Best cities for freelance graphic designers

This story was originally published by Zenn9.

The design industry is on the rise and graphic designers comprise the largest segment. According to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 259,500 graphic designers in the U.S. and 24 percent of them are self-employed. As more Americans opt to freelance, Zen99 wanted to help graphic designers compare which cities provide the biggest bang for their buck if they were to become self-employed.

Key factors in focus

  • Where do graphic designers earn the most? We compared the most recent salary data for designers to gauge not only compensation, but also local demand.
  • Which cities already have high percentages of self-employed designers? We took into consideration where designers are already going solo (percentage from fields of arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services). These cities most likely have higher demand and better networks for self-employed graphic designers.
  • How affordable are living costs? We analyzed the median cost of rent in each city against mean earnings to determine where designers can earn the most while paying the least for housing.
  • How affordable is health insurance? Lastly, we compared health insurance costs per city to provide another important factor for self-employed designers. Prices listed represent the cheapest available Silver Plan.

Key takeaways

The Bay Area provides the best compensation. Nationally, the average annual salary for graphic designers is $44,150. The number two and three top cities on our list are Oakland and San Francisco where designers can earn an extra $33,000 more per year. Oakland placed ahead of San Francisco in the rankings due to cheaper cost of living relative to salary.

Midwestern cities on the rise. As places like Detroit and the Twin Cities experience growth in the tech sector, designers are becoming more in demand. Graphic designers in these cities earn above-average salaries while enjoying some of the lowest costs of living compared to other large to mid-size U.S. cities.

Top 20 cities for freelance graphic designers

CityGraphic designer annual mean wageSelf-employed percentageMedian rentHealth insurance premiumsComposite
1. Los Angeles, CA $57,500 19.2 $1,182 $257 65.4
2. Oakland, CA $68,430 12.2 $1,117 $339 61.7
3. San Francisco, CA $77,940 12.4 $1,491 $374 60.8
4. Portland, OR $51,200 14.6 $956 $213 58.8
5. Miami, FL $46,930 17.1 $947 $274 57.0
6. Tulsa, OK $49,440 11.8 $727 $236 56.8
7. Detroit, MI $54,040 9.1 $727 $230 56.6
8. Saint Paul, MN $53,800 9.3 $825 $200 55.7
9. Denver, CO $49,390 12.8 $898 $211 55.5
10. Greensboro, NC $46,870 12.2 $741 $222 55.4
11. Minneapolis, MN $53,800 8.8 $852 $183 54.9
12. Atlanta, GA $52,890 12 $963 $255 54.2
13. Seattle, WA $60,230 10.8 $1,172 $254 54.1
14. New York City, NY $65,430 11 $1,228 $372 53.2
15. Dallas, TX $50,650 11.5 $839 $279 53.2
16. Long Beach, CA $56,320 10.3 $1,101 $230 52.3
17. Nashville, TN $48,390 9.8 $855 $203 50.9
18. Cincinnati, OH $51,200 6.5 $636 $253 50.8
19. Chicago, IL $53,190 8.3 $943 $215 50.2
20. Mesa, AZ $47,080 8.9 $840 $165 50.0

 

Methodology

We compared the following data for the 70 most-populated U.S. cities:

  • Graphic designer annual mean wage collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Weighted 40 percent)
  • Percentage of self-employed arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. (Weighted 25 percent)
  • Median rent collected from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.(Weighted 20 percent)
  • 2015 Health Insurance Premium data was gathered from the Kaiser Family Foundation and GetInsured. Prices collected are for the cheapest available Silver Plan, using the profile of a 40 year-old male, non-smoker. (Weighted 15 percent)