Designing an invoice
An entire article devoted to designing an invoice might seem strange. The point is to get paid, not wow people with graphic design, right? Does a professional invoice need any design? Yes!
These days, you can submit invoices through an app, download invoice templates, or even use an online generator that creates a custom invoice. With these tools, you can enhance your invoices, making them another way to show customers the value of your brand!
Why YOU should recognize good design
You might be wondering: Who needs to worry about invoice design when an invoice template or free invoice service does the work for you? Well, these services only work well if you know what an invoice is supposed to be.
While an invoice is ultimately a bill you send to clients, there are still best practices to follow.
What's the point of an invoice?
Like any document, an invoice's purpose is to convey information. Using solid graphic design to bolster your invoice's readability helps you get paid faster.
An easy-to-read, aesthetically pleasing invoice is less likely to get lost in the shuffle in a company's billing department. 61% of all late payments are due to incorrect or confusing information on invoices, so making your documents easy to read is essential!
Necessary details for invoices
Before we discuss design in detail, let's talk about invoice 101, the information you need to present to your clients or customers so the money they owe makes it into your hands.
Your contact information
Include your name, address, phone number, email address, and the name of your company.
The client's information
This should include the customer's name, address, phone number, email address, and the name of their business, if applicable. You should also include the name, department, and title of the person who is your main contact if it's not the owner.
Description of service
Describe the work you performed, services rendered, or a product you sold. If you're billing for hours worked, be sure to include the dates and number of hours.
List payment methods in order of preference and make sure to include a due date.
39% of all invoices are paid late. State a date by which you expect payment and exactly what your next step will be if payment isn't received.
This may seem trivial, but it can ensure your invoice is found if it gets misplaced. If you ask whether Invoice 34 has been paid, the big "34" on your invoice tells your client or customer that they've found the right one. It also helps you keep your invoices straight for tax season!
The best tips for designing an invoice
Here are our 9 top tips on how to effectively design an invoice. Check it out!
Display your brand
Here's a chance to once again cement your brand into your clients' minds. When you create an invoice, display your logo in a prominent location. This is more than just a bit of creative branding. Your logo serves multiple purposes here:
- Identifies at a glance who the invoice is from
- Makes it stand out in a pile of other invoices
- Gives an otherwise sparse invoice a better visual first impression.
Graphic design makes your invoice look more professional and, by extension, makes you look more professional, too!
Clients expect to see a logo on professional-looking invoices. They want to know they're doing business with a genuine, professional company that's willing to pay a designer to give their brand credibility.
Optimize format for print and digital
Since many clients will want to print your invoice for their records, design it so that it fits on an 8 1/2 x 11" sheet of paper. If the invoice is long enough that it needs to stretch onto a second page, that's fine, so long as the invoice is still readable.
Whether you're sending your invoice as a pdf, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, or some other format your client requested, check to make sure it prints and displays properly.
Pictures are not invoices
It is not a good idea to submit your invoice in .jpg form or any other picture file extension. Clients may want to copy and paste details and text into other documents. Unless they have specialized software, a picture won't let them do that.
Some clients may have a specific portal where you can upload and download invoices in specific file formats. If you're the one with a user portal, then standardize what your format will be.
It's not enough to just list services rendered; you'll also need to include some detail on the actions you performed. Leave a field open for including creative details the client or customer would like to see. They will want to know the scope of your work so they understand what they're paying for.
Whatever you include these descriptions, make sure they don't undermine your invoice's readability. Structure and flow in a visual document can get lost with large blocks of text.
Always say “Thank you!"
Professional invoices aren't meant to be cold and sterile. Including a reminder that you are a real person who is happy to receive business can help to create goodwill.
Remember, you are sending a bill (and no one likes bills). When invoicing a client or customer, include a short "thank you" message at the bottom. Ask them to reach out to you for any questions or concerns, as well.
