Graphic design contracts that lay out the services provided, costs, and terms are an essential part in becoming an independent graphic designer. Going into business for yourself requires building a client base, marketing your business, and protecting your work. The most important aspect of your business is creating graphic design contracts. All creative need to know the reasons why they need such contracts and learn how to create them.

Overview: Preparing a Graphic Design Contract

Designing compelling art for your client or delivering on their vision is important, but your design skills and talents alone won't help you create a successful career. You have to attract new clients, sell your services, and protect your work. Working without a contract exposes you to liability. It also makes it difficult to enforce your claim to money if a client hasn't paid. Many more issues can arise during the course of your graphic design career

Drafting a contract is a balancing act. On the one hand, you don't want a contract with multiple pages. On the other, you also don't want a contract that doesn't cover the needs of a project. The solution is to draft a template contract with elements you can change to reflect the terms of a project. A well-written contract is an ironclad contract, with manageable and readable text. You may want to seek help of a lawyer to draft a template that covers your needs and is alterable. 

Important Details to Include in a Graphic Design Contract

You may feel that you don't need a contract because you and your client get along fine and you won't have an issue over the work you're going to provide. The truth is you never know when something can go wrong. A contract protects both you and your client. It also prevents project creep that can cost you time and money. The elements of a contract must:

  • Establish the overarching framework of a project
  • Define your responsibilities to a client
  • Define the support you will or will not provide once a project is complete
  • List out the work that you will be doing and how many variations or versions of thereof
  • How many hours you estimate you'll spend on the work
  • How long it will take for you to respond to edit or rework requests
  • State any agreed-upon deadlines

You also need to include a client responsibility section which states that the client has agreed to the work and outlines the approval process. Make sure to describe how you deliver the end product so the client knows whether to expect physical media material or virtual. You also want to state how long you store digital files before deletion. This can be included in a clause that lays out your retention time frame and gives a client an option to decide whether to keep the files longer or delete sooner. Make sure to list a fee they have to pay for the service of retention longer than your standard time frame. 

The most important part of a contract is payment. Here is where you lay out when you expect your payment and the methods of payment you accept. You may want to request 50 percent down to begin work, with the balance due upon completion. This amount gives you incentive to start the work, covers material costs, and funds your needs while you work on the project. The client knows they have given you what you need to start the project and can expect results in your specified time frame. Putting all of this in the contract gives you the spur you need to get the work done. A client gets peace of mind knowing they have recourse if you fail to deliver.

Put in a clear and concise section that covers revisions of the project. Editorial and do-over work is a part of design process. But you don't want a client to keep coming back for more revisions without paying for them after a certain point. Put down language that states the number of revisions you do, what a client can ask of you in a revision, and fees after the client has exhausted the revisions.

If you need help with graphic design contracts, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.