Becoming a Print Designer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A print designer's median annual salary is about $46,000. Is it worth the education and training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a print designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Print Designer

Print designers are graphic artists who use words, images, color and layout to communicate a visual message. The following pros and cons can help you decide if print design is the right career for you.

Pros of a Career in Print Design
Employment prospects for graphic designers in computer systems design are expected to increase by 35% from 2012 through 2022*
Large companies offer regular hours and a comfortable work environment*
Opportunities to specialize*
Opportunities to work independently*
Transferable skills can lead to work in related fields*

Cons of a Career in Print Design*
Decrease in the demand for print publishing*
Smaller firms and freelance situations can mean irregular hours and cramped working conditions*
Requires extensive design and technological training*
Highly competitive field*
Pressure to keep up-to-date with new computer software and trends*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

Print designers use traditional design skills and computer software applications to style the type, arrange the pictures and organize the pages for brochures, magazines, newspapers, books and other publications. They often choose to specialize in print media. Book designers create the covers and format manuscripts so that readers will find a book clear and easy to read. Magazine designers work with art directors, copy and photo editors to prepare visually attractive and interesting publications. Package and advertising designers use words and graphics to promote a product's identity and persuade consumers that they not only want, but also need to make the purchase. Print designers who specialize in signage and exhibition display bring information alive and direct people where to go. The next time you're at the movies or watching your favorite television show, take a moment to look at the credits; a print designer created those too.

Salary and Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), specialized design firms provided the highest number of employment opportunities for designers. In May 2014, the median annual salary for a designer within printing and related support services was $40,910, while designer in newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers averaged $45,130. The job prospects for graphic designers will increase at a slower-than-average rate (7% from 2012-2022).

Education and Training Requirements

Graduates of a 4-year degree program who have received training in design theory, computer graphics and software will have fulfilled the minimum requirements for entering the field. Some community colleges and technical schools also offer associate's degree and certificate programs in graphic design that will provide students with the technical skills they need to work as an assistant or in an entry-level position. In addition to a proficiency in graphic design software and a good eye for detail, students should also be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Creativity and a flair for visual organization
  • Verbal, visual and written communication skills
  • Ability to analyze and solve visual problems
  • Ability to manage time, meet deadlines and work under pressure
  • Knowledge of art history and culture
  • Openness to new ideas and trends

Graphic Design Job Postings

The BLS reported that a beginning designer would typically need about 1-3 years of professional experience before they can advance to higher-level and supervisory positions, like chief designer or creative director. Design is a highly competitive field with California, New York, Florida, Texas and Illinois having the highest levels of employment opportunities. The following sample job postings from February 2012 will give you an idea of the kinds of skills and experience that employers are looking for in the current market:

  • A major retailer of clothing for young women in Los Angeles, CA, needs someone with a bachelor's degree in art or design, at least one year of work experience and Adobe computer software skills to design advertising materials, coupons, flyers, marketing collateral and signs. Prospective candidates will be working with visual merchandisers to design graphics and displays for store windows and interiors.
  • A small graphic design firm in Elmsford, NY, is looking for a candidate with a bachelor's degree, one year of experience and the ability to manage multiple projects in a fast-paced environment. Applicants must be proficient in both Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. Experience with package design is a plus.
  • A professional food service company at a Tampa, FL, university service company has an opening for an entry-level graphic designer with a degree or related experience. The candidate will be responsible for creating advertising layouts, corporate identity materials, direct mail, presentation kits and promotional contests. They will also need to perform some website maintenance for ongoing internal and external promotions.

Standing Out in the Field

A strong portfolio and a resume that shows off not only your education and technical skills, but also your typographic abilities can help you stand out in the field. Both the BLS and the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA) stress the importance of a portfolio for students who are looking to enter the design field. The AIGA recommends asking teachers or someone at a professional design organization to give you feedback on your portfolio samples. Both your samples and your resume are ways for you to make a design statement in this highly competitive field.

Developing Related Skills

Some of the job postings you just read were asking for applicants with experience in both print and Web design. If you are a graduate of a graphic design program, you probably have knowledge of both. Designing for a Web audience is different from designing for a print audience. Print specialists will need to learn how to use a grid, work with Web-safe fonts and organize content for digital production. Knowledge of search engine optimization is useful if not essential. Not only do your words have to look good on the Web, but also Google needs to be able to find them.

Alternative Career Paths

Desktop Publisher

Desktop publishers format text and images for the pages of books, newsletters and other printed materials. According to the BLS, 38% of desktop professionals work for publishing companies and 21% work for printing companies. Although affordable, convenient desktop publishing software for nonprofessionals has dramatically reduced the number of opportunities in this field, formally trained designers will still have the best opportunities. The BLS reported that as of May 2010, the median annual salary for a desktop publisher was $36,610. There are not specified educational requirements for desktop publishers, and most learn their skills on-the-job.

Art Director

Advertising or publishing art directors are responsible for developing design concepts for print and digital media materials and overseeing their production. A bachelor's degree in fine arts is typically the minimum educational requirement for entering this field as an assistant. The market for art directors will continue to grow through 2018 with those who work in advertising enjoying more opportunities for employment than those who work in publishing, as reported by the BLS. The median annual salary for an art director in May 2010 was $80,630.

Web Designers and Multimedia Artists

Web designers and multimedia artists create Web pages and graphics for animated images and special effects. Due to the consumer's enthusiasm for more realistic computer games and film productions, the BLS predicted a growth rate of 14% that makes this is one of the fastest, if not the fastest growing area in graphic design. The median annual salary for a multimedia artist was $58,510 in May 2010. A bachelor's degree in design or animation will provide you with the training you need to enter the industry.

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