10 Best Online Courses for Graphic Design – Online Course Report

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Becoming a graphic designer might be easier than you think.

In many cases, you don’t need a formal education to become a graphic designer. Instead, there are a lot of self-taught designers that have created a nice career.

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Disclaimer: Some courses may include an affiliate link. Courses were chosen first based on the methodology with affiliate links only added after the ranking was complete.

The first step in starting a career in graphic design is to take graphic design courses. By starting with a beginner class, you can develop a strong foundation of skills. This will allow you to build a portfolio of work.

Then, as you take more graphic design courses online, you can develop the skills needed to become a more well-rounded designer. This can even be done by taking free graphics design courses.

When you decide to take graphic design online courses, it’s important not to just enroll in the first one that comes up on Google.

Instead, you should spend some time researching the best graphic design courses. Alternatively, you can rely on our rankings to help you find the best courses to take.

We’ve done the research. Below, we’ve ranked the ten best graphic design courses online based on their scores on the following criteria:

  • Affordability
  • Accessibility
  • Learning Level

By using multiple factors in our rankings, we’re able to create a full picture of what a course has to offer you. So, rather than relying on just how much a course costs, you can make your choice based on a more total class profile.

Below, the methodology we use to rank our online graphic design courses is explained.

Methodology to Determine the Best Online Courses for Graphic Design

The three-factor method we’ve developed to rank these courses allows you to make an informed decision about which class is best for you.

This is important because you don’t want to waste your time or money on a course that isn’t a good fit.

This methodology enables you to compare courses on individual factors and their total score. So, you can compare each course on price. Or you can compare them on accessibility or learning level. 

But, you can also compare each course based on their cumulative scores. This is a big help because the course that seems to be the best fit based on price might not be the best fit when you take the total score into account.

The price of graphic design courses online is undoubtedly the most important factor. Education can be very expensive, and saving money is a primary goal of many learners.

But the price of a course isn’t the only important thing to look at.

How accessible the course is should be evaluated. After all, there’s not much point in taking an online course if it’s difficult to do so!

Additionally, you want to ensure the courses you’re taking are at the right learning level.

For example, if you have a lot of graphic design experience, you don’t need an introductory course. Instead, you’ll want an advanced course that helps you build even more skills.

Let’s take a look at each of these factors in more depth.

Affordability

How much graphic design courses cost is the top priority for many learners. This being the case, we’ve given priority to affordability in our rankings:

  • Free: 6 points
  • Under $10: 5 points
  • $11-20: 4 points
  • $21-30: 3 points
  • $31-40: 2 points
  • $41 and above: 1 point

Affordability accounts for half of the total possible points. This is to reflect how important price is.

But just because a course is free doesn’t mean it’s a great course. That’s why it’s necessary to look at other factors like accessibility and learning level.

Likewise, just because a course has a fee doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy option. There are many excellent paid courses whose fees are quite low.

Accessibility

The whole point of online learning is to be able to learn when you have time and wherever you are. Paid and free graphics design courses offer different levels of accessibility that should be considered.

For example, some courses give you immediate access to a course once you’ve enrolled. Others offer offline materials you can download to continue your learning even when internet access isn’t available.

Another issue to think about is the types of devices on which you can access the course. Do you have to have a computer? Or can you get the course on your phone? These are just a couple of questions to ponder.

This criterion is scored as follows:

  • High accessibility: 3 points
  • Moderate accessibility: 2 points
  • Low accessibility: 1 point

Learning Level

You need to take graphic design courses that are at your level. If you’re a beginner, take a beginner class. If you’re advanced, more challenging graphic design courses online are in order.

This criterion is scored as follows:

  • Advanced: 3 points
  • Intermediate: 2 points
  • Beginner: 1 point

While it’s important to take courses at the appropriate level, we also understand that advanced courses often provide greater value.

Beginner courses tend to be survey courses that skim over a lot of topics. Advanced graphic design online courses drill down deep into specific topics. This is where you really gain a lot of knowledge and skills.

As a result, we’ve assigned points to courses based on the rigor of the class. Advanced classes get the most points.

Using this methodology, we’ve ranked the ten best online graphic design courses below.

