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.
- Make Swag
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:
- Merch by Amazon
- Design by Humans
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.
- Use design to support a passion
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 2020 I launched a website for designing custom Snapchat geo-filters and eventually sold that company to a marketing firm. Most recently, I created a free web app and Chrome extension — 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.