What Do You Need to Learn to Become a Graphic Designer

We interact with graphic design every single day. Graphic designers create storyboards, work in advertising, design games, produce animation and work in the print media. Businesses use graphic designers to produce websites, brochures, and logos. As technology expands and evolves, so does the work of graphic design.

How do you become a graphic designer? What do graphic designers study? In a dynamic and constantly evolving career, how do you stay up to date? This guide explores routes into graphic design, and what you need to learn to work in this dynamic profession.

A Graphic Design Career

How To Become Graphic Designer

In the printing industry, graphic designers create an aesthetic, visual depiction of meaning for adverts, brochures, and marketing communications. Some work as part of a team, where others are freelance. Digital designers use complex software programs to create text, illustration, animation and website design.

Graphic designers work long hours to meet deadlines. When self-employed, graphic designers often have to work flexible hours, including weekends and evenings.

Customer service and client satisfaction are key to making it as a graphic designer. In addition, designers often have to bid on contracts, market themselves and build and maintain client relationships.

Courses to help you succeed

How To Become Graphic Designer

Graphic design courses help you to build strong foundations for your career. Understanding the theory of graphic design and the concepts it is built upon helping you to work dynamically, using the basic principles to bring your creativity to fruition. Learning to use the latest design software comes later.

Although YouTube tutorials will help you use the latest software, the graphic design courses you take will provide you with core principles or foundations which are difficult to learn online.

This short list of courses will help you to build up your basic knowledge so that you’ll understand the principles of design.

  1. Design Foundations
    This covers the basic theoretical building blocks of graphic design. You’ll learn design software and how to use it for design and illustration. You’ll also learn about desktop publishing.
  2. Digital Illustration
    This course will assist you with learning how to illustrate using a computer. You’ll learn how to draw using digital software instead of simply using paper and pencil. You’ll learn the skills and techniques used to make storyboards as well as icons, mascots, and thumbnails.
  3. Digital Media Production
    This focuses on multimedia aspects of design. You learn to use authoring software and study special effects, animation and how to produce interactive projects.
  4. Career Development
    Learn the personal and professional skills you need to find and maintain work as a graphic designer. Learn how to market yourself, build a resume and manage interviews.
  5. Portfolio Development
    As a graphic designer, your portfolio is your showcase. Learn from an industry professional how to create, tailor and edit your portfolio. This means that by the time you are ready to find employment, you will have a stellar portfolio to present to potential employees.

Start building your skills during high school

How To Become Graphic Designer

The earlier you start to train your eye or build up your design knowledge, the better. Working with graphic design relies on an aesthetic eye, and the ability to convert creative ideas into visible or practical results.

High school courses such as art history, visual art, graphic design and website design all help to build the skills you need to work in the design field.

The more familiar you are with theory, technique and software skills, the more helpful to your graphic design career.

Benefits of a Tertiary Education

How To Become Graphic Designer

Quality jobs in the design field are often easier to obtain after acquiring a university degree.

Although a portfolio will showcase your talent or creativity, a degree will provide you with a complete and well-rounded education which will give you a range of talents and an understanding of the basic foundations of design.

Using these principles will enable you to develop unique creations which are able to evolve with the trends.

Drawbacks of a Tertiary Education

Going to university to acquire a degree is often very expensive. It also takes up a great deal of time and earning potential.

For people who do not have the financial resources for a university degree, or who have to work straight after school in order to survive, learning how to use design software can often be a self-taught way to work towards a career in graphic design.

Adobe Illustrator

How To Become Graphic Designer

Illustrator is a highly recommended program to learn as part of the Adobe Creative Suite. You can use Illustrator to work with both web and print graphics.

It’s straightforward and easy to use, and once you get the hang of it, you can transfer your skills to other programs such as InDesign or Photoshop. This will help you to work on more specialized projects later on.

Start by learning the basics

Illustrator will help you with a huge range of design projects, once you learn the basics.

Experienced designers often don’t use the program to its full capacity, and it has so many options that after years of learning it, there are still new options to try out.

However, some functions are not as vital to others. You might use certain tools once or twice and that is it.

Like all skills, learning to navigate the basics will give you what you truly need. When using Illustrator, focus on the tools and functions you’ll need to complete your project. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can build upon your skills over time (as you need them). However, it’s best to begin by learning what you’ll need to use most.

Also learn about typography, if you just know how to arrange graphics, then it’s not good enough. You must know the principles of typography and how to apply fonts. For example, when creating a wedding invitation, most of the times, you’ll use handwriting fonts.

Focus on how to set up print and web documents

Illustrator is great when you want to create either print or web graphics. Learning to set up both documents helps you to design for your intended medium, which ensures best results.

These two documents have basic differences which are based on how people view them. This impacts on their resolution. Print graphics are set at 300—I whereas web graphics are 72dpi.

Color use is also different with web and print-based graphics. Print graphics uses the color formula CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). Web graphics use RGB (Red, Green, and Blue).

Choosing the format of your design (web or print) therefore gives you artistic control of your document or illustration.

After you’ve created your project as a web or print-based document, it’s important to learn to save it in the correct format. Print documents are normally saved in PDF, EPS or Ai format, where web graphics use JPG or PNG files.

Learn to master the pen tool

How To Become Graphic Designer

The pen tool is one of the most important features on Illustrator and is what sets Illustrator apart. This tool allows you to create anchor points and adjust straight lines or curves between these points. You can use the pen tool to create custom designs, logos or illustrations. Once you’ve mastered this tool, the possibilities are endless.

This tool can seem to be counter-intuitive at first, as it is very different to drawing freehand. This is why it might take a while for you to learn it. However, it will later give you more control over your lines. It’s also very easy to use when tracing images.

Although the pen tool is hard to learn, keep practicing and you’ll begin to see your shapes and lines develop. As you make progress, the tool will begin to feel more familiar. You’ll soon be able to use it to create any shape.

Choose between raster and vector graphics

How To Become Graphic Designer

Raster graphics are made up of tiny dots or pixels and are mainly used for photographs or web designs. This is because they are best used in small photos. They lose quality when blown up to large sizes, showing becoming pixilated.

Vector graphics are easy to edit and can be resized without losing image quality. They are therefore great for print, logos, and any other image which may need to be resized. You can only use Illustrator to create vector graphics.

Although both Vector and Raster graphics can be created within Illustrator, it’s important to consider which option will be most useful for your design purposes and choose accordingly.

Give yourself time

When using Illustrator, there’s such a lot to learn that it’s helpful to break it down into small chunks. This will stop you from feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself space and time you need to learn the program.

Allow yourself the time to believe you have learned one skill before trying out new tutorials. Once you’ve mastered one aspect of the program, you’ll know you can achieve in other areas as well. Don’t feel any need to rush yourself. Like anything new, learning Illustrator takes time.


Having a plan will help you to learn the skills you need to become a skilled graphic designer. There are several paths which will help you when working towards a career in graphic design.

Mapping your path will enable you to become a successful designer. This is because a map gives you a direction to follow, plotting out your course of action. Without a path, you run the risk of becoming directionless.

Learn to become a dynamic graphic designer by learning new skills or processes one step at a time. This will assist you to develop a rewarding and flexible career, based on the principles and techniques of design.

About the Author!

Bogdan is a designer and editor at DesignYourWay. He’s reading design books the same way a hamster eats carrots, and talks all the time about trends, best practices and design principles.

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