Graphic Artist vs. Graphic Designer: Understanding the Difference

Written by Coursera • Updated on

While both professions are ideal for those interested in digital and creative arts, the career paths for a graphic artist vs. graphic designer differ. Understand the two jobs and learn about graphic designer and graphic artist jobs, salaries, and more.

[Featured Image]: A graphic artist wearing a white blouse and red sweater works on graphic designs on her laptop.

For creative individuals interested in digital technology, working as a graphic artist or graphic designer can be a satisfying career. Both professions involve creative expression with digital tools, but they can differ in scope and projects.  

The duties, software, and skills of graphic designers and graphic artists overlap, but learning the differences between the two jobs can help artistically driven people pursue a rewarding and fulfilling career. In this article, you’ll learn about the skills, educational requirements, work environments, salary differences, and job outlooks that set these two professions apart.

What does a graphic artist do?

A graphic artist is a creative professional who produces visual material to communicate emotions, stories, and other messages to audiences. Graphic artists work in traditional and digital media and rely on artistic principles that may be abstract or novel. 

Whether producing fine art or cartoons, graphic artists are artists. They often use software, digital photography, hand drawings, painting, collage, and other creative tools to create many different kinds of projects, including:

  • Book covers

  • Still or moving images and storyboards for film or television

  • Printed designs for home decor or clothing

  • Backdrops for animation or video games

  • Art for advertisements

What does a graphic designer do? 

Graphic designers are also commercial artists, but they combine visual and text-based content to meet clients' needs. Graphic designers ensure readability and aesthetically pleasing layouts of material using a set of best practices that allow for effective communication strategies.

Graphic designers understand complementary color palettes, optimum use of white space, readable fonts, and visual hierarchy that naturally attracts the eye to the information clients want their viewers to see. The seven principles of graphic design inform their work: 

  • Pattern

  • Contrast

  • Emphasis

  • Balance

  • Scale 

  • Harmony

  • Rhythm and movement

With these design principles and best practices in mind, graphic designers work with an in-depth understanding of a brand and its elements, including text, logos, images, and illustrations. 

As a graphic designer, you  may create:

  • Flyers

  • Digital banners 

  • Print advertisements

  • Posters 

  • Magazine layouts

  • Branding guidelines such as font designs and logo creation

Read more: What Does a Graphic Designer Do? (and How Do I Become One?)

What skills set these two professions apart?

Graphic artists and graphic designers have slightly different skill sets. Graphic designers must determine the clearest and most aesthetically pleasing way to present words and images within a specified space. They use problem-solving skills to encourage viewers to interact with the product.

On the other hand, graphic artists focus more on communicating feelings than solving problems. They are more like storytellers who create a narrative and are less driven by specific rules. 

Additionally, while graphic artists can work in the same companies as graphic designers, artists may be more likely to work as freelancers. Designers may work more within a creative team that includes copywriters, editors, and creative managers who execute marketing strategies. Graphic artists more often work separately from a team.

What are the differences in educational requirements?

While graphic artists and graphic designers can teach themselves skills through apprenticeships, self-study, or years of practice, aspiring professionals are likely to have post-secondary degrees and certifications.

Degrees

Graphic designers tend to have bachelor’s degrees in graphic design or a related arts field. Coursework may include classes in:

  • Studio art

  • Principles of design

  • Computerized design

  • Printing techniques

  • Website design

  • Commercial graphic production

  • Marketing

  • Writing

  • Business

Graphic artists may be self-taught but can also have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, graphic arts, or fine arts. They can specialize in a specific area such as design, illustration, or photography and can take classes in:

  • Animation

  • Video graphics

  • Digital arts

  • Drawing

  • Game and interactive media design

Certifications and training

As a graphic designer, it’s important to be knowledgeable about design principles and the latest computer software used in the industry. Courses like the California Institute of the Arts Graphic Design Specialization or the Fundamentals of Graphic Design on Coursera are good options for staying updated. The University of Colorado Boulder also offers a Graphic Design course in its Effective Communication Specialization. 

Placeholder

specialization

Graphic Design

Make Compelling Design. Learn and apply the principles of graphic design towards a comprehensive branding project.

4.7

(14,803 ratings)

297,820 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Visual Communication, Branding Communication, Graphic Design, Art History, Typography, Creativity, Graphics, Design Theory, Color Theory, Adobe Illustrator, History, Adobe Indesign, Art, Graphic Arts, Adobe Photoshop

As a graphic artist, you can enhance your skills with courses focusing on fine and digital art. The University of Tokyo offers Interactive Computer Graphics. And since a graphic artist is a storyteller, you might consider the University of New South Wales’s Transmedia Storytelling.  

Placeholder

Category: Free course

Interactive Computer Graphics

Computer graphics can be a powerful tool for supporting visual problem solving, and interactivity plays a central role in harnessing the users' creativity. ...

4.1

(271 ratings)

74,259 already enrolled

INTERMEDIATE level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

3d computer graphics, Algorithms, Robotics, Computer Graphics (CG)

Both types of professionals must create a strong portfolio for potential employers or freelance clients to review. If you’re an aspiring graphic artist or designer, online training and specialization programs can be good ways to build a collection of work that demonstrates your skills and talents. 

Additionally, graphic designers and artists can benefit from seeking an Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) certification. This shows that you're proficient in Adobe's suite of Creative Cloud apps, including Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Animate, After Effects, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and InDesign.

Work environment 

Artists tend to work more independently, but the work environment will vary based on the client and employment situation. Graphic artists may work in a studio with different art supplies and media, depending on what they’re producing. They may also work for graphic design firms, publishing houses, or advertising agencies.

Graphic designers are frequently part of a robust creative team in a collaborative agency, working at a computer, either in an office or at home. They may work for companies focusing on print, television, animation, and other media. 

Employment for both may be full-time, part-time, or contract, and the assignments may be short-term or long-term. Professionals in these creative roles often must juggle many projects at once.

Salary 

According to Glassdoor, graphic artists make slightly higher salaries on average—$87,921 a year [1]—than graphic designers, who make $94,569 a year on average [2]. Salaries can range based on the city and the type of agency. You’re more likely to have a higher salary if you work for an advertising agency in a metropolitan center than a printer in a small town.

Job outlook 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 3 percent growth for graphic designers and 4 percent growth for artists, below the 8 percent national average for all occupations in the United States. This means an average of 23,900 graphic designer job openings will be available annually [3]. 

Next steps  

Ready to take the next step toward becoming a graphic designer or graphic artist? Consider CalArt’s Fundamentals in Graphic Design and the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ Modern and Contemporary Art and Design Specialization

Placeholder

course

Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Graphic Design is all around us! Words and pictures—the building blocks of graphic design—are the elements that carry the majority of the content in both ...

4.8

(15,840 ratings)

647,577 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Creativity, Graphics, Design Theory, Color Theory

Placeholder

specialization

Modern and Contemporary Art and Design

Explore Art and Ideas of Our Time. Develop a deeper understanding of artists’ and designers’ processes, and gain confidence in looking at and talking about art.

4.8

(1,947 ratings)

37,176 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 7 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Photography, Design, Art, History, Museums, Creativity, Art History, Art Direction

Related articles

Article sources

1

Glassdoor. “Graphic Artists Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/graphic-artist-salary-SRCH_KO0,14.htm." Accessed August 24, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits