Free Graphic Design Retainer Contract Template

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Table of contents

What is a Graphic Design Retainer Contract?

A graphic design retainer contract is a legally sound contract drafted to outline the details of a continued business relationship—in which a client pays the contract amount upfront in order to retain a designer’s service. The retainer contract includes design services to be rendered, billable time, project duration, and payment details

It’s a legally binding work-for-hire document that guarantees a client access to your graphic design services for a specific duration of time. A designer may choose to offer a discounted rate as an incentive to sign the retainer contract.

There aren’t any exact specifications regarding how a retainer should look like. It depends on the mutual agreement between you and the client. Here are a few types of design retainer contracts to get you off to a great start:

  • Traditional: for a certain project of a fixed number of hours
  • Rolling hours: for rolling over unused work hours to the next month
  • Expert access: requires an expert on call to be available for consultation

What to Include in the Graphic Design Retainer Contract

Clients willing to sign a retainer most likely have worked with you already. They know the ins and outs of your working process and admire your design. Impressing these clients becomes a whole lot easier when you know what to include in it. Here’s an idea of what you can include in your graphic design retainer contract: 

Project background

This is the first section of your retainer agreement. It explains the context of the freelance graphic design contract and mutually agreed-upon project details. Consider including:

  • Service specifics: that are to be discussed with the client
  • Desire to retain: a designer for performing these specific services
  • Duration: for which the contract will be effective unless extended by the client 

Project scope statement

A project scope statement is a detailed description of deliverables. This helps you and a client to be on the same page about each and every task to be delivered during the contract lifecycle. Graphic designers should use this section to mention:

  • Key objectives: is where you define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals
  • Detailed breakdown: for explaining deliverables in detail
  • Key milestones: for identifying the timeline for completing each deliverable, and the project as a whole
  • Constraints: that explain potential limitations with respect to time and resources
  • Scope exclusions: mention what’s not included in design deliverables to avoid scope creep
  • Expenses: related to licenses to be borne by the client

Project payment schedule

This is where you provide the client with payment details and terms. If you are creating a traditional retainer, it’s best to ask for payment upon signing the contract. For other types of retainers, here’s what you can include:

  • Fees: the specific charges or hourly rates that the client pays for each service
  • Due dates: provide information on when you should receive the payment
  • Method of payment: to mention your preferred method of receiving payments
  • Actuals: for using licenses, purchasing design templates from online marketplaces, and on-demand consultation


A non-disclosure or confidentiality clause protects clients from unauthorized use of sensitive information. 

Graphic designers may come across:

  • Trade secrets: that are not generally known but have independent economic value
  • New innovations: that improve existing processes, products, or services
  • Customer information: that can offer insights into customer behavior
  • Processes: that are used for generating conceptual solutions for design problems
  • Technologies: for planning, designing, and creating new models, prototypes, or designs 

Designers should use this information on a need-to-know basis and must not disclose or commercialize it without written consent from clients. 


The termination clause specifies the process for terminating a contract along with how much notice is required to do so. This typically occurs for one of two reasons:

  • Contractor defaults: for failing to perform obligations mentioned in a contract
  • Client defaults: for not offering fair compensation and breaching obligations

Intellectual property

This section outlines graphic designers’ rights to pre-existing ideas, materials, processes, and procedures. It also holds a designer responsible for:

  • Creating original work: that doesn’t any third party’s copyrights
  • Obtaining authorizations: before using any third party materials

The intellectual property rights of any designs created during the project are addressed in the following section.

Ownership of prepared information

Prepared information ownership means any design work completed by a designer during a contract becomes the exclusive property of the client. This clause also holds a designer responsible for assisting a client to get patents for such works. 

this image shows the ownership and licenses section of Bonsai's graphic design retainer contract

Indemnification, limited liability, and service warranty

The indemnification clause restricts the graphic designer from causing harm, loss, or damage to the company. On the other hand, the limited liability clause protects both you and the client from indirect and incidental losses and damages.

When clients pay the full contract amount in advance, they want to ensure that the design contractor is able to execute the services mentioned in the agreement. The service warranty clause caters to this purpose and expects a graphic designer to work in a professional manner.


A client retains you only when they’re impressed with what you can help them to achieve. That’s why they don’t want you to reassign or hire a sub-contractor for performing services. This is why clients prefer you to include an assignment clause in retainer agreements.

Governing law

As applicable in any contract, any conflicts arising between two parties should be resolved in accordance with the governing law of the land. You may or may not include a choice of the forum—which decides in what particular court disputes will be settled—depending on your discussion with the client. 

How to Write a Graphic Design Retainer Contract

Writing an enforceable and understandable contract is key to winning retainer clients. They want to see that you understand your obligations well. Moreover, they look at your ability to cover the ground in terms of resolving potential issues legally. 

Now that you know what to include in design retainers, here’s how to put it together:

Find out exactly what the client wants

It isn’t sufficient to just have a solid understanding of the client’s design needs when it comes to a retainer agreement—you also need to have a get grasp of their legal preferences. As always, communication is key for coming up with exactly what clients want to see. Make sure you understand the client’s preferred way of:

  1. Sending payment
  2. Resolving disputes
  3. Terminating the contract
  4. Establishing confidentiality requirements
  5. Executing the project at hand

Highlight what sets you apart

A contract may seem a lot of legalese to deal with. However, don’t forget to focus on the most important thing—it’s you with whom a client wants to sign a retainer. Take this opportunity to explain how your skills, experience, and previous projects make you a perfect fit for this retainer. 

Include a CTA

Much of the work is done by the time you reach this phase—it’s time to let your customers know what’s next. This could be steps to follow to sign contracts or payment details for processing the contract fees—it’s up to you

this image shows where the client and designer sign the retainer contract to begin working on the project

Creating a graphic design retainer contract template is simple with Bonsai 

Creating a graphic design retainer contract may seem overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be. The team at Bonsai has created detailed design retainer templates that can be easily customized as per your need. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Sign up for free to Bonsai
  2. Find the ideal design retainer contract template
  3. Edit and customize your contract

Then, send the contract to your client for acceptance and signature—without ever leaving the platform

Graphic design retainer contract FAQs

How much should I charge for a graphic design retainer contract?

$700-$3000, depending on the scope of the work and your skills. If you are handling social media graphics as well, you can consider adding an additional $500-$650 per month to the retainer package.

It’s best to get a client on a retainer for at least three to five months. This gives you enough time to improve new skills, excel at your work, and meet their ongoing goals. 

What is a graphic design retainer fee?

A graphic designer retainer fee is a mutually agreed-upon rate that you receive every month during the duration of a contract. This rate can be either be hourly or monthly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about this template.

What is the difference between a retainer and a one-time graphic design contract?

A retainer is an ongoing contract which is not based on the worked hours unlike a one-time contract. This reserves time for any work a client may have for the graphic designer at any future time.

Are graphic design retainer fees paid upfront?

A graphic design retainer fee is paid upfront on regular intervals, usually monthly. The payment method and schedule must be clearly stipulated in the contract.

How does a retainer work for a graphic designer?

Retainer graphic designers are beneficial for clients with ongoing design needs. A graphic designer usually blocks out time for the client whenever a design task is available, this way a client saves time from looking for graphic designers everytime he needs one.