Ranking the Best Online Courses for Graphic Design

#10: Graphic Design Bootcamp: Part 1

This beginner course from Udemy teaches you how to use Adobe Creative Suite for graphic design. You’ll learn how to put the tools in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign to work for you.

This is a project-based course. This means you’ll get to create graphic design samples. This includes:

  • Logos
  • Business cards
  • Flyers and brochures

You’ll also explore how to use Adobe Creative Suite to create web elements for websites and blogs.

Since this is an introductory course, you don’t need any graphic design experience. It’s helpful if you have some knowledge of Adobe products. You should also be proficient with a computer.

This online graphic design course includes nearly 100 short lectures, over 15 hours of on-demand video, and has over a dozen downloadable resources.

Visit the course website.

Points: 5

Affordability: $129.99 (at the time of writing)

Accessibility: High. This course is available for life. You can access it on your computer, mobile device, or TV as well.

Learning Level: Beginner

#9: Become a Graphic Designer

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This is a learning path from LinkedIn Learning. It is a complete course that takes you from beginner to advanced graphic design concepts.

There are eleven lessons in total. Throughout the class, you’ll explore topics related to:

  • Layout and composition
  • Graphic design career advice
  • Photoshop training

This top online graphic design course also offers a lesson on Adobe InDesign. This is an important program for graphic designers.

There are approximately 29 hours of course content. This will give you a solid foundation of understanding to further your understanding of graphic design.

Visit the course website.

Points: 6

Affordability: Free trial. After that, the service is $19.99/month if you pay for 12 months at a time (at the time of writing). Scored as a paid course. Try a free trial for Linkedin Learning.

Accessibility: High. This course is offered completely online. Each lesson is available immediately upon enrollment. You can work at your own pace too.

Learning Level: Mixed. Scored as intermediate.

#8: Graphic Design Bootcamp: Part 2

This is an advanced course from Udemy. It is a follow up to Graphic Design Bootcamp Part 1.

This course is designed to help you develop more advanced graphic design skills. You’ll explore advanced projects for the web and print. You’ll also gain important knowledge of graphic design vocabulary.

You can expect to learn the following in this course:

  • How to use Lightroom to edit photos
  • How to create a web slider ad
  • How to work with stock art

There is also a unit on going into business for yourself. You’ll learn valuable business lessons for creative professionals.

This top online graphic design course includes 27 lectures. You can use downloadable resources and on-demand video to help you refine your understanding of important topics.

As an added bonus, you get a certificate of completion at the end of the course.

Visit the course website.

Points: 7

Affordability: $109.99 (at the time of writing)

Accessibility: High. Once enrolled, you have access to the course for life. There are downloadable resources. You can also access the course instantly on your smartphone or TV. Learning Level: Advanced

#7: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application

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This is a mixed-level course from Creative Live. Its focus is on color theory and how designers can use color to create bold, engaging designs.

You’ll first explore the foundational principles of color theory. This learning will be put to the test by applying color theory principles to designing work samples.

You can expect to learn about the following in this class:

  • Color terminology and meaning
  • Contrast grids
  • Color illusion
  • Creating pleasing color palettes

Another focus of this online graphic design course is on how to view color in context. In so doing, you’ll create a better awareness of color that will help you create better work.

This class includes 20 detailed video lessons. All told, there is more than eight hours of content to explore. Many students complete this course in a few days. However, you get lifetime access to the course so you can take as long as you like to finish.

Visit the course website.

Points: 7

Affordability: $34 (at the time of writing)

Accessibility: High. This course offers streaming and offline access. You also get lifetime access to the course.

Learning Level: Mixed. This class explores beginner to advanced topics. Scored as intermediate.

#6: Introduction to Graphic Illustration

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This is a beginner course from Kadenze. The primary topic of learning is illustration, which is a very important skill for graphic designers to master.

Learning in this top online graphic design class is done through a series of projects. As part of completing these projects, you will learn:

  • How to produce creative visual ideas
  • How to integrate design principles with illustration
  • How to use programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign

By integrating illustrations into your graphic design toolkit, you’ll be more capable of fulfilling the needs of your clients.

