Graphic Design

Graphic Design Trade Schools

One of today’s most exciting and rewarding job paths is a graphic design career. These workers dream up and draw visual elements for websites, advertisements, and company logos. They utilize vector software and other graphic design tools, combining technology with talent to give their ideas life.

An In Demand Career

Graphic designers play a major role in many aspects of society. Both big and small businesses need original artwork to establish identities and engage with their customers. This gives colleagues plenty of opportunity to find work and earn good pay in this open-ended career option.


Why Go to School for Graphic Design?

If you’re interested in becoming a graphic designer, there are many benefits to attending an accredited trade school for graphic design. These include:

You Get Hands-on Experience

Trade schools offer hands-on experience in all aspects of graphic design. You will have the chance to use various software programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, which are essential for creating high-quality graphics.

Develop your portfolio

Another benefit of attending a graphic design school is that it gives students the chance to build their portfolios. A portfolio is an essential tool for any aspiring artist because it shows potential employers what they can do and how they’ve done it in the past. If you want to get hired as a graphic designer, having a strong portfolio is one of the most important things you can do.

Your Skills Will Improve Faster

If you attend a trade school for graphic design, then you will be able to learn more about this industry than if you were just studying on your own at home or in college because at trade schools there is more opportunity for one-on-one interaction with instructors who have lots of knowledge about the subject matter they teach.

You’ll learn from experienced professionals

Graphic design schools typically offer courses taught by experienced professionals who have paid their dues in the field. They’ll be able to provide you with real-world advice on how to make it as a freelancer and advance your career.

It’s More Than Just About School

When you go to graphic design school, you will learn more than just how to use software and create images. You will learn about marketing, advertising, and communication as well as how to work with clients. This is important because it makes you more marketable as a designer.

You May Be Able to Start Earning Money Right Away

Some trade schools offer internships or even part-time jobs for students who are interested in working while they earn their degrees. This can be a great way to get started on your career path while also making some money at the same time.


How Long Does it Take?

The time it takes to complete a degree in graphic design varies depending on the institution and program, but generally ranges between four and five years. Some schools offer accelerated programs designed specifically for working adults who want to earn their degree faster than traditional programs allow.

Career Paths

Program / Study Options

Certificate and Diploma programs

If you’re looking for a fast-track option, certificate and diploma programs may be right for you. They usually take just a few months to complete, but they can prepare you for entry-level positions in specific areas like web design or mobile app development. You might also find shorter classes that help students brush up on their skills with more advanced software packages like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign.

Associate Degree

Associate degrees are typically two-year programs that provide students with a broad overview of the field while also giving them hands-on experience through internships and projects. These programs provide a broad foundation that prepares students for further study or entry into the workforce. Many associate degree programs may not require any previous experience or coursework before entering the program.

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s degree programs in graphic design offer students an introduction to the world of visual communication by providing an overview of traditional and digital processes. Students learn about branding, typography and color theory, as well as how to communicate visually with photographs and illustrations. Some schools offer concentrations in illustration or advertising graphics so students can focus on a particular area within the field of graphic design.

Master’s Degree

Master’s degree programs in graphic design provide advanced training for those who want to become professional graphic designers or art directors. These programs may focus on issues related to branding strategies, user interface design or information architecture and incorporate a wide range of experiences related to communication strategies and visual design principles. Master’s degrees can help prepare students for leadership roles within the field and give them an advantage when competing for jobs against other applicants.


How Much Does It Cost?

Graphic design school can cost anywhere from $9,400 to $20,000 per year, depending on the school, program, and location.

The more affordable programs are usually community colleges and universities that offer associate of applied arts degrees, while the pricier options are private colleges and trade schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in graphic design or related fields like advertising.


How Much Money Can You Make Starting Out?

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for graphic designers is $51,360. However, salaries vary widely depending on whether you’re working for a big company or as a freelancer, where you live, and what kind of experience you have. This figure might also go lower if you’re just starting out.

Career Overview

What Do Graphic Designers Do?

Graphic designers create eye-catching images and designs with digital illustration and layout software. After reviewing the needs for a project, they choose color schemes and create unique layouts and graphics. They pitch ideas and review design concepts with art directors, collaborators, and investors. Sometimes a concept or logo undergoes several changes before all parties reach a consensus.

