How to find and hire the best print designer
In the print on demand business, you need a designer who can produce ‘OMG I need that’ type of work. And talented designers are hard to come by.
How do you even start looking?
This extensive insider’s guide to hiring a print designer will help you skip the recruitment headache entirely and show you the ropes of the process, inside and out.
Having read this article, you will know how to:
- Decide what designs and type of designer to pursue.
- Choose between an in-house designer, a freelancer and a design agency.
- Find the best talents.
- Recognize and avoid red flags.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about recruiting a world-class graphic designer.
1. Know what types of designs you want before making a hire
Designers, like marketers and salespeople, specialize in certain areas.
A talented illustrator might not know much about web design and a seasoned logo designer is not necessarily skilled in packaging design. In other words, graphic design is a vast creative area.
To pick the best talent for your shop, you need to know exactly what you want. But what is that, right?
One of the fastest ways to figure out what type of designer would help your business grow is to look at data. It’s quite simple, let me explain…
Essentially, to grow fast, you want to optimize your product catalogue by offering more items that sell well and cutting back on less popular designs.
Analyzing your current trend sales will help you gain a better understanding of your clientele – which design styles and ideas are received well among your customers and which designs have failed to catch fire.
If you’re only thinking about launching a POD business, you won’t have any data yet, but there are other research avenues at your disposal.
For example, you can look at the top trending and best-selling items on web stores that operate in a similar niche as well as familiarize yourself with trends on sites like Etsy and Notonthehighstreet. If you’re an avid social media user, platforms like Facebook and Instagram can be hugely helpful in trying to understand what people are happy to pay for! For instance, Instagrammers are obsessed with ferns and rose gold, so anything that features these elements has a solid potential to generate money!
As soon as you get a whiff of a brewing trend, you’ll have enough information to find the best designer for the task.
Once you know this, consider the following questions:
What do you need to be designed?
If, for instance, your research tells you that logo-based t-shirt designs are flying off the shelves, second only by cool mug designs, then you should zero in on these two categories and up your design game. This means you’d be best off looking for an artist well-versed in logo design.
On the other hand, if you see that a single universal design printed on a range of different products is leading the race, then you need to get to grips with concept development and look for someone who specialises in creative work to bounce ideas off each other.
Knowing what types of designs generate the most profit will help you choose the best person for the job.
Do you know your brand’s identity?
Here’s a million-dollar question for you: “what’s the difference between a brand and a brand identity?”.
When you’re hiring someone new who will be working with your brand, you have to be able to explain to them what that brand is, how it feels, and what emotions it’s supposed to evoke.
In the simplest sense, a brand is an all-encompassing relationship you build with your customers. You can’t ‘brand’ something because brand is earned and built over time. It’s the sum of all of your interactions with customers online, offline and in person.
If you’re just launching a business, thinking about what kind of brand you want to become is key because acting without a plan might lead you down the wrong path.
A brand identity is the collective library of artifacts you use to tell your story. Anything that’s used to project the relationship between you and your audience is an artefact.
For instance, your logo is a visual artefact. The packaging materials you use when shipping orders is a visual and tactile brand artefact.
Amazon’s packaging is an excellent example here, as the company takes great pride in their shipping experience with custom printed boxes and custom packing tape.
For an eCommerce business, getting the visual identity on the button and staying ‘on brand’ by consistently using the same colors, fonts, specific symbols or other graphic elements is non-negotiable. A good graphic designer will help you ensure your visual brand identity is living up to its full potential.
But it’s also important to keep the brand experience as a whole in check at all times. This means putting thought into packaging design and shipping experience, the materials of your products, and even the smell of your packages (yeah, look up ‘scent packaging’ for more information).
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What is the look and feel that you’re seeking?
Finally, consider the final look and feel that you want your products to have. While graphic designers are usually quite versatile and can work on different styles, it’s always best to look for someone who consistently produces work that hits your standards. If they are naturally attracted to the same visual aesthetics as you, communicating and getting your ideas across will be as easy as ABC.
2. What type of designer are you looking for?
Based on your shop’s specific needs and product portfolio (and the data on your best-selling categories), you should now be able to identify the essential design skills the ideal hire would have.
The next question to consider is the working arrangement.
Do you want someone in-house, working on a freelance basis or perhaps, a design agency?
All three options have their own pros and cons, read on to find out what works for you.
In-house vs. Freelance vs. Design agency?
Let’s start with an in-house designer.
- An in-house designer will know and follow your brand guidelines to the dot
- They will be available at all times, whether you want to simply bounce ideas off each other or need a last-minute design
- They will be focusing on your brand only
- An in-house designer can hardly be expected to know and be able to do all types of design work. You may need to look for extra help for niche projects
- They will be on a fixed salary, no matter the workload or the shape of your finances
- They will also have fixed working hours and a set capacity
Could hiring a freelance graphic designer be a more suitable option?
- Freelance designers tend to have deep expertise in a chosen niche
- They can be hired on a project or hourly basis, saving you lots of money
- They can be hired flexibly and work remotely
- They have a limited capacity and may not be able to take on your project when you need it
- They will know your brand only as well as you brief them
- Finding a top-class freelancer will require time and effort
And finally, the design agency.
