Graphic Artist vs. Graphic Designer: Understanding the Difference

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

While both professions are ideal for those interested in digital and creative arts, the career paths for a graphic artist vs. a 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 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 rewarding and fulfilling careers. 

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, these professionals 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 that guide graphic design work include: 

  • 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 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 with fewer 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 independently.

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.


Graphic designers must have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related arts field or a college diploma in graphic design. Coursework may include classes in:

  • Studio art

  • Principles of design

  • Computerized design

  • Printing techniques

  • Website design

  • Commercial graphic production

  • Marketing

  • Writing

  • Business

Graphic artists must have a bachelor’s degree in visual arts with a specialization in graphic design, commercial art, graphic communications or cartooning. They may also earn a college diploma in graphic 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

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. 

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.  

Both professionals must create a strong portfolio for potential employers or 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 an Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) certification. This shows 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 their production. 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 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 they may work on short- and long-term assignments. Professionals in these creative roles often must balance many projects at once.


According to Glassdoor, graphic artists in Canada make slightly lower salaries on average—$50,805 a year —than graphic designers, who average $51,065 a year [1, 2]. Salaries can vary 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 Canada Job Bank expects “Limited” to “Good” job growth in both careers in most provinces and territories through 2026 [3, 4]. 

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

Article sources


Glassdoor. “Graphic Artists Salaries,,14.htm?clickSource=searchBtn." Accessed May 7, 2024.

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