May 26, 2021

How to Make a Living in Graphic Design

For many people, the age-old question of whether one will become a starving artist will come into play when wondering about being in Graphic Design. Thoughts of different careers will burden their minds, maybe doubting whether they can achieve the lifestyle they want should they choose the world of creating graphics. Others, however, may have the opposite reaction. Not the image of a starving artist at all—but a stunning well put-together professional in a carefully chosen outfit, with the correct color palette to boot. A feeling of an organized composition. The look is what some will describe as, “Editorial!” If that is the case – where would one start? Is it truly possible to make a living as a graphic designer?

Before we dive into some answers that will shed some light on our paths, let’s talk about the main component of success – you. In entering any sort of career, you must be clear and set on your reason why you want to succeed, and why no other path will do it for you other than this one. The reason for this is when you know your why, you will be able to withstand any hardships that you come across in your field. And this is not true just in the field of graphics, but in any field! There is always a possible variable of instability in any career, and it changes every so often. It is up to you to do your research and make sure you are 100% all in. Again, this doesn’t mean you can’t have doubts every now and again. It just means that you will be prepared mentally should adversity discourage you. According to author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek, “Achievement happens when we pursue and attain what we want. Success comes when we are in clear pursuit of why we want it.” Therefore, this leads us to our first and foremost step into making a living as a graphic designer.

A career in graphic design means you need to eat, breathe, and sleep design!

Decide that you will make a living in graphic design.

Once you are set on this decision, you will move toward your goals with less resistance. Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Figure out your why, and then move boldly into the next steps.


Research/educate yourself on graphic design.

Get to know this field. Look at the work and lives of graphic designers. How did they do it? What steps did they take? If possible, meet with or have a conversation with local graphic designers. Ask them what sacrifices had to be made for them to reach their level of success. Get the tea! Research the industry, companies, and income possibilities. What would you like graphic design to provide for you? What do you want to do with graphic design? Do you want to be a business owner? Freelancer? An employee at a design company? Search the internet, read books, connect with professionals. Get all the tea so you can map out this field and start organizing your steps. This includes the decision of whether you will formally go to school, find a mentor, learn on your own – or better yet, a combination of all 3!


Budget time and income.

Take the time to plan on how much income you’d like to make through graphic design. Do you prefer to be self-employed or work for a company? Should you decide to be self-employed, there will be more responsibilities to consider in exchange for the benefits of having a versatile office, no boss, and setting your own times. If you’d like to be employed, there is a structure put in place and allows you to focus more on the work but for the price of not having control over your time, money, and interactions. List the pros and cons and match it up next to your values. What is most important for you?

Graphic Design is not your ordinary career path. You'll need determination to be successful!

Practice your craft.

Graphic design mastery takes lots and lots of practice! Even if you found your dream position, you still want to continue adding to your work, so you increase you value over time. Graphic design trends change, and you always want to be prepared. The portfolio you used to get the position, shouldn’t be the same portfolio you have when you move forward either with a company or a different one. There should always evidence of your growth. As speaker Les Brown says, “It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”


This is very important and goes hand-in-hand with practicing graphic design. Get to know other designers, or those connected to graphic designers. Meet publishers, artists, attend community events. Learn to look out for opportunities. Should you decide to work as a freelancer, this is imperative as your income will be in proportion to how many clients you can find – or create! Sometimes people have ideas and do not know you can be of service to them. Sometimes they don’t know they need you! And they will continue not to know until you shake their hand and have a conversation with them.

Curious about a career in graphic design? F.I.R.S.T. Institute’s Graphic Design and Web Development program allows students to launch their art careers in just 11 months — on campus, or online!

Article by Marianne Catangay, Graphic Design & Web Development Instructor at F.I.R.S.T. Institute.