The difference between the $100 logos, $1.000 logos and $10.000 logos

Published by Nela Dunato on at 07:00 in Branding, Graphic design

“My designer quoted me $600 for a logo. Is this a fair price, or are they ripping me off?”

“That's way too much. I can recommend someone who can do it for $50.”

I've witnessed this kind of conversation many times. I've decided it's about time I talk about this heated topic here on my own blog to explain what the whole deal with pricing logos is about.

Discussing prices is touchy because it can easily become defensive. It's not my intention to belittle anyone whose budget can only afford them low priced logos, nor to convince anyone that they should buy a more expensive logo. I want you to become aware of what you're buying. I want you to have realistic expectations of what your budget can afford you, so you don't end up disappointed because you didn't get what you wanted. There's a logo for every price point, and there's a good reason why they cost as much as they do.

People outside of the design industry who don’t understand the nuances behind logo design are legitimately confused by the prices. Logo prices vary wildly, from $5 to millions of dollars. What’s the deal? How can the same thing cost $5 and $5 million?

That’s the point—it’s not the same thing.

While this topic is a lot more complex than I can cover in a single article, I’ll simplify things a bit and divide the typical logo ranges in 3 tiers: the low-end ($100-$999), the mid-end ($1.000-$9.999) and high-end ($10.000+). I’ll explain what happens at each of these levels, and why it costs as much as it costs.

The difference between the $100 logos, $1.000 logos and $10.000 logos

In order to qualify as a logo, a graphic must satisfy several conditions. It must be:

  • a vector graphic, blown up to any size without the loss of quality
  • clearly convey meaning even when scaled down to the size of the stamp or app icon
  • suitable for use in a variety of media (print, digital, engraving, embroidery etc.)
  • unique—there are no other businesses using the same graphic.

If a graphic fails one of these checks, it’s not done to professional standards, so it cannot be considered a real logo.

Logo design in different colors and sizes
Logo design for Wild Moon Spirit.
The shapes remain recognizable even when scaled down, or converted to a single color.

$5 “logos” are not logos

The reason I’m not even considering Fiverr gigs a part of the legitimate logo design industry is because the results you get from those gigs are not logos. What you typically get are plagiarized graphics placed on a white background (if you’re lucky), which makes them literally useless for any practical purpose.

So let’s move on to actual logos. What’s the difference between low, mid and high end logo design services?

The main difference is the process

When I said that $100 logos, $1.000 logos and $10.000 are not the same thing, what I meant is that the process used to get to these logos differs. While the result might appear similar to an untrained eye, the work that went in it is of a different order of magnitude.

I’m not even talking about the operating costs here.

A legitimate business pays taxes, their own healthcare, bookkeeping fees, expensive professional design tools and equipment. People in the Western Europe, North America and Australia have higher costs of living than Eastern Europe, South America, Africa or most Asian countries. All of these conditions factor into the designer’s rates—someone might be able to offer the same level of service for a lower price because their operating costs are lower. But let’s put that aside for now, because we could be here all day analyzing spreadsheets.

Before we get into the process thing, I’d like to point out one other difference that’s rarely discussed in the design circles.

Logo price also depends on the client

The value of the logo is not solely in the designer’s work: it’s in your company’s potential to profit from it. A corporation who will profit in millions every year from a branding project should pay more for a logo than a non-profit or a mom & pop shop.

Non-profit organizations and local micro-businesses have lower budgets and don’t expect a big return from a re-branding project. Designers often decide to lower their price, or even offer pro bono services in order to meet the needs of their less profitable clients.

Businesses who are serious about using design to gain more customers and be perceived as a premium brand are willing to invest more money, because this investment will lead directly to higher profits.

Two different companies may pay a different price for what can be considered the same amount of work, and this is not unfair: it’s called a value based price. If the logo will help you get more customers at a higher price point, this translates into profit. Designers who help you achieve that deserve a piece of that pie.

Now that you know the two other factors of logo design prices—operating costs and value based price—let’s circle back to the main meat of this post: the differences in the design process.

