The 10 Best Books For Freelance Graphic Designers

Freelance graphic design books are great resources to use if you’re looking to improve your skills and understand the ins and outs of this career path. Becoming a successful freelance graphic designer can take some time, but the right resources can help you move ahead a lot faster.

The 10 best freelance graphic design books are:

  1. Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines by The Graphic Artists Guild
  2. Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton
  3. How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
  4. Now You See It and Other Essays on Design by Michael Bierut
  5. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
  6. Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton
  7. Work for Money, Design for Love by David Airey
  8. How to by Michael Bierut
  9. Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann
  10.  Interaction of Color by Josef Albers

Below I’ll go into more detail about these books for freelance graphic designers that cover a wide variety of topics, from how to get started in graphic design to grid design and typography.

The 10 Best Freelance Graphic Design Books

1. Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook Of Pricing And Ethical Guidelines By The Graphic Artists Guild 

Pages: 504 | Best For: Beginner graphic designers who want to start a freelance business

The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is a great book for freelance designers, as it works as a comprehensive and up-to-date reference guide. Its rich contents help graphic designers determine suitable price ranges, collect payment from customers, protect their creative work, and handle a variety of issues that come with the job.

I think this book is particularly helpful for graphic designers who wish to grow a freelance business and create a rewarding and sustainable career. It incorporates different sections regarding listings, updated pricing guidelines, and negotiations.

The more beginner graphic designer freelancers can find more than 20 different model contracts at the end of the book too. This is extremely helpful for those interested in the business side of being an artist but with little to no business skills or experience.

Other interesting features of the book include:

  • Chapters on how to leverage your graphic design skills to maximize your income
  • Tips on how to create multiple revenue streams, such as workshops, videos, and more
  • Interviews with successful self-employed graphic artists who used many of the practices found in this handbook

2. Thinking With Type By Ellen Lupton

Pages: 224 | Best For: Graphic designers with a particular interest in typography

As the name suggests, this freelance graphic design book covers all typography essentials such as typefaces, type families, kerning and tracking, and even how to use a grid. Using visual examples, the author, Ellen Lupton, shows how freelance graphic designers can be innovative within systems of typographic form.

The design of the book itself adds to its usefulness, providing illustrated examples that graphic designers can use to implement the concepts they read about. It is a great resource for graphic designer beginners and seasoned professionals alike.

Much of the content of the book appears in the form of examples, samples, and exercises. I found most of the tips regarding software focused solely on Adobe InDesign. I feel like this might be an oversight, considering that many designers also set text in Photoshop and Illustrator, for example.

However, Thinking with Type also offers great examples of style sheets for print and the web, ornaments and captions, font formats and font licensing, and lining and non-lining numerals. So it covers pretty much everything you need to know about typography as a freelance graphic designer!

3. How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul By Adrian Shaughnessy

Pages: 176 | Best For: Freelance graphic designers starting their careers

In this book, Adrian Shaughnessy offers beginner freelance graphic designers guidance on the theoretical, practical, and philosophical aspects of design. It provides a comprehensive overview of past and current trends in the graphic design industry, as well as a guide on how to make it big while maintaining your passion for the field.

This book for freelance graphic designers is great for those who want to jumpstart their careers. It offers important and updated chapters on professional skills, global trends, the creative process, social responsibility, and the ethics of freelance graphic design. Readers can also find a few inspiring interviews with leading designers such as Jonathan Barnbrook, Sara De Bondt, and Stephen Doyle.

One thing that I found particularly interesting about this book is that it offers actionable insights on how to solve common issues. A few examples include generating ideas for projects when you’re drawing a blank or how to effectively manage the creative process. So it’s not just a book for reading – it’s a book that really allows you to put everything you read into practice!

4. Now You See It And Other Essays On Design By Michael Bierut

Pages: 240 | Best For: Any freelance graphic designer looking for some inspiration

Rather than just being a freelance graphic design book, this is a book of design essays. It consists of a collection of more than 50 pieces by Michael Bierut in which he details how he tackled a wide variety of design issues.

It is a mix of personal recollections and universal takeaways that any freelance graphic designer can draw inspiration from. In it, Bierut explores topics such as the design process, inspiration and mentorship, design hoaxes, pop culture, The Sopranos, and even his experience creating the logo for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign!

I found Now You See It and Other Essays on Design super easy to read, without any unnecessary jargon or complex concepts. If you’re looking for an engaging, witty, and refreshing read, this is the book for you!

5. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered By Austin Kleon

Pages: 224 | Best For: Freelance graphic designers that want to learn how to promote their work

A critical step in every freelance graphic designer’s career is getting their work out there and being discovered. This freelance graphic design book gives its readers tips and strategies for effective self-promotion and marketing – exactly what you need to get discovered!

