Freelance Graphic Designer: The Kit

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This week I’m going to be part of a panel at A-Camp about careers, you guys! Specifically, I am a freelance graphic designer, I work for myself, and I want to talk about it.

It’s taken me awhile to get here. I’ve attempted to start my own company (this website) and I’ve attempted to work freelance once before. And I’ve definitely put the necessary work for years at other companies in order to get experience as a designer as well.

But the final straw came when, after working for 16 months in a tight-knit team at a small start-up, I was unexpectedly and viciously fired by my sociopathic boss. I say “viciously” because I was literally cursed at and degraded. Seriously, this happened. And that’s when I decided I was probably never going to work for someone else ever again.

Note: Though this is mostly graphic design-focused, I feel like the “freelance” concept can be applied across many trades! Our fast-changing and increasingly-connected world says so.

Want to stick it to the man and be your own boss? These are the resources and inspiration that I use often for designing/freelance purposes and maybe you might find useful!


This book: How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul

How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul

You need some programz! You definitely need (and need to know) Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Hands down. No excuses.


Also: COFFEE. So much coffee. I feel like coffee, or forms of it, are in all of the Kits we’ve posted so far, amiright? If you haven’t tried Peet’s Coffee, I so very highly recommend it.


As a graphic (or web, or interaction) designer, you should have a ton of fonts. TONS. It’s helpful to have a desktop application to be able to organize and browse through them. I use FontCase ($35):


Hey, you also need a portfolio website! I use for this, which connects to Prosite to allow you to use your Behance projects to make a portfolio website. I don’t know code or anything and was able to build this with it. Not to shabby yeah?


I think equally as important as anything else mentioned here is: your desk space. You can’t work from home in your bed. You just can’t! You sleep in your bed. See how that works? After I was fired I took the pleasure of grabbing a thing or two from IKEA to dress up my desk area a bit. It helps, you know?

Now some more nitty-gritty designy stuff:


Docracy: for legal documentation, like contracts and stuff which is definitely useful.

+ I like to download photoshop files from websites like these and see how they made certain elements and applied certain effects. It’s a great way to learn some tricks:

365psd // Premium Pixels // PixEden // psdtuts+


+ My favorite: Start-Ups, This is How Design Works

+ Treehouse – the “best way to learn how to design and develop for the web and iOS” – with videos!

+ The Manual – “Three beautiful, illustrated hardbound books a year, each holding six articles and six personal lessons that use the maturing of the discipline of web design as a starting point for deeper explorations of our work and who we are as designers.”


The Best Designs, which really does a great job of showcasing exceptional (and inspirational) web design work almost daily (or at the least: weekly).


The 99 Percent – Has nothing to do with the Occupy movement, and also not specifically for designers but just for anyone that has an idea. It’s about making an idea happen. But also so much more than that.

Kern and Burn – a publication about design entrepreneurship.

ISO50 – one of my favorite designers and musicians and design blogs of all time. I love the stuff they talk about and feature.


– How I Became My Own Mentor in a Freelance Economy (Good Magazine)

– How Freelance Became the New 9-to-5 (Good Magazine again)



Freelance Switch // Authentic Jobs // 37Signals

– – – –

Alex’s portfolio website

This post goes hand-in-hand with A-Camp’s Career Panel with Alex, Crystal,  Meredydd, Taylor, Carolyn, and Jess.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

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Cofounder and Design Director of Autostraddle. Professional web/graphic designer. Whiskey enthusiast. Drumming hobbyist. A past speaker at the 2010 BlogHer Conference ("Good Blog Design: The Role of Layout in an Online Medium"), 2013 Salon LGBTQ Conference ("Innovative Best Practices for Brand-Blogger Campaigns") and featured in the Los Angeles Edition of Refinery29's 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-owns and manages Tully's Training, a dog training company in Los Angeles. Twitter: @a_ex Instagram: alexxxvegaaa

Alex has written 100 articles for us.


  1. Stuff like this excites and terrifies me in equal measures.

    I have a degree in design but I’ve never had a real job in design, which makes me freak out and bury my head in the sand, also in equal measures.

    Also fonts are sexy.

  2. Great contribution Alex – I think it’s fantastic Autostraddle is game enough to venture into this area and as we know, the LGBTQAI (correct me if I am wrong) has a sad record on this front.

    I’m a freelancer, just beginning really. I found > – to be quite a good grounding point on the contract front as well. I also recommend comparing what’s out there, because the structure of your biz will inevitably change over time. Hell, I started with some simple Excel spreadsheets.

    I don’t think many of us are guided on this point, we don’t know how to ‘value’ ourselves per se but if you are going full time with this then it’s really important. I don’t have any big league advice, except to say that I have found collaboration across mediums a very enlightening thing.

    And of course “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

  3. Awesome resources. This Graphic Design student thanks you! <3

    On a related note, I just got a part-time cleaning job for a kindergarten and it's horrifying… Comic Sans… Comic Sans everywhere!

    • I also abhor Comic Sans, but I work with kindergarten through second grade kids and sometimes I find it’s the best font they can read and copy. Most fonts don’t actually look like the way we write letters, especially “a”, and it can confuse them when they’re just learning how to form letters.

      Papyrus, however, should burn in hell.

  4. YAY. I’ve always wanted to read what you have to say about design, or design communities or well everything design related.

  5. Thanks, Alex, this is great! A close friend of mine is in the process of strategizing her start-up and I think this will be an excellent addition to her current resources.

  6. what’s the best way to learn indesign & illustrator on my own? online tutorials? sign up for a class?


    • I’d say online tutorials and A LOT of practice. Just dive in. Click things. Move things around. The more you use it, the faster you’ll get it.

      But don’t forget to take breaks. Or else you’ll go blind like me..

    • There are cool tutorials on This is the illustrator one: and there’s a tutorial category called “Layout” which is very InDesign-specific:

      Other than that, what A said — just keep using them! These programs are endless and you’ll only learn by actually USING them for everything, none-stop, and figuring out how to do stuff on your own, etc. Good luck!

  7. This is awesome! I know web development (only code) and now I can use this to upgrade my design skills, thanks a lot!

  8. So you designed that lovely A-Camp poster. Well now.

    Thanks for this. My business is massage therapy, but graphic design is a passion of mine. In my downtime I daydream about the typography of my logo.


  9. This is a late-ish post but I’m finally pursuing my graphic design interests on the side through the genius that is Craigslist.. Question though: how much do I charge per hour/project/whatever when responding to ads? I’ve only ever done things for friends & family for free.

    Also, side note, my absolute FAVORITE site for free fonts: Use them responsibly; they’re gems.

  10. I am very impressive with how you give the sites and your opinions. I am a graphic design, currently attending to a Purdue University. I just bookmark this site, you are wonderful. Thank you for sharing a lot of things.

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  12. I am very good at writing and am very happy reading your article on what freelancers are earning nowadays. Can you help me with more such wonderful blogs so that I can make money from what I love and do best? I am eagerly looking forward to read more such useful write-ups that will guide freelancers like me. I am willing to share my browsing experience with you. There are a number of micro-job websites like,, and many more who accept all kinds of freelancing work. Post yours and let the world see your work.

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  14. Hello…
    Thanks for Uploading such new blogs it is very helpful for us and hopefully for others also kindly update with such new things.

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