The $100 logo design process

$100 is the least you can expect to pay for a decent logo, though by First-world standards that’s still cheap.

I have two explanations for how it’s possible for designers in developed countries to charge $100 per logo and still make a living:

  1. They’re not full-time designers.
  2. They create 10-20 logos per month.

If someone has a second job that’s paying the bills, or is still in the university and their life is funded by parents and student loans, it figures that they won’t value their services as much. They don’t need the money to survive—they can afford to put a ton of work into a project and only get a fraction of what they deserved.

If we’re talking about a full-time designer that’s still somehow managing to make a living off of $100 logos or cheaper, you have to wonder: how much effort are they able to put into each one? If you know your logo is just one of half a dozen they’re working on this week, can you be confident in the quality of what you’re getting?

When the designer is forced to rush through a project, they have to cut corners.

There is no way logo design can be optimized like a factory and be done in a few hours every single time. Creative process doesn’t work that way.

Typically, the first thing that suffers is research.

Design research is the first step in the logo design process. It’s an essential step, because logos are not created in a vacuum—we need to establish what’s already present on the market, and how to differentiate from your competitors. If we don’t do that, the results will likely be a generic cliché that’s already been seen a thousand times. (And often they are: see examples.)

That means that the designer has to work based on client’s input alone, and jumps quickly into the creation process. Such process might involve:

  1. Asking clients for design direction (favorite colors, fonts, symbols, moodboards etc.).
  2. Creating several variations quickly and offering the client to pick their favorite.
  3. Refining the chosen option based on client’s input.
  4. Sending the final logo and the invoice.

This can realistically be done in a few days, so it explains why the price is so low. The question is, do you want to put the symbol that will represent your company for years to come into the hands of a student, designer with a second job, or a designer who is juggling many other projects alongside yours?

The $1.000 logo design process

For $1.000 or more, you can get a pretty good design solution, provided that the designer has plenty of experience and adheres to professional standards.

A complete logo design process involves the following phases:

  1. Researching the client and the competition.
  2. Setting the design direction (through the use of a design brief and/or a moodboard).
  3. Creating many design concepts.
  4. Refining concepts with the most potential.
  5. Choosing the concept that best communicates the client’s values and brand message.
  6. Presenting the logo proposal to the client (with examples of everyday use).
  7. Revising the logo based on feedback (optional).
  8. Preparing multiple color and composition variations of the logo.
  9. Designing the branding guidelines.

You can see there’s a lot more involved in the mid-end design process than it is in the low-end. A single project can take anywhere from 20 to 50 or more hours to complete. The project can last between 2 and 6 weeks, depending on how many projects the designer is working on at a time, and if there’s additional graphics included with the logo.

Logo and brand design process
The phases in my own logo & brand design process

Experienced freelancers in the US and the EU will typically fall into the 4-figure dollar price range, but there are also freelancers charging 5-figure rates.

And at the 5-figure range and beyond, we have branding agencies.

The $10.000 logo design process

The high-end logo design process follows a similar structure as a mid-end one, with one key difference: it involves a team of designers and marketers.

Instead of one dedicated professional, you get 2, 3 or more, all working to make your project a success. Since there’s more people and resources involved, you’re getting a lot more done:

  • The research phase is more thorough.
  • More designers equals more ideas.
  • Design may involve active participation of the client or a customer focus group.
  • Business naming and taglines are often included in the agency brand design package.

This type of process can last several months. Large companies with so much at stake wouldn’t dare to rush it because if they don’t let the agency get it right, it might cost them a lot of money.

With so many people involved, and all of them giving their focused attention to your project, prices of the agency logo designs practically have no upper limit—they can go up to millions of dollars for big clients like MasterCard, Pepsi and Airbnb.

Different design processes deliver different results

A “deliverable” is an item that you as a client get once the design is finished. The more money you invest, the more deliverables you get to take home.

With a low-budget logo, you get a logo. That’s it.