Depending on the client’s needs, graphic designers work with both digital and printed mediums. The two usually go hand-in-hand, as computers play a major role in preparing images for print.

During graphic design trade school, students learn when and where to use vector and raster formats. Experienced graphic designers can eventually move into supervisory roles with generous salary options, such as art director or chief designer.

Responsibilities & Duties

Graphic designers use computers to generate images based on exacting specs. They create layouts and pictures for web pages, company logos, and digital publications. They also invent logos and designs for movie labels, food posters, and other product packaging. While they often have some degree of creative freedom, the customer’s desires dictate their design decisions.

There are many unique aspects to graphic design jobs. They can differ based on the nature of the project, but they all involve communicating with clients. In order to avoid confusion or deadline issues, designers should fully understand the needs of their customers before taking on a task. Workers must determine how long a project will take to finish and how much to ask for compensation.

Other graphic designer responsibilities include:

  • Find the appropriate style, typeface, and atmosphere needed for a given piece
  • Create hand-drawn or computer-generated concept art to examine with clients
  • Design and populate graphs, charts, or infographics
  • Arrange presentations to pitch new ideas
  • Keep an archive of production elements for future reference
  • Study final layouts to search for imperfections and areas that need improved
  • Finalize layouts before sending to printer

What Is Vector Format?

Those with basic graphic design skills should be familiar with a variety of image formats. Due to their mathematical composition, vector graphics can scale up or down with no loss in quality. They are used in the creation of logos and other important branding. Some common vector formats include:

  • .eps
  • .ai
  • .pdf
  • .svg
  • .wmf

What Is Raster Format?

Composed of tiny dots called pixels, raster photos have a wide variety of applications. Their relatively low file size allows for quick transfer across the internet or other digital mediums. Raster images make for great screen-displayed web graphics. Here are the most-often used pixel-based image formats:

  • .gif
  • .png
  • .jpg
  • .tif

What Image-Editing Programs Will Graphic Designers Use?

Not only do these workers create graphics but they also design layouts and templates. They do this for websites, magazines, books, newspapers, and television. While pursuing a graphic design degree, students are likely to encounter the following image-editing programs:

  • Illustrator
  • InDesign
  • Photoshop
  • QuarkXPress
  • CorelDraw

What Type of Skills Should Graphic Designers Possess?

To learn the needed skills for employment, prospects invest in graphic design education to earn bachelor’s degrees. To serve specific interests, some hopefuls pursue degrees in illustration, multimedia, computer graphics, or visual communications.

Those looking to get into the field should never underestimate the role typography plays in graphic design. Text is a major aspect of many logos and design elements. Potentials should be familiar with the following typography concepts:

  • Tracking
  • Kerning
  • Leading
  • Point sizes
  • Line lengths

What Computer Programming Skills Do Graphic Designers Encounter?

Web design is another aspect of the trade that most graphic designers will find themselves involved with in some form. Many times this requires some knowledge of computer programming. While creating websites, designers take the following into consideration:

  • Features
  • Layout
  • Ease of use
  • Color scheme

What's a Graphic Designer's Workspace Like?

While arrangements can vary drastically, graphic designers often work in well-lit studios alongside colleagues. They usually have access to drafting tables, writing utensils, and the latest image editing software. Most work environments are upbeat and modern, perfect for those looking for an alternate to the typical office job.

Workers spend a lot of their time seated. They use laptops, desktop computers, or pencil and paper. They must know how to operate printers and scanners. Associates need to use ink types and paper of varying styles and sizes.

Prospects learn to use the following tools during graphic design training:

  • Computers
  • Drafting tables
  • Design software
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Digital and 35 millimeter cameras
  • Video cameras

Why Do Graphic Designers Need the Ability to Be Creative?

Graphic designers must identify the needs of their audience. This includes not only the client themselves, but also their patrons and advertisers. Finding the right balance requires detailed analytical and creative thinking abilities. Designers solve complex puzzles regarding the styles, colors, and types of shapes to use in a given project.

To improve these skills, prospects should take on a diverse range of projects for clients of various backgrounds. A well-rounded skillset combined with communication and networking talents will do nothing but help workers find higher-paying graphic design jobs.

