How to Become a Graphic Designer

A career as a graphic designer blends artistic talent with technology know-how.

Integral to marketing teams, graphic designers support advertising and marketing campaigns or may work independently to support clients’ needs.

The role of a graphic designer has evolved over the course of decades along with the technological tools and mediums that these professionals rely on to achieve and convey their designs.

Graphic designers create a wide range of marketing materials, including brochures, magazines, newspapers, websites, advertisements and digital publications.

If you are interested in the field of graphic design and find yourself drawn to its unique combination of art and technology, you can learn how to become a graphic designer here. Talented graphic designers help companies and organizations to communicate visually each day.

If this sounds like the ideal career for you, the following information will help you build your career.

Steps to Becoming a Graphic Designer

Step 1: High School Diploma or GED

Requirement for Getting a Degree
Most companies today employ graphic designers who have earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in graphic design. Designers without a degree tend to earn less than designers with a BA from an accredited college, university, or a specialized art and design school. To gain entry into these institutions of higher learning, individuals will need to have obtained their high school diploma or equivalent education.

Increasingly, there are many colleges that offer a pathway to higher education without the prerequisite high school diploma. They will accept students who have completed a homeschool curriculum, passed the GED, or passed other tests accepted by the school’s admissions board.

Ideally, students interested in graphic design will take high school coursework that supports their interest in the arts and technology. Many high schools now offer classes based on career tracks, including graphic design.

Step 2: Apply to College Programs

Individuals interested in becoming graphic designers have a wide range of education options that include:

  • Public universities
  • Private colleges
  • Private art schools
  • National Association of Schools of Art and Design
  • Online graphic art programs

Research any schools of interest and submit your application in accordance with the school’s requirements.

Step 3: Complete the Program

Generally, Bachelor of Arts programs are four-year degree programs, but some students may take extra coursework during each semester as well as summer classes to complete the degree requirements in under four years. Graphic arts degree programs will feature courses devoted to art and graphics-related technology, but students may also be required to take some electives related to marketing and business.

While completing your degree, maintain a portfolio of your completed work that you can draw from to create a professional portfolio. When applying for jobs, you’ll typically want to include a professional portfolio of your work. A graphic designer’s portfolio is extremely important.

Employers Will Need to See Samples
As a graphic design professional, you’ll not only be asked by employers to show a sample of your work, but clients will also be eager to gauge your talent by perusing your portfolio. Showcase your best work in your portfolio.

Initial Professional Experience
Some students may be interested in completing an internship before graduating, but that is not usually a requirement for a graphic arts degree. However, the more work experience you can obtain in this field, the better. Any experience will serve you upon graduation with your degree as you apply for full-time positions as a graphic designer.

Step 4: Get Certified

Unless you are taking an online graphic design program, you are unlikely to need certification. The completion of your degree and portfolio are usually the only requirements you need to apply for your first job as a graphic designer. Keep your college transcripts on hand as some employers may want to know what courses you took to complete your degree.

How Much Does it Cost?

The costs of colleges vary widely. To obtain your degree from a technical school or community college, you can expect to pay between $3,000 and $6,000. On average, a degree from a four-year university or college will run around $40,000 without room and board. For prestigious universities and art schools, the cost may be much higher and range well over $50,000 for a four-year degree. Self-employed graphic designers make 20% more than those employed by firms; however, keep in mind that many of these professionals had prior employment in the field and established excellent reputations in the field before working independently.


How Much Can You Make?
The median average salary for a graphic designer is $59,000, but that average changes by state. For example, the median average salary for graphic designers in New York is more than $65,000. In Washington DC, the median average for this career jumps up to $72,000. The top graphic designers may earn salaries over $77,000.

Graphic designers who are just starting out in their career can expect to earn under the national median. Also, some graphic designers may be promoted into positions of management. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for these professionals to accept positions as marketing directors as they build their experience. In such cases, they can expect a salary increase.

Personality Traits

Not surprisingly, graphic designers are often highly creative people. Many of the most successful graphic designers excel at communication, which is not only important to the designs they create but also because they will work with a wide range of clients as well as professional business teams—usually marketing professionals. Being comfortable socially also serves graphic designers as their work is routinely needed to connect with people of all social demographics.

It’s also not surprising that many successful graphic designers have an entrepreneurial spirit. Although they are steeped in art design, they must also retain a sharp business acumen as their designs are often needed to sell products and services or to market business brands.

Personal Skills

A professional demeanor is a requisite for most graphic designers working today. These professionals will come into contact with other professionals as well as clients who represent a wide range of industries. To achieve the designs clients are looking for, graphic designers must be good listeners who can translate a client’s vision into successful graphic designs for print and digital mediums.

Additionally, graphic designers must be willing learners. In this type of field, learning does not end with college graduation. The technology that graphic designers rely on is perpetually advancing. Keeping on top of these changes will enable them to embrace new software and other digital tools to enhance their work. Continuing to stay up to date with changes in the field also helps them maintain their own marketability in the field.

Career Outlook

Graphic designers are in demand today, and their expected job growth between 2020 and 2030 is forecasted to be 3%. Some forecasters expect job growth for these professionals to reach 5%. Prior to 2020, that forecast was higher, but the decline in the print industry and the number of graphic artists expected to retire in the next several years has pushed that growth forecast under 5%.

In spite of the downturn in print media, many employers continue to scout for graphic designers who have print industry experience as well as demonstrable digital expertise. Today, roughly a quarter of all graphic designers are self-employed. Many of these professionals are highly successful and their earnings reflect a 20% increase above the median graphic designer salary average.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in graphic design, consider researching the following schools carefully and applying to those that are a good fit for you. Remember, it’s important to choose an accredited program of study. If you opt to take online coursework, be sure that the program includes relevant classes (also offered by traditional colleges) to ensure you obtain the required skills that this career requires.