Graphic Artist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a graphic artist? Get real job descriptions and salary information to help determine whether a career in graphic arts is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Graphic Arts

As a career with average growth expected between 2012 and 2022, graphic art is a creative option for people who enjoy bringing type and images together to communicate with the world. Find out the pros and cons of a graphic artists job to find out if it's right for you.

Pros of Being a Graphic Artist
There are multiple routes to gain an education in graphic design (associate and bachelor's degrees)*
Graphic designers who are self-employed may have flexible hours and work in a variety of environments.*
The field allows an individual to indulge their creativity.*
Work available in multiple industries (print, web and multimedia)*

Cons of Being a Graphic Artist
Freelance graphic artists may have to set their schedules around their clients' wishes, not their own schedule*
It can take four years to gain an education and an additional 1-3 years after graduation to advance beyond a junior artist position*
Graphic artists must constantly update their skills.*
Deadlines may be short, causing potentially stressful situations for designers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description

A graphic artist or graphic designer often works in an office or studio. They are responsible for the creation of promotional displays, billboards or even movie credits. They work with clients to create projects and communicate a variety of messages. As a graphic designer, you may be required to supervise others and review designs before publication. A graphic artist should have an eye for detail and be adaptable, because trends in design and equipment can change rapidly.

Salary Information

The industry where you work may play a role in how much you can earn. According to the BLS, in May 2014, there were 197,540 professionals working as graphic designers in the United States. Those individuals earned a median salary of $45,900 each year, although an individual's chosen industry could mean more money. For example, graphic artists in advertising and public relations earned an average of $51,580, while those in printing and publishing earned $40,910. Additionally, designers in the federal government earned $77,420, as of 2014.

Location can affect your earnings. In California, 27,180 individuals worked as graphic artists, in 2014, and earned an average of $28.34 per hour. In Vermont, those working as graphic designers reported earnings of $22.50 per hour.

What Are The Requirements?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers often require graphic designers to have a bachelor's degree in graphic arts or a related field, although some require just an associate degree and several years of experience. Most employers will want to see your portfolio to gauge your skill, and determine how you might fit into a company. In most cases, your portfolio will be the deciding factor that lands you the job.

In a 2-year associate degree program, students take courses in 3D design, desktop publishing and color theory. In 4-year bachelor's degree programs, students learn about typography, design for advertising and participate in studio style classes where they focus on problem solving and how the different elements of an advertisement or image go together. Additional skill sets that are important to employers may include creativity, self-discipline, communication skills and an eye for detail.

Job Postings From Employers

Employers may advertise for graphic artists, graphic designers or might not use either term in the title of the advertisement, instead asking for a candidate with knowledge of graphic art in the body of the advertisement. Here are just a few real job listings available in March 2012:

  • A North Carolina company seeks a web developer with a bachelor's degree in graphic design and experience with Photoshop, Illustrator and HTML to restructure a government entity's web presence.
  • A Laurel, MD-based company wants a graphic artist to create and coordinate editorial layouts for magazines, posters and informational brochures. This individual should have an associate degree and two years experience.
  • A Texas company seeks a designer with illustration skills and proficiency in graphic design computer programs to create educational materials.

How To Make Your Skills Stand Out

As a student in a bachelor's degree program, you may find opportunities on campus to join design-related clubs. Even if those opportunities don't exist at your school, there are other organizations, like the Art Directors Club, that allow students a chance to network and get to know professionals in the graphic design field. These organizations sometimes offer portfolio reviews and notice of competitions as well. The American Institute of Graphic Arts is another organization that allows students to join in competitions and find jobs in the design field. Entering competitions gives you the opportunity to build your portfolio and add to your creative repertoire, as well as gets your name into the graphic design world.

Alternative Careers

Desktop Publisher

If you're interested in a career in graphic design, but don't want to take four years to earn a degree, consider a career in desktop publishing. The BLS noted that there aren't specific education requirements, but employers may prefer to hire individuals with an associate or bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field. Employment of desktop publishers is threatened by the availability of desktop publishing software, and is expected to decline. Individuals who have experience will have the best chances to fill the vacancies. In May 2010, there were just over 20,000 desktop publishers working in the United States. They reported a median salary of $36,610.


Animators also use graphic design skills to bring their creations to life on film, television or the Internet. As an animator, you may start by drawing your concept by hand, and then use a computer program to create the storyboards that bring your concept to life. You'll have to earn a bachelor's degree to work as an animator. The BLS noted that the field of animation is expected to grow as the public's demand for movies, television and 3D movies grows. There were 26,560 animators and multimedia artists working in the U.S. as of May 2010. Those individuals reported a median salary of $58,510 annually.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

      • B.A. in Advertising and Graphic Design
      • B.A. in Digital Design with an Emphasis in Animation
  • Campus and Online Programs
    2. Full Sail University

    Program Options

      • MS - Game Design (Campus)
      • Game Design MS
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
      • BS - Graphic Design (Campus)
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    3. Penn Foster High School

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    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
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Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • B.A. in Advertising and Graphic Design
  • B.A. in Digital Design with an Emphasis in Animation

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Full Sail University

  • MS - Game Design (Campus)
  • BS - Graphic Design (Campus)
  • 3D Arts Certificate (Campus)

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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