How Do Graphic Designers Promote Their Work?

Lots of promotion takes place through the internet, especially on social media sites and art forums. Word-of-mouth can also be a powerful form of advertisement. Delivering excellent work for a client will do nothing but bring more eyes to your designs and more interest for your services. Workers can also place ads in newspapers, local periodicals, or on job sites.

What Are Useful Skills and Traits for People in This Field?

  • Well-developed art and design abilities
  • Expertise in image editing software
  • A creative mindset and fearless attitude towards challenging assignments
  • The prowess to complete detailed artistic works with strict deadlines
  • The motivation to work beyond 40 hours if required
  • Capability of channeling requests and ideas from clients into professional-quality designs
  • Experience in working with raster and vector graphics
  • The competence to convey new approaches and ideas to clients
  • Knowledge of HTML and CMS interfaces when designing websites
  • Communication skills, as graphic designers work with customers, clients, and colleagues

Are There Special Requirements for Graphic Design Jobs?

While some entry-level graphic design jobs require only a certificate or associate’s degree, higher-paying work calls for a bachelor’s degree. These more advanced credentials are available at reputable art or graphic design schools.

Sometimes software vendors give certification courses for specific programs. These tailored graphic design classes offer additional credentials that are often very attractive to employers. The more training a prospect has, the more marketable they become when searching for jobs in the field.

To better understand a candidate’s style and abilities, most companies ask prospects to submit work portfolios. It’s usually best if the recruit can provide a URL to a website with some sort of digital collection. Employers should be able to quickly and easily access the work of potential staff members.

Some students enroll in an online graphic design school to save time and money. This is a good option for avoiding long commutes or saving time while working a full-time job.

What Is the Outlook for
Graphic Design Jobs?

The demand for skilled graphic artists is extremely high. While job growth is at a relatively low 4%, there is no shortage of work for those who are willing to search. The typical graphic designer brings home a yearly salary package of $45k to $50k. Workers earn above average pay compared to most occupations in the U.S. economy.

While job perks can vary, the typical worker enjoys these graphic design benefits:

  • Healthcare coverage
  • Vision and dental insurance
  • Paid time off
  • Sick leave
  • Access to a 401(k) retirement plan

Over 250,000 people enjoy part-time and full-time jobs in this burgeoning line of work. Graphic design degrees can lead to an exciting career as one of the following:

  • Web designer
  • 2D or 3D animator
  • Art director
  • Digital designer
  • Drafter
  • Marketing specialist
  • Product designer
  • Production artist

Graphic Design Resumes

When building a resume, graphic designers need to take their layouts and styling to the next level. Resumes should burst with personality, featuring unique formatting and contrasting colors. Rather than using word processing programs, construct the graphic design resume with vector software like Illustrator or InDesign.

Make everything easy to read and understand. Along with information on what you’ve learned and the programs you know, make sure to include your social media information and email address.

Hiring managers shuffle through hundreds of resumes while searching for new graphic designers. This is why prospects should let their artistic skills shine while designing these important summaries. A bland black-and-white resume can keep a well-qualified prospect in the unemployment line for an indefinite amount of time.

What Should Workers Expect?

Graphic design is important in the marketing and selling of products, and it is a critical component of brochures and logos. Therefore, graphic designers often work closely with people in advertising and promotions, public relations, and marketing.

Digital graphics and design software is constantly evolving. As these computer programs develop, graphic designers need to update their skillset. A well-rounded worker is able to design for the following mediums:

  • Product packaging
  • TV, print, and online advertisements
  • Company branding
  • Movies
  • Video games
  • Comics and other forms of illustration

Upon graduation of graphic design school, job seekers should prepare for a competitive workforce. While demand is high for skilled workers, the immense number of people getting into the industry is creating some overcrowding. This forces prospective graphic designers to push themselves even further to separate their work quality and turnover times from the rest of the pack.

Where Can Prospects Find Graphic Design Work?

