How Do I Become a Graphic Artist?

Research what it takes to become a graphic artist. Learn about the duties of this job, the educational requirements and the salary range to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Graphic Design degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Graphic Artist?

Graphic artists are also known as graphic illustrators. They use their artistic and computer skills to produce images that are meant to convey concepts to the public. For example, they may design a logo for a company or they may design other visual content that can be used for advertisements, reports or brochures. As part of their duties they will meet with clients and determine the scope of the project and the focus that it has, and then they will produce proposals for designs based on the client's needs and budget. Once approved they finalize their designs.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Graphic design, graphic arts software, fine art, graphic elements, communication
Certification Voluntary certification in certain software programs
Key Responsibilities Creating and designing communication materials for print, websites, film, and interactive media
Job Growth (2018-2028) 3% for all graphic designers*
Average Salary (2018) $54,680 for all graphic designers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a Graphic Artist?

To become a graphic artist or graphic designer, you might get a job based on your natural talent, but employers could require a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degrees in graphic design are available from traditional colleges and universities as well as art and design schools. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, you could learn the technical skills and master the graphics software used in the industry through an associate degree or certificate program in graphic design. Although not necessary for most graphic artist jobs, master's degrees in graphic design exist with education training if you want to teach at the college level. A graduate degree could also help you advance to an upper-level position, like creative director or art director, though you might also move up based on experience and skill.

Additional traits you could develop as a graphic artist include creativity, good communication, problem-solving skills, self-discipline and effective time management. In jobs where you'd work within a graphics department, you might need the ability to work both independently and as part of team. Your design portfolio can make or break you in this field, so a good sampling of your work is key. Also, because styles and client needs are constantly changing, you must be able to adapt and stay informed about new trends, software and ideas.

What Could I Study?

In general, the graphic design programs at art and design schools provide a more comprehensive and intensive design education, with fewer general courses in social studies, humanities or science. If you desire a more well-rounded education, however, you might choose to attend a traditional college or university that offers broader liberal arts programs.

Regardless of which route you choose, you'll typically take courses in design fundamentals that teach you about graphic elements, like typography and color theory. You'll usually take studio courses that focus on drawing, painting or other fine arts. You could learn about computerized design, website design, printing techniques and how to use computer applications to help you create designs. Problem-solving skills and teamwork are likely to be emphasized throughout your coursework, and your education will likely include courses in art history or art appreciation.

Where Might I Work?

Graphic design positions are generally available in large cities, but you might also find graphic artist jobs in small towns or suburbs. As a graphic artist, you could work within a design firm, ad agency, print shop or publishing company, which are generally very fast-paced environments that employ many creative individuals and serve multiple clients. You could learn a great deal and build your portfolio quite rapidly at a large firm, but entry-level jobs in this arena aren't very common and may garner a great deal of competition.

You could also find an in-house creative position with a large organization or corporation looking to design its own materials from within. In this case, your client is the organization itself or a particular department within the organization. While the job could be less intense and creative than a position within an ad agency or design firm, an in-house creative position still offers the opportunity to gain experience in the field and use the skills learned in your degree program.

Some graphic artists are independently employed. As a freelance graphic artist, you'd run your own business, which means you'd need to buy equipment and find clients on your own. You might work out of your home or rent a small office space. Because running your own successful business requires contacts and varied skills beyond creativity and technical know-how, this scenario is generally considered more realistic if you have several years of experience in the field.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

Your job duties as a graphic artist can vary depending on where you work and what type of clientele you serve, but generally you could spend much of your time working on a computer to create designs for various printed materials, such as posters, business cards, ads, brochures and billboards. Many modern graphic artists also create designs for websites and other interactive media or design graphics for TV commercials or film. You could also be involved in pre- and post-production of films, ads or other creative media, participating in conceptual ideas at the drawing board or approving the quality of the final product.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Graphic artists share some similarities with medical illustrators and technical illustrators. Medical illustrators and technical illustrators do not necessarily need a bachelor's degree, but they do need artistic skills and the ability to produce accurate renderings of their subject. Medical illustrators may provide illustrations used in medical texts to demonstrate a biological process or to represent medical information or a likeness of an organ or cell. Technical illustrators provide technical drawings that can be used to illustrate a process, such as how a machine works. Technical illustrators, medical illustrators and graphic artists all need artistic skill. They all use their artistic skills, and may also use computer skills, to produce images related to the field they work in. Their visual images may be used to supplement written information and be reproduced in books or brochures. The key difference between these professionals is that graphic artists develop concept images that are meant to convey ideas, rather than actual things or processes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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