Toptal vs 99Designs: Which Is Better for Hiring Design Freelancers?

August 4, 2020

We recommend you hire design freelancers on Toptal over 99Designs because Toptal vets their talent. 99Designs has more freelance talent than Toptal, but some have a lower skill level.

You can read our individual reviews to help you make an informed decision:

Or if you continue reading, you will learn the pros and cons of hiring design freelancers on Toptal and 99Designs.

Toptal vs 99Designs: Which Freelance Platform is Best to Hire Design Freelancers?

99Designs praise and pros

99Designs has two options for any project:

  1. You can hire a dedicated graphic designer or illustrator. Use this direction if you have a clear idea of the style and art direction of your project.
  2. You can run a design contest. This project type is ideal if you want to explore different ideas, styles, and concepts.

Design contests allow you to get a gold mine of design ideas for a fixed price

Because 99Designs is one of the largest freelance marketplaces, you could get over 100 bids on a single contest. This is a fantastic choice if you have no idea how to explain your concept to a graphic designer.

The nature of a design contest gives you many options at a fixed price. That means you’ll never pay more than what you set upfront.

Additionally, 99Designs will give you an estimate of the expected number of submissions based on your budget.

Before starting your design contest, you’ll present your vision to the designers with their simple onboarding process.

First, you’ll select a few logos you like to give designers an idea what you have in mind:

99Designs praise and pros

Second, give the designers a flavor of your brand’s style:

99Designs praise and pros

Third, you’ll select up to three colors to communicate your brand values:

99Designs praise and pros

Fourth, 99Designs will give a project brief to let designers know more about your company:

99Designs praise and pros

Finally, you’ll select your pricing plan along with any other promotional upgrades:

99Designs praise and pros

After most contests, you’ll get 20-50 submissions, depending on what price you pay.

Toptal praise and pros

Toptal’s claim to screen 3% of the talent may or may not be entirely accurate (I’ll discuss Toptal’s vetting process in a moment).

What matters is Toptal saves you time spending hours filtering through freelancers for their performance. After all, if Toptal didn’t have hoops for freelancers to jump through, then their available talent would dilute. As a result, their market differentiation would be… the same as almost any other freelance marketplace.

Many entrepreneurs hiring on Toptal note their support staff is very hands-on. Toptal also has a fantastic UI and billing process. 

Toptal has a fast placement process. According to Toptal, “In a typical engagement, we’ll introduce you to candidates within 24 hours. And 90% of our clients hire the first candidate we introduce.”

Toptal sets high standards for freelancers. Freelancers must maintain high customer satisfaction ratings. Otherwise, Toptal will remove them from the platform.

A no-risk test project. The first time you work with your freelancer, you get a two-week test period with your new hire. If you’re not satisfied, Toptal will take the loss and won’t charge you for the freelancer’s work. (Please note: this is not a “free trial” in that if you accept the project, you will pay for the hours billed).

Toptal’s screening process 3% will weed out some quality workers. But it’s better to miss out on a potential A player than to waste precious time on a borderline freelancer who turns out to be a B or C player.

Winner: Toptal

What type of freelancers can you hire on 99Designs and Toptal?

Type of Freelancers on Toptal

Toptal doesn’t have nearly the total number of freelancers for you compared to 99Designs. But do you really need 12 million freelancers, or just a handful of freelancers to consider to get the job done? More than 100,000 people apply to join Toptal every year, but they accept only 3%. In simple numbers, that means they add roughly 3,000 freelancers every year. 

That means rather than spending your time and energy vetting freelancers, Toptal does the heavy lifting for you.

Toptal is a good place to start if you’re serious about growing your business and are ready to invest in top talent at a reasonable rate.

As of this writing, Toptal has several vetted designers, including:

  1. User experience designers
  2. User interface designers
  3. Product designers
  4. Figma designers
  5. E-Commerce website designers

The difficulty of using Toptal to source freelancers is if you are looking for someone to help with a small, one-off project. Toptal asks for a $500 commitment for the first project, which is fully refundable if you’re freelancer is not a fit.

Type of Freelancers on 99Designs

99Designers has a wide range of designers, with over 1,000,000 designers on their website. 

Some of the more popular design categories include:

  1. Logo design
  2. Business card design
  3. Web page design
  4. Brand design
  5. Packaging design
  6. T-shirt design
  7. Book cover design

Winner: Toptal or 99Designs

Register with 99Designs

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What is the screening process on Toptal and 99Designs?

Toptal’s screening process

What’s Toptal’s vetting process to make sure you work with world-class talent?

Toptal uses a 5-step screening process to source the top 3% of freelancers:

  1. Language & Personality - In this phase, Toptal is looking for candidates who read, write, and speak English fluently. They also look for personality traits, drive, and passion to see the work through to completion. According to Toptal, an estimated 26.4% of applicants pass this test.
  2. In-depth Skill Review -  Here, Toptal screens freelancers for technical knowledge. According to Toptal, only 7.4% of total applicants make it through this round.
  3. Live Screening - After testing the freelancer’s skills, Toptal does a live screening test. Toptal supplies an expert in each domain to do a video chat with the applicant. During the screening, the candidate receives a test while an expert watches how and what they do. If they fail, they may be asked to re-apply in a month. According to Toptal, only 3.6% of applicants pass this round.
  4. Test Projects - Over 1-3 weeks, a freelancer must complete a test project related to a real-world scenario. Here, the candidate puts everything into action, testing everything from competence to their professional style. According to Toptal, only 3.2% of applicants pass this round.
  5. Continued Excellence - Once the test is complete, Toptal freelancers are expected to maintain high-quality work. If work quality slips or there’s poor communication, the freelancer is let go. According to Toptal, only 3% of applicants continue to their high standards.

