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 versus a graphic designer differ slightly. Understand these roles and learn about graphic designer and graphic artist jobs.

[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 and the titles are sometimes used interchangeably, 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, and salary differences 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. 

Graphic artists 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 adverts

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 material layouts using a set of best practices that allow for effective communication strategies.

Graphic designers understand complementary colour 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 adverts

  • 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. In addition, 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. 

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. Both graphic designers and graphic artists can work as freelancers.

What are the differences in educational requirements?

While graphic artists and graphic designers can teach themselves skills through apprenticeships, self-study, or years of practise, aspiring professionals are likely to have bachelor's degrees and certifications.


Graphic designers tend to have bachelor’s degrees in graphic design or a related arts field, such as art and design, communication design, or illustration. You might also qualify for a position with a foundation degree or higher national diploma. Coursework may include classes in:

  • Visual imagery 

  • Narratives 

  • Animation 

  • Gaming production 

  • Commercial graphic production

  • Digital marketing

  • Writing

  • Portfolio creation

  • Studio practice

  • Typography 

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

  • Animation

  • Photography

  • Illustration

  • Motion design

  • Visual storytelling

  • Adobe Photoshop and Creative Cloud

Both graphic artists and graphic designers 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 specialisation programmes can be good ways to build a collection of work that demonstrates your skills and talents. 

Work environment 

Graphic artists tend to work more independently, but the work enviroment 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 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. 


According to Glassdoor, graphic designers in the UK can earn an average annual base salary of £30,632, while graphic artists earn an average annual salary of £30,093 [1, 2].  Salaries can range based on the location and type of agency. You’re more likely to have a higher salary if you work for an advertising agency in a metropolitan centre than a printer in a small town.

Next steps  

As an artistic professional, it’s essential to be knowledgeable about design principles. A Google UX Design Professional Certificate can help you achieve your career goals. This is a beginner-level course that’s completely online. You will learn how to use design tools like Figma and Adobe XD. Upon completion, you’ll have a professional portfolio to show to prospective employers. 

Article sources


Glassdoor. "Graphic Designer Salaries in United Kingdom,,2_IN2_KO3,19.htm?clickSource=searchBtn." Accessed July 14, 2023.

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