How to Become a Graphic Designer: The Ultimate Guide

Graphic design is a creative and effective way to communicate messages visually through the use of graphics, illustrations, color, typography, and other design elements. Because of the efficient way that graphic design can both grasp people's attention and convey a message quickly, it is often a highly valuable skill set that many businesses want to utilize to boost their marketing and advertising efforts. If you're interested in getting started as a graphic designer, you're well on your way to beginning a fulfilling and potentially lucrative career.

What do graphic designers do?

Graphic designers study the basic principles of design, color theory, typography, illustration, and more to build a skill set that they can use to craft visually appealing imagery that conveys a message or idea. Designers will typically use graphic design software and a computer or tablet to create and render their designs digitally.

How to become a graphic designer

Many companies across various industries will opt to hire their own graphic designers to join their team, while other businesses will choose to hire graphic designers as contractors or freelancers. Whether you are looking for employment with an individual company, a graphic design agency, or you prefer to go the freelancing route, there are a few things that all designers will need to do in order to get started.

Learn and practice your craft

Many who pursue graphic design as a career will choose to go the more traditional method by attending a university and earning a degree. While this is an excellent and comprehensive way to learn the skill set needed to get your start as a graphic designer, it's not the only route available. While it's true that earning a degree in graphic design can make it easier to land jobs in the future, it's also possible to learn graphic design at your own pace by taking courses or earning a certificate online, learning from various books, tutorials, and other content, and practicing consistently to hone your craft. No matter which way you choose to learn the fundamentals and essentials of graphic design, practicing consistently and often is necessary to continue improving your skill.

Gain experience and build your portfolio

When it comes time to look for work in the graphic design industry, your potential employer or client will want to see examples of your work to gauge whether you're a good match for their needs. You may want to create a physical portfolio if you will be meeting with future employers or clients in person, but as a designer, it also looks more professional if you create an online portfolio to showcase your work. Having your own website for your portfolio provides another opportunity to show your skills through the actual design of your site, in addition to the projects and past works you choose to include in the portfolio.

If you don't feel like you have enough past work to include in your portfolio, you can create sample designs to help fill it up. Or, you can consider offering your services to non-profits or startups for free. While working for free may sound counterproductive, it's actually a great way to gain a little experience while working with clients and creating designs you can show off in your portfolio to attract paying clients in the future. This can also present an opportunity to build rapport with the non-profit or startup, which can lead to positive testimonials from them that you can use to further strengthen your portfolio.

Build a résumé to showcase your expertise

Once you have your portfolio ready to go, you should also create a résumé to complement it. While some potential employers or clients will care more about the actual quality of work evident from your portfolio, some will still be interested in your résumé to see where you studied graphic design, how many years of experience you have in the field, and past jobs or work experiences that are relevant to the current work you do.


Graphic design can be an exciting and rewarding career path. Taking the steps to complete your graphic design education, practice and hone your skills, and build up plenty of experience are all necessary starting points for beginner designers. From there, taking the time to create a well-designed, professional portfolio and résumé will help you in your search for either full-time employment with a company or agency or in securing clients for your own freelance business.

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