Even with this level of screening, Toptal has a wide pool filled with a specific talent set. Instead of hiring any brand designer, Toptal can help you find a “brand designer who has in-depth knowledge of typography, color, and composition and is a master using design tools like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Figma...” and any other needs you may have. 

The dollar per hour will often increase when you need a specific skill set. But you’ll also know the freelancer better fits your needs than finding a freelancer for yourself on 99Designs.

99Designs’s screening process

99designs curates their designer community based on the following criteria:

  1. Execution of design principles. This includes an understanding of typography, visual hierarchy, composition and color in your designs.
  2. Conceptual thought. This includes how to develop creative concepts that effectively solve a client's business needs without copying other designers’ work.
  3. Technical skills and deliverables. This includes how well the designer organizes and produces industry standard files and deliverables for your clients.
  4. Client communication and satisfaction. This includes being able to communicate with clients in a polite and professional way, maintain a positive responsiveness score, and successfully complete handovers and projects.

Winner: Toptal or 99Designs

Register with 99Designs

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How long is the hiring process before you work with a freelancer on Toptal and 99Designs?

Toptal’s hiring process

Hiring normally takes a long time, as anything worth doing should take time. But because Toptal screens their candidates, they can place you with a candidate in 48 hours:

Toptal’s hiring process

If there are no candidates available in Toptal’s network, it typically takes 1-3 weeks for Toptal to locate, screen, and work with every expert.

99Designs’s hiring process

With 99Designs, typically you’ll submit your specifications with a design contest and you’ll receive a handful of submissions.

That said, 99Designs is not transparent about the time it takes to finish a design contest. You may want to expect the hiring process to go something like this:

  1. Create and submit a design brief (0-2 hours).
  2. Wait for candidates to apply (5-14 days).
  3. Choose a winner.
  4. Sign the design transfer agreement and wait for the other party to do the same (up to 5 days for most projects).

That said, you can pay to finish the contest faster in 3 days ($39), 2 days ($59), or 24 hours ($79). 

Winner: Toptal

Pricing and fees: How much does it cost to hire freelancers on Toptal and 99Designs?

Toptal’s pricing

Toptal does not charge a fee above their regular pricing. Instead, they add a profit margin above the freelancer’s rates. 

Most rates you’ll pay are what you’d expect to pay outside their platform. 

Toptal offers this pricing chart:

Toptal pricing - What’s Toptal’s fee structure?

What you pay your freelancer depends on:

  • The tech stack needed for your project.
  • The necessary skill(s) to complete the task.
  • The project size.
  • What market you are in.
  • General market demand for the type of freelancer needed.

99Designs’s pricing

The price you’ll pay for each design project on 99Designs depends on the work you want done. Most projects range between $299-$2,500.

Here is a sample of five design contest prices:

Each design project comes in four base price plans: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. In addition to getting more designs, gold and platinum packages will attract top designers. 

Here’s a sample of the four price plans for blog design:

99Designs pricing - What’s 99Designs’s fee structure?

99Designs offers several add-ons, including:

  • A personal creative consultant to offer advice and creative direction: $129.
  • Feature your contest to the top of the list. 99Designs estimates you’ll get 40% more designs: $79.
  • Highlight your contest in orange to make it stand out. 99Designs estimates you’ll get 15% more designs: $19.
  • List your contest on the 99Designs blog. 99Designs estimates you’ll reach 10,000+ designers daily and get 15% more designs: $19.
  • Feature, highlight, and promote your contest on the blog: $99 (save $18 or 15%).
  • Guarantee payment, which shows designers you’re fully committed. You won’t be able to request a refund for this project either. 99Designs estimates you’ll receive 50% more designs on average.
  • Make your contest private, which makes it invisible outside of 99designs. This also requires designers to sign a confidentiality NDA agreement.
  • Complete the contest faster to finish in 3 days ($39), 2 days ($59), or 24 hours ($79).

Winner: Toptal

Does Toptal or 99Designs offer any kind of risk-free trial or guarantee?

Toptal’s Policy

Toptal requires a $500 deposit which applies to your first bill. If you get a freelancer you are not satisfied with, you are not required to make any payment. You can choose to either part ways with Toptal or restart the hiring process.

The first time you work with your freelancer, you get a two-week test period with your new hire. If you’re not satisfied, Toptal will take the loss and won’t charge you for the freelancer’s work. (Please note: this is not a “free trial” in that if you accept the project, you will pay for the hours billed).

Toptal does not mention any information on their website how they handle disputes. However, every Toptal client receives an account manager who can help resolve your issues.

99Designs’s Policy

99Designs offers a 60-day, 100% money-back guarantee.

There are three exceptions to the money-back guarantee:

  1. Contests with a guaranteed prize.
  2. Contests that have entered the final round. Once you enter the final round, your contest automatically becomes guaranteed.
  3. Contests where a winner has been awarded.

Designers typically provide minimal revisions for free and will be happy to do more detailed revisions for a reasonable price.

Winner: Either

Is 99Designs or Toptal better for hiring designer freelancers?

99Designs and Toptal are both beneficial for different hiring needs.

When should you consider hiring on Toptal?

Toptal is an excellent freelance platform for hiring quality talent. Because of the time they invest in curating the best talent, you’ll spend less time to find the right freelancer.

If you’re looking to hire vetted designers for a project with a budget of $2,000 or more, go with Toptal.

When should you consider hiring on 99Designs?

99Designs is great if you’re looking for a simple one-and-done project, like a business logo or infographic because you get several submissions. 

That said, it can be challenging going through each submission to find the one you want.