Why Graphic Designers Require Down Payments

585 396 Derek Kimball

client graphic design handshake

Many industries require down payments when intangible goods or services are being provided. In the world of graphic design this practice is a necessity. The intent of this article is to illustrate how these down payments (retainers) benefit both the designer and client.

Why Down Payments Are Necessary:

time equals money for designers

A down payment is beneficial for both the designer and client. It establishes a feeling of commitment, a sense of urgency, dedication, and holds both parties accountable. It’s easy to assume that as long as a designer does quality work, he/she will always get paid for their efforts. Unfortunately this simply isn’t the case. Here are just a couple of common scenarios that force designers into charging up front:

Often times people get grandiose ideas and are eager to get those ideas off the ground. They contact a graphic designer to help them promote their new product, business, or idea. For whatever reason the business idea goes flop, and the designer is left holding the bag. The client who 2 days prior was in love with the design, is now not answering his/her email or phone because they don’t want to pay for something that is no longer of use to them.

And some people just go broke. That $1000 they had reserved for a website design, had to instead go towards an unexpected water heater breakage or credit card payment. The graphic designer who just spent 30 hours getting the client’s website started may have just spent a half of weeks work for absolutely nothing.

There are also those who simply want premium design work but are just not willing to pay for it. The idea is to find a good designer who doesn’t charge up front, have them come up with a good concept, tell the designer they don’t like the concept, send the concept to a less expensive designer and have them re-create the stolen concept at lower cost. Stolen art and design work happens all to often unfortunately, especially amongst the “design contest” websites where “designers” hide behind a cloak of anonymity making it easier for them to rip off others and call the work their own.

Unlike with tangible goods that can be purchased and returned to the store for resale, intangible services like graphic design work only have a value that is limited to the client/recipient for whom it was created for. A designer can’t re-sell a custom flyer design that was specifically tailored for a particular venture. This is just another reason why down payments are necessary for graphic designers and service providers of this sort.

Another benefit of retainer payments, is that they allow the designer to confidently make any necessary project related purchases. Often times things like new fonts, stock images, etc need to be purchased specifically for a project.

Ways For Clients To Feel More Secure:

graphic design client security

It’s understandable that some people are a bit hesitant about paying money up front for graphic design services. This is why it’s incredibly important for the client to do their homework before investing any money. Here are a few things that should be considered:

Similar Design Tastes: Make sure you like the prospective designer’s past work. If you don’t like what they’ve created for others, there is a good chance you won’t like what they create for you.

Testimonials: It helps to know what other clients have had to say about working with the graphic designer that you wish to hire.

Written Contract: When it is outlined in black and white what the expectations are for both the client and designer, it creates accountability and helps both parties to feel more secure in their investment.

Communication: Just remember that communication is a two way street. Always provide precise instruction to your designer. Let them know the specifics of what you are expecting from them. The more thorough and detailed you are with your communication, the smoother your experience will be.

More tips on choosing a graphic designer

What Others Have To Say About Down Payments:

comments about graphic design down payments

GraphicDesignBlender had some interesting blog comments pertaining to a similar article about graphic design and down payments. Here are a few:

Karol K (web 2.o guy) had this to say:

The thing is that people serious enough to be able to appreciate some good design work, people with clearly defined goals and requirements don’t have any problems with paying some money upfront because they know the value of the work. If a client has some reluctance then they probably were not sold good enough on the project or they are simply not ready for this kind of service. After introducing down-payments we have yet to encounter a really difficult client (or maybe it’s just luck).

Preston D Lee had this to say:

Sometimes it’s hard to do a good job when you aren’t motivated. And sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated, when you aren’t getting paid.

Curtis had this to say:

I have done a couple of projects for referrals from close friends without charging anything up front. All this did was delay the project because the client didn’t have anything invested in the project so they dragged their feet to get me the things that I needed (feedback, project approval, etc.)


I hope that by writing this article, I’ve been able to illustrate why non refundable down payments (retainers) are important for designers to have in place, and why clients should feel less intimidated with the concept as long as they are dealing with reputable and professional designers and following the tips mentioned above.

I’d love to hear others views on this subject. Do you think retainer payments are necessary or should designers take on all the risk that comes with investing unpaid time? Please share your experiences or thoughts below. Thanks for reading.


Derek Kimball

Derek is the founder of DesignBuddy and a full time graphic designer. He specializes in logo creation and visual branding. Over the past 13 years Derek has helped hundreds of clients grow their business and establish a stronger brand identity. View his portfolio, or get in touch. If you'd like to receive an occasional free newsletter with useful design related content, please subscribe here.

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