How to Become a Computer Graphic Artist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a computer graphic artist. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in computer graphic arts.

Do I Want to Be a Computer Graphic Artist?

Computer graphic artists use computer technology to create illustrations, logos and graphics that communicate specific messages to a designated audience. These visual messages are used in websites, advertisements, video games, mobile applications, magazines, brochures and many other digital and print materials. Many graphic designers and artists are self-employed and seek freelance jobs. Obtaining assignments may be competitive, and these artists often work weekends and evenings to meet their clients' needs.

Job Requirements

Most employers require graphic artists to have bachelor's degrees in graphic design or a related field. Another important factor when hiring a graphic artist is his or her portfolio, and employers will often favor an applicant with an outstanding portfolio that demonstrates the creativity and technical skills required for the job. The following table describes the basic requirements to be a computer graphic artist:

Common Requirements
Degree Level A bachelor's degree is commonly required*
Degree Fields Graphic design, visual arts or another relevant major***
Experience Up to four years of graphic design experience are required***
Key Skills Artistic ability and creativity for developing designs, good communication skills for working with clients and the ability to manage time to meet strict deadlines*
Computer Skills Computer-aided design software and website development software** as well as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects***
Technical Skills Drawing and interpreting sketches***
Additional Requirements A professional portfolio showing artistry and proficiency in the required technology*, visual color discrimination**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ONet OnLine, *** job postings (July 2012).

Step 1: Obtain a Graphic Arts Degree

A bachelor's degree in graphic design is generally required, though a degree in visual arts or another major with a focus on digital design may also be acceptable. A 4-year graphic design degree program trains students in the technology used in the industry as well as graphic design concepts and theory. Courses may include typography, illustration, graphics and electronic media, along with design studio and workshop classes.

Success Tips:

  • Gear your studies toward your career goals. There are many paths within this career field, from web design to advertising to multimedia. Whether a student is majoring in graphic design, visual arts or another subject, the undergrad can take electives that provide instruction in the market in which he or she wants to work. For example, schools may offer elective courses in print design, advertising and interactive media.
  • Complete an internship. Experience in graphic design is favored in this field, and future computer graphic artists can get ahead of the competition by gaining hands-on experience during college. Some programs incorporate internship opportunities in their curricula, though students can also pursue internships with design firms on their own.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

The artist's portfolio is often the most important part of his or her application when looking for a graphic arts position. Employers usually want to see the candidate's portfolio before scheduling a job interview, often requesting that the job applicant submit a link to an online location where they can access the artist's portfolio.

Success Tips:

  • Choose portfolio content with care. A portfolio should include examples of the artist's best work that effectively showcases his or her creativity and proficiency in a variety of technologies and mediums. Students can include work done during college or internships, and, in fact, students can use the format and layouts of a portfolio itself to demonstrate their creativity and design skills.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Many employers want their prospective employees to have experience, and while internships provide an introduction to real-world applications of graphic arts, intern experience alone is usually not sufficient to meet employer demands. Artists should be prepared to pay some dues in an entry-level position before they can expect to land the positions they want. They may be hired on as graphic design assistants or as graphic designers with low-level duties and work their way up to more complex tasks. Learning how to work within a team can be as important as learning the technology and art skills, and an entry-level position will provide such training.

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