- It’s a team of skilled professionals, so they can take on bigger, more diverse projects
- Agencies now charge per hour, so they are efficient and deliver on time
- They offer customer service and feedback channels
- Agencies are expensive
- They have lots of clients and lots of projects; you may not be their priority
- You don’t deal with the creatives directly
Take some time to assess your needs and goals. Be realistic about your timeframe, budget and creative expectations and keep in mind that every option has its downsides that you will need to deal with.
3. Where to hire a designer
Many eCommerce entrepreneurs lean towards hiring a freelance print designer purely because it’s such a flexible and cost-effective arrangement. If you’re wondering where to find one, here’s our list of top portfolio sites and freelance marketplaces that have a versatile pool of talent.
- Behance is dedicated to helping creatives showcase their work and potentially attract new work opportunities. It’s a great platform to browse top creative work in different categories – everything from graphic design to interactive work to photography, but it’s not a freelancing site where you can hire someone at a click of a button. If you discover a design portfolio that you really like, you have the option to reach out and connect with the artist, but there’s no guarantee they’re actually looking for work.
- Dribbble is a community of designers and creative professionals as well as an inspiration destination for top-notch design work. It has recently added the option to hire registered members and the functionality to post jobs, so it is now a one-stop-shop for discovering, engaging and hiring great design talent around the world.
- Iconfinder and Iconarchive are marketplaces for vector icons. With thousands of icons available to browse for free, you can explore these sites filtering by categories, popularity, artists, and more. If you come across anything that piques your interest, you can contact the designer and liaise with them directly.
- 99designs is an online graphic design marketplace connecting freelance designers with anyone who needs creative work. There are two ways to hire freelancers via 99designs – you can either post a detailed project brief and let the platform match you with the best talents or open your brief to the entire community by starting a creative contest. It’s a good option for eCommerce businesses because it has a whole design category dedicated to Clothing and Merchandise.
- Fiverr is a well-known freelancing site where freelancers offer their services in the form of ‘gigs’. For example, you can purchase a logo design for a fiver. While it’s a cheap option and doesn’t scream quality right away, it’s possible to find and hire a great designer via Fiverr. You just need to be careful not to place all your eggs in one basket.
- Upwork is the biggest freelance marketplace in the US. It has thousands of active designers from all corners of the world, which is good and bad news at the same time. You can certainly find some outstanding design talent on this site, but it’s going to take you hours of research and portfolio browsing. Test it with a small project and see if you get lucky.
- Freelancer is yet another freelancing site with a diverse database of design talent. To find a suitable designer you will need to post a brief. Once that’s up on the site, freelancers can bid on your brief by sending you a personalized pitch and a quote. You are then able to browse their portfolios and choose the best fit for the project.
- Guru is a US-based freelancing site that gives you four different payment and hiring options. Once you find a freelancer that matches your brief, you can set up a payments agreement selecting one of the following four options: payments by milestones, payments per task, payments by hour, and recurring payments.
- Onlinejobs.ph is an interesting one; it’s the world’s largest freelance marketplace for finding Filipino freelance talent. While it’s a popular option for customer service and VA roles, you may also come across some good designers at a very good rate.
- PeoplePerHour is the UK’s largest freelance marketplace and a mix between Upwork and Fiverr. You have three ways of finding and hiring freelance graphic designers – you can post a job and let freelancers bid on it, you can browse freelancers’ portfolios and contact them directly or you can try purchasing ‘Hourlies’, which are the equivalent of Fiverr’s ‘gigs’.
Reach out to the local community
Most good freelance graphic designers find work through referrals. As soon as you know what type of design work you need done, start asking around both in your inner circle of friends and online on relevant forums, groups or via social media.
Finding a freelancer via a personal recommendation can help you eliminate potential risks and accelerate the process significantly. Of course, you should never rely on someone’s recommendation alone – be sure to browse the designer’s portfolio and reviews if there are any available.
Consider the following channels as viable alternatives to freelancing marketplaces and portfolio sites:
- Google search: spending a little time exploring the results that a Google search returns is an obvious but effective way of finding suitable graphic design talent. To optimize your searches, include some additional search parameters, such as desired location, specific skills, language, style or anything else that you consider a must-have for the job.
- Facebook or LinkedIn groups: online groups can often turn out to be gold mines for talent, ideas and all sorts of crowdsourcing projects. Search for relevant groups and join the conversation – as long as you don’t try to sell anything, people will happily help and make recommendations.
- Meetup.com: find out what’s happening in design groups in your area and meet the local designers to expand your network.
4. How to hire the right designer?
Chances are that once you start actively looking for a graphic designer, you’ll get buried under a pile of portfolios and work samples. It’s hard work, but throwing a wide net is the only way to fish out the best talent.
Bear in mind the following unwritten rules when making your hiring decision.
Look for the aesthetics and style that match yours
It’s one of those cases where you know it when you see it.
