How to Become a Graphic Designer in 8 Simple Steps
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If you’ve ever seen a company logo, a pamphlet, or a book cover, you’ve seen the work of a graphic designer.
Graphic design is everywhere, and there’s always a need for people who can design creative and interesting visuals. Even if you can’t draw or paint, you can turn your artistic talents into infographics, websites, flyers, and other images thanks to online tools and programs.
If you’ve always wanted to work in graphic design, there are ways to enter the profession even if you don’t want to go back to school. Although it seems complicated, it’s not as hard as you think to get started in a career as a graphic designer.
What is a Graphic Designer?
A graphic designer is someone who combines colors, pictures, fonts, and texts to create unique visual images that convey information about companies, brands, or events. These images are made either by hand or with online, computer-based tools and are usually memorable and easy to find and read.
Graphic designers can work for a company or as self-employed freelancers. Many industries utilize graphic designers, particularly for logo creation, advertising and marketing campaigns, and help with social media images. Some even employ graphic designers to help with web design or app development.
Related: How to Become a Web Designer
What Does a Graphic Designer Do?
The primary responsibility of a graphic designer is to create eye-catching visual images that represent a brand or a company.
Graphic designers who work primarily with digital and online media can produce websites, logos, digital products like eBooks or pdfs, online ads, video illustrations, Pinterest or Facebook images, and more. Graphic designers who work with print media might also create logos, but they can also create brochures, flyers, or images for magazines and newspapers along with book covers.
While you might specialize in either print or online graphic design, there is overlap between the two, and you’ll find yourself more marketable if you can work with both. This can come in handy especially if you want to work as a freelance graphic designer.
In addition to creating one-of-a-kind visual images, graphic designers must also be able to:
- Communicate effectively with clients
- Meet deadlines
- Revise designs to meet client expectations
- Work with clients, art directors, and others to brainstorm and develop ideas
- Use various design and software programs
- Stay up-to-date on graphic design trends
While the bulk of your time as a graphic designer will be spent creating designs and using your artistic skills, you’ll need to work directly with clients and other team members to produce quality images and products. If you’re introverted, it’s important that you work on developing communication skills as and your design skills to excel at your job.
How Much Money Can You Earn as a Graphic Designer?
According to Salary.com, entry-level graphic designers make around $50,000, but more experienced designers or supervisors can make upwards of $100,000.
This varies based on where you live and work, the type of graphic design you do, and in what industry you work in. For instance, if you’re a graphic designer working in digital marketing in Washington D.C., you’ll make more than someone designing print ads for a newspaper in Rochester, NY.
If you’re self-employed, your rates and the number of clients you have determine your income, but experienced, in-demand designers can often charge around $100 an hour, depending on the type of design you’re doing.
What Do You Need to Become a Graphic Designer?
If you want to become a graphic designer, there are a few ways to acquire the necessary skills. You can go to school for graphic design, teach yourself through online courses or get on-the-job training through internships. You can also do a significant amount of self-study and practice and teach yourself how to use the common tools and software you’ll need as a graphic designer.
The best way to become a graphic designer is to go to school for it. You can do this through a four-year university, two-year community college, or certificate program. Some high schools even offer graphic design classes so you can take advantage of those if you’re still in high school.
If you can’t afford or attend a traditional college or university, there are plenty of online options you can choose from. You can search platforms like Skillshare or Udemy, look for online programs offered by four-year institutions, or watch tutorials on YouTube.
Whichever school or learning platform you choose, make sure you’re learning the graphic design skills you need for the industry you prefer to work in. What you need to work in online media might be different than what you need to work in publishing.
To work as a graphic designer, you’ll need to know how to use design programs from the Adobe Creative Cloud suite and products like the Apple Pencil. You’ll also need a reliable computer or tablet, Wi-Fi, and know how to find images, fonts, and create color swatches. Having a basic understanding of coding and programming language is helpful as well.
If you work a traditional job, they might require you to know how to use other software or equipment, but if you work for yourself, you have more autonomy in what you choose. And if you’re just starting out, you can use web-based programs like Canva or PicMonkey to familiarize yourself with the basics of graphic design.
If you go to school or receive formal training, you’ll have an easier time getting experience as a graphic designer. Your coursework should teach you how to create multiple kinds of images in a variety of different mediums. This could include logos, book covers, infographics, or business cards.