The book shares 10 practical examples of how to share your work, covering a wide variety of topics from etiquette to the practicalities of the internet. It comprises illustrations, quotes, stories, and rules on being productive, brave, and generous.

While the author describes the book as being “for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion” and provides inspiring examples to overcome this, I feel like he could’ve gone deeper into the topic and provided a few actionable steps to follow. 

However, this freelance graphic design book still shares the stories of other people’s success, which I feel is quite motivating for any freelance graphic designer.

6. Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming By Ellen Lupton

Pages: 184 | Best For: Freelance graphic designers in need of new ideas to solve design and branding challenges

The second book on this list by Ellen Lupton opens up the creative process for everyone to understand and demystifies the idea that creativity is an innate talent. Using a hands-on approach, the author uses interviews, research, case studies, exercises, and presentation techniques to help freelance graphic designers apply inventive solutions to their creative challenges.

This book for freelance graphic designers shares a variety of methods of brainstorming for different phases of the design process (defining the problem, inventing ideas, and creating). It provides ideas on informal strategies for quick thinking, formal research methods, and other approaches too, such as focus groups, interviewing, brand mapping, and co-design.

Ellen Lupton’s book is easy to follow with great visual examples. It’s a good reminder of the basic tools necessary for graphic design planning and execution and processes that can differentiate mediocre and excellent freelance graphic designers. It also includes interviews with leading designers such as Art Chantry, Ivan Chermayeff, and Jessica Helfand.

7. Work For Money, Design For Love By David Airey

Pages: 288 | Best For: Freelance graphic designers starting a career on their own

Work for Money, Design for Love is an excellent resource for freelance graphic designers who are just starting their careers. It works as a refreshing and straightforward guide, answering pertinent questions that concern many beginner freelancers.

David Airey wrote this book inspired by the many questions he received from new designers who frequently visited his blogs. Using anecdotes, case studies, interviews, and a myriad of sound advice, the author tackles major questions, including:

  • How to find new clients
  • How to charge for design work
  • When to say no to a client
  • How to handle difficult clients
  • What to include in contracts
  • How to plan for business growth
  • Where to launch an online presence
  • How to create a passive income stream

8. How To By Michael Bierut

Pages: 320 | Best For: Any freelance graphic designers looking for insight and inspiration

In his book, How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World (yes, that’s really the full title!), Michael Bierut showcases 35 of his projects and explains his design philosophy and creative process for each one, from start to finish. 

Throughout the book, we gain an understanding of how Bierut handled his working life, his relationships with clients, the struggles he faced as a design professional, and more.

There are many absorbing chapters in this book. They cover relevant topics such as the importance of hand-drawn designs in a technological world, the significance of typography, how to create an identity without a logo, and how to work for free.

Despite the number of pages, I found this book to be a surprisingly quick read. It is rich with images and light with a friendly tone throughout, making it a really accessible option.

9. Grid Systems In Graphic Design By Josef Müller-Brockmann

Pages: 176 | Best For: Freelance graphic designers that want to learn more about grid systems

This freelance graphic design book explains how grid systems are the foundation of good design and a crucial part of becoming a successful and expert graphic designer. These grids are rigid frameworks that help freelance graphic designers consistently and logically organize information on a page.

The author provides guidelines and rules for using a variety of grid systems in different projects, helping freelance graphic designers to create well-structured and balanced designs. I recommend this book for aspiring designers in particular, as its teachings and examples are invaluable sources of knowledge and actionable insights.

10. Interaction Of Color By Josef Albers

Pages: 208 | Best For: Freelance graphic designers that want to understand the principles of color theory

Finally, Interaction of Color is a significant freelance graphic design book on color theory that presents more than 50 color studies. This essential resource on color demonstrates principles like color relativity, intensity, and temperature.

Alongside each study, the author provides succinct, concise, and unique explanations of each of his theories, along with his approaches to studying them. When it comes to color theory, this book is a great source of knowledge.

Which Freelance Graphic Design Book Would I Recommend?

The 10 books above display a range of different topics that might be helpful for freelancers throughout the different stages of their careers, inspiring them to become better at their craft.

Every book on this list has something important to offer, but the one that stood out the most for me was the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines by The Graphic Artists Guild.

I believe it to be a great resource for beginner freelance graphic designers who need to better understand the business side of their craft. With its examples and tips on the most varied topics, this book can help guide new artists toward rewarding, successful, and sustainable careers.

If you want to read more about the actual freelancing side of things, check out our guide to the best books for freelancers.

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