Graphic designers are masters at making straightforward, utilitarian information look like the result of artistic inspiration. When you see a digital billboard or web ad, you accept that it presents a message that needs to be absorbed at a glance. Your invoice design is no different.
Whether you download a template (free or otherwise) or design one yourself, your job is to take lines of text and make them into something visually compelling. If you get lost reading your invoice, your clients will, too!
Through the use of colors, fonts, and traditional graphic design, you can guide a client's eyes to the necessary information.
Here are some tips that can make your invoice design easy to follow:
- Give important numbers or information in a bold font
- Make details that don't need to be noticed right away softer colors, like blue or green
- Brackets and boxes can help to separate information
Use boxes of solid color to draw the eye to the text contained within. This is particularly useful with headers for columns, which will stand out against the background color of the invoice.
Design with purpose
The features you give your invoice aren't arbitrary. Each piece needs to support the overall flow. Only include what's necessary.
This doesn't mean your invoice needs to be minimalist or sparse, but any fluff needs to go.
Readability comes from your invoice having a singular goal. Professional invoices don't contain things like personal messages, stories, recommendations, or anything else that distracts from the goal of telling your client or customer that it's time to pay.
Your company has a personality. Your clients and customers expect a certain aesthetic associated with your products and services.
If you sell antiques, your invoice might take on a vintage flair with a typewriter-style typeset and a muted, sepia-toned palette. In contrast, if you run a workout facility, you might include big, blocky, strong fonts with exciting colors.
Your branding should guide the style of your design. Branding should permeate every part of the business, from websites to office buildings, company vehicles to t-shirts, and yes, even your invoices.
Using invoice templates
You might think that you have to pay a graphic designer to have a professional invoice. Remember, just because you download an invoice template — even a free invoice template — it's still the result of a graphic designer's time and creativity. You don't have to create a design from scratch!
The benefits of using an invoice template include:
- Saving time
- Getting the skills of a graphic designer without the cost of hiring one directly
- Helping to standardize invoices across the company and with your clients
An invoice template can also keep you from forgetting to include a necessary field!
Finding a free invoice template
You can go to Google and type in, "invoice templates," "free invoice design," "create an invoice," or some similar search term and get thousands of hits.
A paid or free template can serve you well as long as:
- The template fits the theme of your business
- You can enter information easily
- You get options to customize the style
- The template can be modified to include your logo
- You can easily convert the template to whatever your preferred format is, whether .pdf, Excel file, or something else
There are plenty of web-based tools and online articles (like this one) on effective invoicing that provide a template, paid or free, so you can avoid amateur results.
The pitfalls of sample templates
Seeing other professionals' designs can give you a direction for how you want your invoice to look. When you're exploring templates and deciding which ones have all of the elements and features you're looking for, don't forget that Google Images is also your friend.
Designs that look amazing in sample templates online have probably been used a lot by others, so you'll want to modify one to suit your specific needs and stand out.
Because your template is a part of your marketing, downloading the first template you see on a website isn't the best idea. The sample templates you see are the first ones others will probably see when they are looking for invoice templates!
That's why even a free template will cost you something, specifically your time sifting through designs online. It's worth it to get the right invoice template!
Because it's the 21st century, your clients can pay your invoices via an app if you set them up to do so. Don't think this means you can avoid working on invoice design, though! Even with an app, customers will expect a user interface that makes their payment experience simple.
Use an app that lets you build or upload a custom invoice with your logo. It's just as important to display your logo and streamline the payment process in an app as it is when you send a piece of paper or digital invoice.
Apps are handy if you're the type to forget to follow up on payment or want an easier way to send and receive invoices. You can still create a design that aligns with your brand, but you need to have a good understanding of the structure we've discussed so far.
The bottom line about designing an invoice
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to become a master at designing an invoice! Ultimately, you're making it as simple as possible for people to pay you for your work. An invoice needs to quickly communicate who you are, why clients are paying you, how much they're paying you, and when they need to pay you. If you've done that, you've succeeded.