This is a free course, but if you join Kadenze you can start the course immediately rather than waiting for the course to begin. Also, you can get college credit for the class if you wish. This option costs $300.

Visit the course website.

Points: 10

Affordability: Free

Accessibility: High. You can work at your own pace from your computer or smartphone. The class is also offered in several languages to make it accessible to non-English speakers.

Learning Level: Beginner

#5: Graphic Design – Visual and Graphic Design – Revised

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This is a short, free course from Alison. It’s intended for beginners who have no graphic design experience.

You’ll learn about the fundamentals of graphic design. This includes a review of important elements like:

  • Balance
  • Composition
  • Contrast

Hierarchy of design is an additional topic covered by this class.

Furthermore, various design elements will be presented. This includes:

  • Lines
  • Shapes and forms
  • Textures

There are seven units in this class. Each one is short and easily completed in a few minutes’ time. At the end of the seven units, there is an exam.

If you successfully complete this online graphic design course, you get a certificate of completion. 

Visit the course website.

Points: 10

Affordability: Free

Accessibility: High. This course is available on computers and mobile devices. You get instant access to course materials as well.

Learning Level: Beginner

#4: Introduction to Typography

This beginner course focuses entirely on typography. It was developed by Calarts and is offered by Coursera.

Understanding typography is an essential skill for graphic designers. That’s because the type used can give the graphic design an entirely different meaning.

Throughout this affordable graphic design online course, you’ll learn how to:

  • Effectively manipulate letterforms
  • Combine different types of text
  • Tell a story with the typefaces you select

This course also explores the rich history of typography, which dates back thousands of years.

There are a variety of lectures in this class. There are also three peer-reviewed assignments. The final project requires you to design a full-scale typographic poster.

Visit the course website.

Points: 10

Affordability: Free to enroll. A fee (usually around $50) might be required. Other costs may be involved if you participate in a specialization. Learn more about Coursera pricing. This course is scored as a free course.

Accessibility: High. This course is 100 percent online. You get immediate access upon enrollment. You can also work at your own pace with lifetime access to the class.

Learning Level: Beginner

#3: Print and Digital Elements of Design: Branding and User Experience

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This beginner course is offered by Coursera. It was designed by faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

This course isn’t just about how to develop beautiful graphical elements. Instead, you learn how to get the most out of your designs. You also learn how to enhance the user experience with your designs.

The learning targets for this class include:

  • How to work with other creative professionals
  • Learn about the print elements of design
  • Explore how designing for the web is different from print

This online graphic design course is typically completed in three weeks. Each unit is short and easily finished in a few hours’ time.

Each unit also includes video instruction. There are some additional readings and two quizzes to test your skills as well.

Visit the course website.

Points: 10

Affordability: Free to enroll. A fee (usually around $50) might be required. Other costs may be involved if you participate in a specialization. Learn more about Coursera pricing. This course is scored as a free course.

Accessibility: High. This self-paced course is completely online. You get lifetime access to the class. You can begin working on the course as soon as you enroll as well.

Learning Level: Beginner

#2: Digital Design Masterclass for Graphic Designers

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This intermediate class from Skillshare delves into digital design theory. You’ll discuss a variety of graphics design situations. This includes creating designs for the web, print, social media, and more.

There is also a focus on creating graphics for YouTube and other social media outlets. In fact, you’ll design a social media campaign in which you:

  • Create graphics for Facebook
  • Generate designs for Instagram
  • Design display ads for websites.

Another skill you’ll learn is how to create animated GIFs.

This online graphic design course includes 65 lessons. There are more than nine hours of video instruction. Each lesson and video is quite short and focuses on specific skills.

Visit the course website.

Points: 11

Affordability: Free for two months. A fee applies after that. Scored as a free course.

Accessibility: High. You can work at your own pace from anywhere with internet access. The course is accessible immediately upon enrollment. There are downloadable resources too.

Learning Level: Intermediate

#1: Brand New Brand

This advanced course from Calarts and Coursera is the best online course for graphic design. It focuses on graphic design principles and developing a unique brand identity.

