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How to Write a Freelance Design Contract

Nov 2, 2020
(updated: Dec 1, 2022)
Lesson duration: 5 min

A successful graphic design contract can establish a fruitful project. Ensuring that projects have contracts in place to protect both clients and the freelancer is an important step graphic designers should be taking.

Prepared to assemble your freelance graphic design contract? 

Great, we thought so. Let’s do this.

Benefits of a Graphic Design Contract Template

Do you need a graphic design contract template? The short answer is: yes. But here's why: a contract keeps your business protected by providing you with a legally binding agreement. Having a contract will help you:

  • Manage expectations in your business relationship
  • Build credibility as a graphic designer
  • Give your client a written notice of the services provided
  • Increase your chances of getting paid on time (and in some cases, at all)

As you can see, having a graphic design contract template takes your freelance business to the next level, making it easy to customize your terms and conditions for all future clients. Now that you know the importance of graphic design contracts, let's look at what you need to include.

What You Should Include in Your Freelance Designer Contract Template

A killer freelance graphic designer contract is crystal clear about:

  • What both parties agree to do and what their respective responsibilities are during the design contract.
  • The specifics of the deal and exactly what is or isn’t included in the design project.
  • What happens when something changes or one party changes their mind (which is more common than some might think).
  • A simple overview of Copyrights and legal matters.
graphic design contract

Graphic Design Contracts Contain at Least These Sections:

  • Overview of the project
  • Detailed Descriptions
  • Payment terms (overall cost, down payment, method of payment, due dates for full payment, including late fees)
  • Termination clause, i.e. whether either party can terminate the contract before X date, and what payment is required (if any) to end the contract with you
  • Timeline for the project's completion
  • Revisions and additional work
  • Copyright ownership

Now let’s dive into each one of these parts of your graphic design agreement.

Overview of Project

First things first: start your contract template with a brief statement explaining what you will do for your client. Shorter is better. Here, you’ll simply include the key details of your initial freelance proposal and a start date (if that’s applicable) to make sure it’s mutually agreed upon.

Example of a Project’s Overview: “Emily (known as “Contractor”) will work from (date) on providing BrandXYZ, (known as “Client”) with 2 new logos and 4 landing pages, as per the Terms and Conditions detailed below.” 

As you can see, a simple overview of who is hiring you and a project description will do. Here, we suggest that you “under-promise and over-deliver." Set deliverables you can strive to surpass at no extra charge. This is a great way to delight the client, and far better than setting an ambitious schedule that you will struggle to deliver.

Description of the Required Graphic Design Services

One of the biggest mistakes freelancers make with design contracts is failing to get specific with the deliverables. If you don’t take time to write detailed descriptions, you may find that as clients continue to add extra aspects, tasks, and revisions, you’ll end up working countless hours for free.

freelance graphic designer

Avoid Scope Creep by Clearly Stating the Project Scope

If you are not clear about what you will deliver during your graphic design contract, then you may end up doing extra work when the client decides they have another great idea. Scope creep, this gradual expansion of the size of a contract, is a well-known part of the design business. You can avoid it by simply being clearer in your graphic design contract.

Project Details

Freelance designers know the client can decide to add work to your project. This is, in fact, a good thing because we all want more work and money. However, both you and the client should understand when more work means the client pays more.

Failing to be clear about the graphic design services you'll provide will only lead to misunderstandings later, so make sure both parties agree and are on the same page.

That’s why a solid freelance contract will always draw a simple line to make sure the client understands what’s included and what’s not. List every single thing you need to deliver to them, as well as anything you’ll need from them in order to get everything done.

The designer agrees to provide...

During your early conversations with new clients, keep a list of their expectations and deliverables. These will form your list of jobs. You could include items such as:

  • Individual assets (e.g. logo, banner images, etc.)
  • Target delivery dates for each asset
  • Milestones for larger projects
  • Delivery method and file types (e.g. PNG or JPEG? PDF or Dropbox file?)

The client agrees to provide...

Every freelance graphic designer knows the pain of working with unclear requirements or incomplete files. Right from the beginning, designate a section of your graphic design contract template to include the items you will need from your client in order to get the job done.

Timeline for the Project Scope

Meeting a deadline is crucial for freelance designers, so be sure to add a timeline to your deliverables. Say your client needs the project finished by a certain date; leave yourself some wiggle room by allowing time for rewrites. The last thing you want is to wait until the deadline to get client approval on your design project.

However, make sure you specify in your graphic design contract how many rewrites you're willing to provide so you won't be flooded with never-ending revisions. By keeping your contracts specific, you'll prevent your project from hanging in limbo so you can move on to your next client.

Confidential Information & Client's Intellectual Property

The client may share confidential information from you or give you access to intellectual property, such as data, internal communications, and copyrighted media. Your graphic design contract should make the confidential nature of specific information clear.

This protects your client by putting you in a legally binding agreement to not share that confidential information. It also protects you from being given media that doesn't belong to the client.