Candidates in this field have near limitless options regarding employment. Their skills easily transfer between vastly different industries. This gives prospects a large degree of flexibility. Some of the more common graphic design careers involve jobs with the following:

  • Production companies
  • Film studios
  • Book or magazine publishers
  • Newspapers and periodicals
  • Website design teams
  • Internet marketing firms
  • Design services
  • Advertisers
  • Print companies
  • Retail stores or manufacturing companies

Can You Work Remotely?

Working from home is a benefit enjoyed by many graphic designers. About 20% of them are completely independent, using their networking skills to find jobs from clients both regional and national. Freelance graphic designers often team up with local businesses to design logos, flyers, and brochures.

Those who do choose to work for themselves need to keep detailed financial records for taxation purposes. They must file their taxes as business owners. These workers can write off expenses related to lodging, food, and graphic design equipment.

How Can Graphic Designers Obtain Experience?

Prospective workers gain valuable industry experience through internships. Often arranged through a graphic design school, these engagements allow recruits to gain real-world insight on the expectations of their chosen field. In most cases, interns work free or at a reduced pay rate while assisting designers with the process of creating client-specific content.

Hopefuls should also work on passion projects to continue learning and building out their portfolios. Filling untapped niches or thinking of new ways to brand stale businesses are two ways to go about doing this, but the possibilities are endless.

Should You Consider Becoming a Web Developer?

In many cases, jobs in web development require only an associate’s degree. These workers earn a median pay rate around $70k per year. They not only design website layouts but also code, update, and maintain the pages in accordance with internet standards and client criteria.

Web developers who possess superior graphic design skills hold a distinct advantage over job applicants without these abilities. They can work more efficiently and independently and have a deeper understanding of design concepts and layouts.

Interview with a Graphic Designer

Q&A with a LA Graphic Designer

Q&A session with Meredith Mandel, a graphic designer who works for a clothing brand company in Los Angeles, California.

Q:  What is your job title and where are you employed?

A.:  I am a graphic designer for a clothing company called Matix, which is a subsidiary of Podium Distribution. They design clothes for people who enjoy the skater/surfer lifestyle. I work in Los Angeles, California.

Q:  How long have you been a graphic designer?

A:  This is my third year as a professional freelance graphic designer.

Q: What type of training did you have to become a graphic designer?

A:  It all stems from my days of being a Fine Arts major at the University of California Santa Barbara. I took courses on art, painting and printmaking at that school. While enrolled at UCSB, I went abroad and studied graphic design in Australia for a few months.

I currently am enrolled at the Otis School of Art and Design in Los Angeles, California studying graphic design. In the past, I have had the opportunity to intern at various companies that did not require a degree in graphic design and that has helped out a lot. There have also been many freelance opportunities that have arisen and that work has given me a great feel for the working world.

Q:  What do you like best about your job?

A:  I really enjoy being a creative person and being involved with art. I also enjoy the collaborative side of graphic design and getting to bounce ideas around with fellow peers.

I do not enjoy the fast paced environment and constantly trying to sell my product. At times, you may think you have a great idea, but when the client shoots it down, it doesn’t feel good.

Q:  Describe your typical day on the job.

A:  Right now, I am doing print work for a clothing company. A lot of my daily work involves the area of branding for the company. Currently, I am working on flyer and t-shirt designs for their next ad campaign as well as design work for their website. I basically come into work, perform the tasks that are given to me at the start of my day and then a supervisor revises that work and we make necessary changes.

Q:  What traits do you feel are necessary to be successful as a graphic designer?

A:  You have to have good speaking skills or you will never make it. A graphic designer must be able to articulate their body of work to a client and sell it. A good designer also must have high self-esteem and be proud of their work. Even if you do not think your work is 100%, you have to make the client believe it is or else they will see right through you.

Being personable is also a great trait to have as a graphic designer. You are constantly meeting clients and trying to win them over with not only your work, but yourself as a person too.

Q:  Would you recommend this career to someone else?

A:  I definitely would! Being a graphic designer forces you to be a creative person and makes you feel useful in today’s world. It constantly keeps me on my toes, is a lot of fun and I have been told it is a job that can add years to your life. I get to spend my day making art and get paid to do it as well.

Q: What is your next career move, if any?

A: I would love to work for a creative agency and be involved in more collaborative projects. Also, I think I would enjoy working for a company that has more of a collective background instead of one that is just in-house.