If you’re lucky, you might find your match quickly and get down to work. For some entrepreneurs, though, the search proves to be long and difficult because they have a very specific idea of what they’re looking for. In the POD business world, compromising on designs is a very bad idea, so stick to your criteria and keep on ploughing through portfolios.
If you find someone who has a strong portfolio but no relevant work, see if they’d be willing to provide samples or run a small trial project to test their skills.
Look for good reviews and recommendations
Almost all freelancing sites have a review and rating system. If you’re hiring through a platform, make it a priority to go through the chosen designer’s recent feedback and look out for any red flags.
One way to have a closer look at the designer’s creative process, communication style and potential weaknesses is to give them a small trial project. It’s usually a bad idea to ask creative professionals to work for free, so try to allocate a budget for this.
Find out about the designer’s availability and price level
When you find a designer that fits the bill, reach out to them to let them know you’d like to discuss a work opportunity and find out whether they’re interested and available for work. At this stage, you should only provide the designer with a broad overview of your project and timeframe.
You can start negotiating the rates if they come back wanting to hear more. Be careful not to make an insultingly low offer, though. This will instantly put off top-quality talent from working with you – they can smell a free-rider miles away. To offer an adequate budget, you’ll need to research the market’s going rate and consider other important factors, such as the cost of living in the city (or country) where your designer is based.
Communicate the project specifics CLEARLY
Nothing is as important when working with a creative professional as crystal clear communication.
Setting out your goals and expectations in advance will help you avoid a lot of hassle and disappointment down the line. Failing to clearly outline the specifics of the job will give your designer a lot of room for improvisation, which might result in a design that’s nowhere near what you are seeking.
Striking a balance between telling the designer what to do and hoping they can read between the lines takes time. In the beginning of a new creative relationship, it is always best to err on the side of caution and cook up a very straightforward design brief.
Protip: You can use LightShot to capture screenshots of the creative work you like and share them with your designer as examples or inspiration.
Draw up a contract
Most of the third party sites have built-in contracts between the parties, including the NDA agreement. However, if you’re hiring a freelancer via any other recruitment channels, you should invest in drawing up a freelance contract or buying a ready-made template online.
Employing a designer full-time will require you to act in accordance with the country’s law as well as pay their taxes and any other state contributions. The good thing about working with an agency is that they tend to offer their own contracts.
Be wary of these common pitfalls when hiring a designer
When you finally discover the ideal match, you will likely experience a rush of excitement and want to get the ball rolling immediately. However, it’s important to keep your head on your shoulders and watch out for potential warning signs.
If you notice that your designer:
- Takes a very long time to respond to your messages
- Is trying to avoid showing you relevant work samples or references
- Wants to get the full project fee upfront
- Makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy (even if you’re struggling to understand why)
Don’t hire them. You should never underestimate the power of your gut feeling. First impressions matter. If you’re getting a bad feeling about someone, there’s probably a good reason why. Save yourself the trouble and find someone else who you can trust.
An interesting tip:
to quickly filter out designers who don’t pay attention to details and cannot read and follow instructions, try this – when you send the initial instructions, ask them to include a specific keyword in the subject line (e.g., “coffee”). You’ll be surprised how many people will fall short on this test.
5. Be a client that designers want to work with
While you’re looking for a great designer, they are looking for a great client. If you want to snatch the best talent, be prepared to play your part and be a decent employer.
Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Just because you’re offering them work, it doesn’t make you superior in any way. In fact, you need their help – be respectful.
- Invoice chasing is a national sport in the freelance world. It’s also infuriating. Be sure to hold your part of the deal and always pay on time.
- If you want to get your hands on a really good designer, don’t ask for spec work. They probably have plenty of other projects lined up and if not, who likes to work for free?
- If you decide to work with a freelance designer, consider the potential for a long-term partnership. This will not only save you tons of briefing time, but might also lead to discounts in the future.
There’s no hiding from this – finding a great designer is a challenge. But those who take the recruitment process seriously and go through all the vetting and safeguarding checks are rewarded at the end. Armed with this complete guide to hiring a print designer, you should be able to navigate the market and seek out the talent you need.
The DOs and DON’Ts of hiring the best design talent:
- Figure out what you need to get designed before you start scouting for talent
- Know your brand’s identity and the look & feel you want
- Decide what type of working arrangement you will pursue: in-house designer vs. freelancer vs. design agency. (Note: due to budget restraints, most ecommerce entrepreneurs start with a freelancer)
- Spend time researching portfolio sites, freelance marketplaces and local meet-up groups
- When researching design portfolios, look for the aesthetics and style that match yours as well as good reviews & recommendations
- Find out about the designer’s availability and price level
- Ensure you communicate the project specifics clearly
- Draw up a contract
- Be a client that designers want to work with
- Don’t hire anyone who takes a very long time to respond to your messages
- Don’t hire anyone who’s trying to avoid showing you relevant work samples or references
- Don’t hire anyone who wants to get the full project fee upfront
- Don’t hire anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy (even if you’re struggling to understand why)