How to Estimate a Salary for Graphic Design

by Karen Farnen

Graphic designers combine artistic, technological and communication skills to put ideas into physical forms. Using traditional hand work and computer programs, they help clients catch the eyes of customers and communicate a message about a business, service or product. You normally need a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related subject to begin your career. Your estimated wage depends in part on your employer and your job location.

Average and Range of Wages

For average earnings, estimate an annual wage of $48,690 for a graphic designer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 survey. This salary is the equivalent of $23.41 per hour, based on 52 weeks at 40 hours per week. However, graphic design incomes vary over a wide range. Ten percent of designers earn $26,210 per year or less, but if you're in the top 10 percent, you'll earn $77,370 per year or more.

Largest Industries

You pay will largely depend on who hires you. Four industries had over 90,000 of the 191,550 jobs for graphic designers in 2011, according to the BLS. The largest employer, specialized design services, paid an average of $51,150 per year, while the next-largest, print publishers, paid an average of $42,820 annually. Advertising and public relations firms paid their designers an average of $49,740, and printing and its support services paid an average of $40,010. The highest-paying industry in this group was computer systems design and services, paying an average of $54,240 per year.

Top-Paying Employers

Estimate higher wages if you work for the federal government or the movie industry. The federal government was by far the most generous employer in 2011, paying graphic designers an average of $75,570 per year, according to the BLS report. The only other employer with at least 400 jobs and paying more than $64,000 on average was the video and motion picture industry. This industry had 3,910 graphic design positions and paid an average of $64,350 per year.

States with Top Pay

Location is also important in estimating your pay. The District of Columbia, with its many federal jobs, led the states with average pay of $66,030 in 2022, according to the BLS. The first runner-up was New York, at $59,580 per year, followed by California, at $57,140. Jobs in Connecticut also paid more than $54,000 per year on average, and in Virginia, more than $53,000.

Metropolitan Areas

You can estimate a larger salary as a graphic designer if you live in certain major metropolitan areas. The greater San Jose area in California had average pay of $72,820 annually, and the greater San Francisco area had average pay of $69,190 in the 2011 BLS survey. Three other metropolitan areas had average graphic design wages in excess of $63,000. They include the Framingham, Massachusetts area, the greater New York City metropolitan region and the combined area of Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.


The number of jobs for graphic designers will grow by 13 percent between 2010 and 2020, which compares to an average of 14 percent growth for all U.S. jobs, according to BLS predictions. Computer systems design and services will experience the biggest job spurt, with a 61 percent increase. However, non-Internet publishing will lose 4 percent of its design jobs. Job competition will be steep for graphic designers, but those with experience in interactive media and website design will have the best prospects.

Photo Credits

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