You might also be able to secure an internship that provides you with direct hands-on experience designing images for clients. That internship might even lead to a job. Your school’s career resource center can help you look for a post-college job or your instructors might also have connections you can take advantage of.
Getting Experience Without a Degree
If you’re self-taught in graphic design, you’ll probably have to work a little harder at developing a portfolio. The first step is to become proficient at online design programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and do things like hand lettering or build color palettes.
Once you can create basic logos and other designs, consider offering your services on sites like Fiverr or reaching out to business owner friends to see if you can do some design work for them for free or reduced cost.
You can also use some of your own projects to build your graphic design portfolio. For instance, if you have a blog, design some infographics, Instagram images, or refresh your logo. If you write books, design your own cover. If you belong to a church group, book club, or sports team, offer to create T-shirts, water bottles, or even Facebook images to promote the group’s events.
There are plenty of places and opportunities to build your skills and graphic design portfolio, even if you don’t have a degree. Remember to market yourself to your network and look for even the smallest opening to practice your skills. Post about it on social media, especially LinkedIn.
Whether you have formal training or are self-taught, you’ll need a portfolio that showcases your work. Your portfolio will give prospective clients or employers an idea of your ability to design eye-catching, creative, and unique images.
While you can use a traditional resume, a website is a better way to show off what you’ve done. You can easily build one using drag-and-drop tools, and all you need to get started is a domain name and website host. If you can’t afford that right now, there are free platforms you can use until you can afford a self-hosted site.
How to Find Graphic Design Jobs
If you’re interested in working as a graphic designer, you’ll find work in one of two ways: with a company or as a self-employed freelancer. Which path you pick depends on a number of factors including how comfortable you are finding your own clients and how much experience you have. And you can always move from a traditional job to freelancing or vice versa.
Traditional Graphic Designer Jobs
If you want to work for a company, you’ll need to apply for graphic designer jobs. You can find these openings on company websites, aggregate sites like Indeed.com, or through your network.
While most industries need graphic designers, you’ll have the most luck finding jobs in industries like advertising, gaming, publishing, digital and print marketing, print and online journalism, and other online media.
If you’re just starting out or want the stability and reliability of a consistent paycheck, working as a graphic designer for a company is a good choice. This is also a good way to receive paid training, consistent hours, and guaranteed work.
Find Your Own Clients
Working as a freelance graphic designer comes with perks like setting your own hours, saying no to projects you don’t want to work on, and specializing in one or two types of graphic design. You can also work from home and set the rates you charge your clients. This can lead to a higher earning potential than a traditional job.
You can start finding your own clients by creating a profile on sites like Upwork or offering design gigs on Fiverr. You can also reach out to your personal and professional networks to let your contacts know you’re looking for clients.
You’ll want to make sure you have a quality website and portfolio with easy-to-find contact information and an elevator pitch for when you’re networking with potential clients. Other tips for finding clients include:
- Keeping a spreadsheet of clients you’ve pitched to track their responses (and avoid repeat pitching)
- Creating a follow-up calendar
- Joining professional networks, online and in-person
- Developing a solid marketing and advertising plan for your services
In addition to finding your own clients, working for yourself also means things like managing your business finances, paying for training out of pocket, and setting your own work/life boundaries.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Graphic Designer
Even if you have a great eye for design, working as a graphic designer might not be for you. You might find it too boring or you might find that your talents are better suited for something like photography or interior design. But before you give up on pursuing graphic design as a career, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Do I want to help companies and brands develop their image?
- Can I be versatile or do I want to specialize in one type of design?
- Am I good at creating beautiful images that people are drawn to?
- Can I adapt to different design programs and learn to use them?
- Am I flexible and willing to adjust my work to meet client demands?
These questions are just a starting point. To really know if a graphic design career is right for you, consider giving it a try. There are free tools you can experiment with to see if you have a knack for it, and you can share your work on social media or among your friends to see what they think.
You can also make graphic design a side hustle if you still like your day job. This lets you work on projects you care about without making it a full-time gig.
Is Becoming a Graphic Designer Right for You?
If you find that you have a talent for graphic design and you enjoy designing logos, book covers, Instagram quotes or downloadable PDFs while helping companies convey their messaging and branding, you might like working in this field. Having an aptitude for or the ability to quickly learn design programs, meet deadlines, and communicate with clients also helps.
You can get started in graphic design with formal education, or be completely self-taught. Although it’s easier to launch your career with a degree, you can still train yourself in graphic design, find clients, and earn a living.