting or send design examples that match what the client is asking for. Constantly refine your proposal.
- Respond to messages as fast as possible — this will raise your ranking. Download the mobile app and be proactive about your communication with clients.
- Reviews, response time, and total job completions will boost your profile. It can be challenging to start, but once you get the ball rolling, it can be quite lucrative.
- If you don’t have a website, share your work in a PDF as well as your Dribbble and Behance.
- As your profile gains momentum, you’ll rarely need to apply for Upwork positions since clients will often begin reaching out directly to you.
The top freelance sites for designers:
Creating content has numerous benefits for designers at all levels of their journey.
To name a few benefits:
- When we teach, we learn. As a growing designer, there is possibly no better way to expedite our progress than to share what we learn.
- Earn money from our content.
- Build a personal brand and open the doors to new job opportunities.
- Teach others and spread our valuable knowledge.
I started sharing my experiences and learnings here on Medium three years ago. In these past three years, I’ve been continuously learning and expanding my knowledge on the various topics that I like to discuss. The more I learn, the more content I can create.
If writing a blog on Medium doesn’t pique your interest, don’t be so quick to count this one out, there are dozens of other kinds of content you can create:
- Case Studies for design projects
- Write an Ebook
- Online courses
- Videos, tutorials or vlogs
Don’t underestimate the amount of knowledge you already have or how much you can contribute. Consider how your unique experience or skills can be used as a platform to educate others and make extra money.
There’s a good chance you got some of your design chops from watching YouTube videos. With endless updates to Sketch, Figma, XD, and all the other design platforms — there’s a constant demand for new tutorials, tips, techniques, and so on.
YouTube can be a great source of income on its own, but when paired with Patreon, it can be extra powerful. Patreon is a website that creators can use to receive support from fans for their creative work through a monthly membership.
With nothing more than the screen recorder built into your computer, you can begin creating useful content today.
Here are a few ideas of content:
- UX audits of websites and products
- Product releases and reviews
- Speed arts and timelapse designs
- Livestream designs
- Product re-designs
There are countless opportunities and niches for YouTube content. If making videos on YouTube is something that you’re interested in, then a good place to start is to find YouTubers that inspire you. I personally think Caler Edwards and Jason Showalter have great channels for design.
Whether you’re talented at drawing, painting, sewing, woodworking, or just own a 3D printer — there’s an opportunity to make money on Etsy. You can even sell services like logo design, illustration, web design, and other design services.
Etsy is also the perfect place to sell all things creative and unique. If you have a unique product idea or service, try your hand on their site. People are literally selling everything you could think of — I even found someone selling terrible origami(their name, not mine), so don’t doubt yourself even if you’re not the most gifted crafter.
I couldn’t write this article without mentioning the importance of skill development. There is perhaps a no better approach to increase earning potential than investing in our own education and skill development as designers.
Wherever you are in your journey, it’s important to realize that knowledge and honing in-demand skills will make you more valuable of a designer. Every time we sit down and watch a new tutorial or follow along in a drawing video, we expand our skills and open ourselves to new possibilities.
Don’t spend all of your time trying to money grab or make a quick buck — that will only benefit you in the short term. Think long term and focus on advancing yourself and your skills which will often be rewarded with a higher salary and better satisfaction overall
I hope this list was helpful to anyone aspiring to increase their income or earning potential. Although all these methods can be very lucrative, it’s important to mention that you get out what you put in.
This list is also just the beginning of how you can earn money as a designer without relying on a paycheck. With the endless resources available, there aren’t many limits to the possibilities for designers. The only limits are the ones we set on ourselves.
How can a designer make passive income? ›
- Selling Your Own Fonts. ...
- Design Stock Graphics. ...
- Sell Design Templates. ...
- Sell Tutorials. ...
- Affiliate Marketing. ...
- Work for Commission, Not for Pay. ...
- Selling WordPress Templates. ...
- Referral Fees.
Direct Deposit: U.S. designers receive direct deposit payments from 99designs directly to their Payoneer Prepaid Debit MasterCard, using the ACH network.What are the 3 C's of graphic design? ›
To summarize, the 3 elements of design are: Consistency (Systems–based Design) Clarity (Clear instead of Clever Design) Content (Design is Communication not Chrome)What are 4 ways to be more creative? ›
- Start with a morning freewrite.
- Take a creative course.
- Brainstorm while you exercise.
- Travel to other places.
- Channel your inner child.
- Join a coworking space.
- Incorporate breaks into every work day.
- Connect with creative people.
- Fitness for Purpose: Every product is designed for a unique purpose. ...
- Materials and Finish: Before manufacturing a product, the designer must decide the material to be used. ...
- Maintenance: ...
- Efficiency: ...
- Cost Ratio: ...
- Fashion: ...
- Safety Measures: ...
- take account of any pre-construction information provided by the client (and principal designer, if one is involved)
- eliminate foreseeable health and safety risks to anyone affected by the project (if possible)
- take steps to reduce or control any risks that cannot be eliminated.
The way most designers make money is by selling their time. We'll essentially trade a block of time—be that an hour, a day a month or a year— in return for cash. The amount of cash we get to charge is generally decided by the market.How do I earn money from graphic design? ›
Freelancing. Graphics designers work as freelancers and gain extra cash. Free-lancing is working at your own convenience and getting paid for it. As a freelancer, you get to work from home, even in your pajamas, no stressing, just meeting up with your deadlines.How do I get paid on design crowd? ›
If you win a contest or receive a participation payment, your payment will be paid via Payoneer or PayPal. If you don't have an account set up to receive payouts these are the current options: Payoneer is DesignCrowd's preferred payout method.
Can designers make 6 figures? ›
Many graphic designers don't think making six figures on your own is possible. Most graphic designers don't make that, and salaries are quite less than that, so why should they think that it's possible? Well, it is. But you have to get yourself into the right mindset.How do designers charge for work? ›
Hourly graphic design rates vary based on experience and design specialty. Typically, more experienced graphic designers will charge between $65 to $150 per hour. In contrast, more entry-level freelance design rates range from $25 to $50 per hour.What are the seven 7 elements of design? ›
The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture.What are the 4 of design? ›
Effective design centres on four basic principles: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. These appear in every design.How do I become a faster designer? ›
- 7 tips to design faster. And a why speed is important. ...
- Define your goal. When you're in a rush it's tempting to jump into "design mode", however that approach might actually slow you down. ...
- Don't wait for inspiration. ...
- Sketch, sketch, SKETCH! ...
- Share your progress. ...
- Listen. ...
- Design in stages. ...
- Take breaks.
- Get a Job. ...
- Go into Freelancing. ...
- Become a Consultant. ...
- Create Your Own Product. ...
- Start a Design Blog. ...
- Write a Design Book.