You will go through the entirety of the design process as you develop a brand for a fictitious company. This includes:

  • Idea generation
  • Creating a visual identity
  • Developing a brand presentation

You’re also responsible for developing a logo. You’ll create a graphic palette for a fictitious company as well. 

Since you will work with Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, you can count improved skills with those tools among your newfound skills.

Most learners require about 23 hours to complete this course. You can work at your own pace, though, so you can take as much or as little time as you need.

Visit the course website.

Points: 12

Affordability: Free to enroll. A fee (usually around $50) might be required. Other costs may be involved if you participate in a specialization. Learn more about Coursera pricing. This course is scored as a free course.

Accessibility: High. Get immediate access to the course when you enroll. With lifetime access, you can take as long as you need to finish the course. The class is available online for computers and mobile devices.

Learning Level: Advanced

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I teach myself graphic design?

Definitely! Many successful graphic designers are self-taught. With so many good online graphic design courses available, you can quickly and easily get the skills you need to start a career in graphic design too.

The key to learning graphic design on your own is to be committed to the process. You have to be able to set deadlines for yourself. You have to be able to meet those deadlines too. Motivating yourself to study and work on projects can be hard at times. But learning on your own means you have to motivate yourself to do what’s needed to further your skills.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. You may know a graphic designer. Perhaps you’re taking a graphic design course online that has an instructor. Use those resources for help when you need it.

Is it hard to learn graphic design?

As noted in the previous question and answer, you can quickly and easily teach yourself graphic design if you’re committed to the process. So the short answer is no, it is not hard to learn graphic design.

Some people will have an easier time than others though. Let’s say you have a very busy schedule with a full-time job and a family to take care of. This means you’ll have less time to devote to studying graphic design. While this doesn’t necessarily make graphic design hard to learn, it will make it harder to learn graphic design quickly.

As another example, if you’re naturally gifted as an artist, you’ll likely have an easier time grasping graphic design skills than someone that has little or no artistic experience. So your interests and background can influence how easy graphic design is to learn.

The way you try to learn graphic design will change how easy it is to learn as well. For example, if you start learning graphic design by taking one of the graphic design online courses listed in our rankings, you’ll probably have an easier time understanding graphic design concepts. That’s because these courses are very structured. You explore lessons on a variety of topics. You get to put your new skills into action with projects. And you can get feedback from course instructors.

Compare that experience with trying to learn graphic design by watching videos on your own. Though it’s possible to learn graphic design in this way, it’s not as easy as taking graphic design courses.

What graphic design course should I take first?

The graphic design course you take first depends on your needs.

Let’s say you’re a beginner. As such, you will want to start with an entry-level course. Our rankings include many beginner courses. Some of these courses are pretty general, like the Visual and Graphic Design course from Alison that comes it at number five in our rankings. Courses like this are a good place to start to get a broad overview of graphic design.Other beginner courses are more focused on a specific topic. For example, Print and Digital Elements of Design: Branding and User Experience from the University of Colorado at Boulder focuses more on the usefulness of design within the branding experience. While it’s still a beginner course, this is an option that’s better for people that have already taken some general graphic design classes.

On the other hand, if you have graphic design experience, an intermediate or advanced course should be considered.

For intermediate learners, the Digital Design Masterclass for Graphic Designers is a great first option. As noted in the rankings, this class offers an extensive look at design theory. More specifically, you’ll learn how to use graphic design tools to create graphics for the web.

For advanced learners, our top-ranked course, Brand New Brand, is a great option for your first graphic design course. This class will help you take the knowledge and skills you already have to the next level. By integrating graphic design with branding, you’ll have new skills you can use to fulfill the needs of your clients.

So, the first graphic design course you should take depends on your learning level and your specific needs. That’s why these rankings are so important! Have a look at each class we’ve listed. Determine which ones are a good fit for you. From there, it’s a matter of deciding which one is the best first step for you.

Do you have to be good at drawing to be a graphic designer?

For general graphic design jobs, you do not need to be a good drawer.

First of all, there are many programs that graphic designers use for illustrations. These programs, like Adobe Illustrator, are very powerful and can be used to create detailed drawings, even if you can’t draw well with your own hand.