For example, the client passes you a picture to use as a background in their new logo. Do they own the rights to that picture? If you use it and a copyright infringement claim is made, who pays the bill?

contract for freelance designer

Payment Terms

Here you’ll explain all the payment details. It’s important to include not just what you’ll get paid for, but how you'll get paid, when the final payment is due, and what happens if your client doesn’t pay. For example:

  • Project fee
  • Allowed payment method(s)
  • Payment due date
  • Any fees associated with late or non-payment

Without a mutually acceptable payment agreement, you risk playing a waiting game with clients who prefer to pay when it suits them, not when you need it. This can be devastating to a freelancer’s cash flow. Make your rate, details about deposits, milestones, retainer payments, and final deadlines crystal clear in your design contract from the outset.

Revisions and additional work

While most clients are satisfied with a single round of revisions, others can be picky or indecisive and may press for more.

It’s important to insert a clause into all your graphic design contract templates that will prevent clients from changing their minds and the project’s core details or direction halfway through. This will restrict additional requests and urge customers to be clear about what they need before you begin work.

For instance, if the agreed-upon work is to create a logo, make certain to state it clearly:

"The Designer will build up a logo parcel (with jpegs, pngs, and vector variants) for the Client. The Designer permits one round of amendments. If the Client requires more than one round of amendments or the improvement of different resources, it is past the "Extent of Work" and the Designer will charge an hourly pace of X/hr for any extra work." 

This will secure the extent of your work and guarantee that you focus on what you and your client have consented to.

Protecting Your Graphic Design Contract

Legal clause

Including a legal clause will give you additional protection as a freelancer. If your client relationship suffers, outlining legal agreements within your contract can secure you from various consequences if the client believes their business has suffered as a result of the work you have provided. By adding a solid legal clause, you can protect yourself if they try to take legal action against you.

Termination clause

Although no one ever signs a design contract planning to end it, you never know what life may throw at you. A family emergency might arise, your computer might give up the ghost, or perhaps you - and/or the client) might just discover that you two simply don’t match. For these and many other reasons, it is essential to add a clear termination clause to your contract, which will protect both sides.

In this section you will include whether either party can end the contract before a certain date, and what payment will be required (if any) to end the contract with you. It is wise to mention that either the designer or the client can end the project. It’s up to you to determine what the parameters are for termination, but the most common freelance design contract clause is that the client needs to pay you for the work done before the termination date. 

So you can include: “Either party may terminate the contract at any time through a written request. The Company shall upon termination pay Consultant all unpaid amounts due for Services completed prior to notice of termination.”

Graphic designers may also want to include breach of contract damages to protect their creative work. For example, it makes sense to protect your work from clients who don't pay or cancel a contract midway through and then try to take your work.

Likewise, you may want to supply terms to protect you if you happen to be the breaching party.

Termination of a design contract is the complicated part for an independent contractor in the graphic design business. When you are developing your graphic design contract template, you should take legal advice to ensure your legal documents are acceptable under the governing law where you live.

freelance graphic designer contract

Copyright Ownership

As a designer, you need to showcase your graphic design work to grow your career, and it’s problematic when you aren’t able to claim everything you create. But here’s where your freelance design contract comes in handy!

Include a section that confirms the client gives you permission to use the project in your portfolio, or for other marketing strategies that will help you win more clients.

Other Elements You Need in a Freelance Graphic Design Contract

Preferred Method of Contact

It's essential to keep your client informed whenever you reach another milestone in a project. Within your contract, you should specify how you'll stay in touch with your client throughout the process to avoid confusion and missed messages. Depending on the client, you can keep in contact by phone, email, or even the client's internal tools.


Last but not least, at the bottom of every graphic design agreement, there needs to be a signature from both you and the client. A signature from both parties makes this contract a legally binding document, so don't proceed with any design work until you have your client's signature. Otherwise, your client can back out of your agreement at any time.

Additional Considerations:

Relationship Agreement

Don't forget to define your relationship with a client! When you include a relationship agreement, you can prevent scope creep by making it clear that you are working as an independent entity and not as a salaried employee. This will help prevent a client from adding more work beyond what was initially stated in your contract.

Check with a Legal Attorney

You can never be too safe when it comes to drafting a contract, so if you are unsure about any legal terms, you can have your contract checked by a legal attorney to make sure your rights are protected. Especially, if you made any changes to the original legal sections of the contract template. By making changes to the legal section, you may unknowingly affect the business relationship and even the validity of the entire agreement. It's better to be safe than sorry!

Conclusion for Freelance Designers

You should now be prepared to sign your next contract! With a solid graphic design contract in place to protect yourself and an online portfolio full of wonderful work, you'll be well on your way to the design career of your dreams.

If you're looking for a free graphic design contract template to customize for your business, you can use Indy contracts and contract templates to make sure your contracts are properly prepared every time. That will really make your life easier! Make sure to take some time to edit so you’ll then have a solid starting point for your next agreements, making the necessary modifications from client to client.

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