With a mid-budget logo, you get:

  • Multiple logo variations (color, black, inverse, vertical, horizontal, icon etc.)
  • Essential brand style guide (depending on how much you’re paying, you might get a fully developed brand)
  • Some freelancers will provide brand strategy.

With a high-budget logo, you get:

  • Brand strategy
  • Multiple logo variations
  • A fully developed brand
  • Optionally, brand name and tagline

I hope that this post has clarified why the logo prices vary so much. It’s not that designers are trying to cheat you, it’s that logos are not trivial. I see them as the most challenging type of design project there is. Not every designer can do logos well.

There’s no template or “best practice” that guarantees a logo everyone will love. So much can go wrong when an inexperienced designer takes on a logo project (for example, ending up with an unintentionally vulgar logo). The company’s reputation is at stake, because logo is a business tool that wears many hats.

If a logo design project turns out unsuccessful, re-branding will invite even more costs. You’ll need to re-design and print all the promo materials over again, like websites, apps, brochures, signage, vehicle graphics, business cards for all employees... The costs just add up, which is why companies avoid re-branding if they can help it.

Saving money on a low-cost logo today might mean having to invest more money later to fix what isn’t working.

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That said, my advice for you is:

Don’t rush into a logo design project.

If you don’t have the budget for what you want right now, save up for it rather than spending money on something you won’t be happy with. And if you choose to stick with a low-priced logo, I support your decision—but please, do your research so you don't get ripped off by a logo designer.

Hand lettered logo design and branding
Hand-lettered logo design is my specialty

If you like my work, you’ll be glad to hear that my logo design services come in two packages. You can start with a smaller package right now, and add other graphics as you need them later on. This is a cashflow-friendly option that many business owners choose when starting out.

If you have any questions about the logo design process, contact me and I’ll be happy to answer them—no strings attached. Or, you can ask your question in the comments below.

Really, I’m just looking for an excuse to talk about logos because I’m so passionate about them—like you’re passionate about your work.

Nela
Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I run a boutique design consultancy that helps creative businesses evolve into premium brands and connect with their dream clients, by crafting extraordinary visual experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...



Your comments

  • Elena Mutonono

    Elena Mutonono
    2017-03-25 at 23:12

    Hi Nela,

    Thank you so much for this post. My business is far from the world of design (as are my eyes), so last I hired a brand strategist for my entire website makeover, which was worth all the money and even more.

    In the beginning when I had zero clients and no products, I did hire someone on fiverr, and I knew it wasn't the smartest solution. I'm so happy I can now afford someone who's so much more professional.

    I do appreciate you taking the time to educate amateurs like me about the process of design creation. I will definitely be encouraging people to do their research and pay attention to the process of branding, even if they're just starting out.


    Thank you!

  • Nela

    Nela
    2017-03-26 at 12:13

    Thank you for your kind words, Elena, and for sharing your story.

    I'm delighted to hear that you're happy with your decision to hire a pro brand strategist for your new website – and it clearly shows!

  • Simon

    Simon
    2017-03-28 at 08:08

    Great article - and so true (much of it true for any creative type of work). I remember not that many years back when I would charge more the $100 end for a logo - it always took longer than I wanted and yet I feared no-one would pay higher rates.

    If you look at the diagram in your post, showing 5 stages of logo design - $100 at minimum-ish wage of $20 per hour - that's barely an hour for each step if working at minimum wage. (An extreme example) And that doesn't even account for communication time with the client, taxes, expenses, finding new clients, etc.

    The way I like to sum it up is that if someone under-values their own services, then they simply don't understand how successful business works - and if that's the case, do you really want to entrust them with your own?

  • Nela

    Nela
    2017-03-28 at 12:00

    Well said, Simon!
    And yes, once you do the math, the problem becomes very obvious – there's no time for doing everything that's required in order to make a project a success.

    I remember the feeling you mention. Every time I consider raising my prices, I fear that nobody would pay that – and then I'm proven otherwise! Smart business owners know that good investments pay off.

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