Online Graphic Arts and Graphic Design Degree Program Options

Dec 04, 2019

Essential Information

Many schools offer online degree programs in graphic design at both undergraduate and graduate degree levels. These programs often can be completed 100% through online study. Students can view lessons as their schedules permit. They will need a current computer with a fast Internet connection, and some graphic arts courses may require the purchase of special software.

Associate's degree programs give students a foundational knowledge of the field, teaching design principles as well as instructing students in the use of graphic design software. Bachelor's programs include these core courses and may also give students the option of focusing on a more graphics-oriented course of study or a more technical program. Applicants to associate's and bachelor's degree programs must have a high school diploma or GED credential.

In a master's program, students explore the real-world applications of graphic design. Courses cover topics such as creating powerful visual messages and examining typography. Students compile a professional portfolio of their work, and most programs call for a final project. Applicants to a graphic design master's program need a bachelor's degree in the field.

Associate's Degrees in Graphic Design

Students can earn an Associate of Art or Associate of Science in Graphic Design online. These programs instruct students in the technical foundations of art, such as drawing, design, composition and coloring, as well as in the necessary design-related software. Graduates are able to use graphic design principles to effectively communicate with a target audience.

Program Information and Requirements

This program requires 60-67 credit hours for completion and can be completed entirely online. The online format gives students the flexibility to work on assignments and take exams at any time of day from any computer with an Internet connection. Interaction with professors and fellow classmates is accomplished through online discussion forums and e-mails.

Course Topics

The curriculum for this program is primarily composed of major core requirements in areas such as graphic design, art, business and computer information systems. General education requirements, such as English, math, science and humanities, are also included. Some schools leave room for a small amount of elective courses.

Graphic Design

This course presents the basic concepts, terminology and technical skills involving graphic design. Topics such as layout, composition, typography and software essential to the field are introduced and studied. The graphic design profession is also discussed from a historical perspective.

Digital Photography for Graphic Designers

Students examine the processes and technologies involved with creating digital photographs. Artistic elements of photography, such as composition, concept development, aesthetics and message, are analyzed. Methods, tools and software used for manipulating an image, brightening a picture and image cropping are identified.


The basic fundamentals of typography are studied, including the application of appropriate fonts, copy fitting, the physical components of letters, kerning and legibility. Strategies for choosing a fitting typeface to convey certain emotions or emphasis in specific situations are illustrated. Students work on creating typographic posters, book covers and other print projects.

Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design

Online options are offered for pursing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design. Some schools present graphic design as a concentration in a visual communication program. Students develop their knowledge and skills in a variety of graphic design formats, such as 2D and 3D, motion graphics and interactive media. Instruction in essential marketing, publishing and branding strategies is also provided.

Program Information and Requirements

A bachelor's degree program in graphic design is made up of 120-132 credit hours. No in-person work in a traditional classroom setting is required to complete the program. All assignments, projects and exams are presented online. Communication between instructors and students is online as well. The online materials are presented asynchronously so that students can work on them at any time as long as certain deadlines are met.

Some school programs may be geared for access through an Apple computer, as opposed to a PC. Online orientation courses may be available as well.

Course Topics

A combination of core and general education courses make up the curriculum of a bachelor's degree program in graphic design. Often times, a senior project is due at the end of the program, as well as submission of a senior portfolio outlining the student's progress throughout the program.

History of Graphic Design

This course summarizes the important events, innovations, movements and people that have shaped the contemporary graphic communication environment. The ability of humans to communicate ideas through visual forms is observed from the earliest cave paintings to modern cutting-edge designs.

Web Design

Students learn about the methods and software tools necessary to create Web pages that are clear, effective and easy to navigate, yet entertaining and visually appealing. The importance of HTML in website development is emphasized. Other topics discussed include navigation systems, media incorporation, basic animations and file transferring protocols.

Motion Graphics

The techniques and software programs used to create motion graphics are reviewed. Students work on designing a multimedia project through the use of digital image manipulation strategies. Other subjects examined include input and output techniques, image compositing and effective utilization of special effects.

Master's Degree in Graphic Design

Bachelor's degree holders can further their education online through a Master of Art or Master of Fine Art in Graphic Design program. Students continue to develop and hone their design skills while acquiring important creative concepts involving narrative and presentation strategies, problem solving and critical thinking. Graduates of a master's degree program are able to demonstrate professional mastery and expertise in the field of graphic design.

Program Information and Requirements

Credit hours vary, depending on the degree a student pursues; a Master of Arts program generally requires fewer credit hours for completion. Online courses are presented through the use of the Internet and conferencing software. Only an Internet connection is needed with all course materials available online.

Course Topics

Most of the courses comprising the master's degree in graphic design program are upper-level courses in art, art history and graphic design. Courses in historical awareness, aesthetic sensitivity and cross-cultural understanding are also included. A final thesis project is usually submitted at the culmination of the program.

Type Systems, Forms and Experiments

Further refining and expanding of typographic understanding is presented. Students are challenged to stretch their range of typographical ideas and experiment with original and novel ways of communicating with the printed word and images. Students analyze the relationship between word and message and the emotional qualities of text.

Visual Communications and Literacy

Students are motivated to think creatively and develop innovational design ideas. Strategies for converting these ideas into effective and powerful visual statements are discussed. The main elements of visual syntax are highlighted.

Digital Design Studio

Students examine the theoretical concepts and foundations of the human-computer relationship in graphic design while developing methods for implementing real-world applications of these concepts. Students then utilize this knowledge and skills to create an original design project or interactive presentation.

Career Information

Although many graduates go on to pursue a bachelor's degree, some entry-level positions in the field, such as junior designer or illustrator, may only require an associate's degree. Holders of an associate's degree also seek employment as assistants to graphic designers. O*Net reported that approximately 15% of all graphic designers have received only their associate's degree.

A bachelor's degree is the most commonly held degree for graphic designers. O*Net reported that 62% of all graphic designers have received their bachelor's degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May of 2018 graphic designers earned an average yearly salary of $50,370. Top-paying industries for graphic designers included the federal government, aerospace manufacturing and wireless telecommunications. The BLS also predicted 3% growth in employment for graphic designers from 2018-2028, which is slower than average.

Earning a master's degree in graphic design can enhance the professional's education in the field while increasing employment opportunities. It can lead to attaining supervisory positions, such as chief designer or creative director. According to, graphic designers with a Master of Fine Arts earned $60,000 on average, in November 2019.

Continuing Education Information

Professional graphic designers are often required to learn how to operate new technologies and software to keep their knowledge in the field current and up-to-date. Several of these courses are available online, such as training in Photoshop CS3.

Fully online programs in graphic design can be found at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Coursework covers the various aspects of the field, including typography, web design, photography and the history of graphic design.

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