Secondly, not all graphic design jobs require you to create drawings.

As discussed in the next question and answer, there are many different types of graphic design jobs. If you’re a logo designer, you will need to have some confidence in your drawing abilities. But if you’re a publication designer, the job is less about drawing and more about creating and organizing designs for print publications. In that role, there would likely be a designer with illustrative experience to handle any drawings or illustrations.

What are examples of careers in graphic design?

There are many different careers in the field of graphic design. Some are entry-level positions for new graphic designers. Others are more advanced jobs for workers with a greater level of knowledge and skills.

Below are some common job titles in graphic design.

Graphic Design Specialist I – This job involves creating visual materials for print and web. This is a junior position. You’re responsible for making designs. You’re under the direction of a senior graphic designer. This job requires you to have a good understanding of graphic design principles. This includes composition, color, and typography.

Graphic Design Supervisor – Graphic design supervisors oversee the completion of design projects. Typically, they consult with clients to develop a design plan. They then direct the work of design assistants. This job often requires a bachelor’s degree. Several years of graphic design experience is usually required as well.

Logo Designer – This specialized graphic design job focuses on designing logos. Logo design is part of a larger task of developing a brand identity for a client. A good logo is unique and instantly recognizable. It’s also memorable. Usually, this job requires quite a lot of experience in logo design. However, entry-level jobs can be found with general graphic design skills.

Art Director – Art directors manage the entire creative team. It is their job to ensure that project goals are being met and that clients are satisfied with the products they receive. Art directors work closely with other professionals, like advertisers, so that the branding message is consistent. Art directors spend most of their time supervising others, but occasionally they might take a hands-on role in the design process.

Publication Designer – This job is specific to printed publications. This includes magazines but also includes things like books and catalogs. Publication designers create visual assets that enhance the text of the printed material. This might take the form of graphs, charts, or illustrations.

What are some similar careers to graphic design?

If you train as a graphic designer, you might be able to get a job in a related field. This is especially true if you have a degree in graphic design.

Below is a short list of some jobs you might be able to get with a background in graphic design.

Web Designer – A web designer is responsible for developing the look of a website. They create the layout of the webpages. They design the navigation structure of the site. They usually decide what content goes on a webpage too. In addition to graphic design skills, web designers should also have excellent computer graphics skills, some knowledge of programming, and an eye for detail.

User Interface Designer – This career involves making sure that the end-user of a website or app experiences the website or app like the graphic designer intended. The goal is to make it easy for people to use the website or app and that it’s an enjoyable experience.

Motion Graphics Designer – A motion graphics designer creates two-dimensional and three-dimensional animations. These animations are displayed on websites, apps, and other digital platforms. To create these graphics, motion graphics designers sketch and storyboard the graphics. They then work with UI designers to bring the graphics to life.

Brand Identity Manager – Careers in brand identity are a good bet for graphic designers. Brand identity design is all about developing a company’s image. This management position oversees all the elements of the brand design. This includes print and digital materials such as:

  • Business cards
  • Logos
  • Websites
  • Banner Ads
  • Storefront signage

It is the job of the brand identity manager to make sure that the branding message is consistent among all the different types of marketing materials.

Advertising Designer – An advertising designer combines materials from graphic design, photography, and other areas to create a compelling ad campaign. They usually work on things like magazine ads, website ads, and billboards. Advertising designers rely on the entire design team to help them create a cohesive marketing strategy for the client.

How much money do graphic designers make?

According to PayScale, a typical graphic designer earns $45,261 per year. But as with any job, the amount of money graphic designers earn depends on a variety of factors.

The biggest factor that determines how much a graphic designer makes is their level of experience. If you’re just starting in graphic design, you won’t make nearly as much money as someone that’s been a graphic designer for 20 years.

Your level of training also influences your income. As noted earlier, you don’t necessarily need a college degree to be a graphic designer, but you do need extensive training. The more knowledge and skills you can demonstrate to an employer, the more likely it will be that you earn a higher income.

The type of graphic designer job you have will also affect your income level. For example, if you’re a Graphic Design Specialist I, you might expect to earn $52,805 per year. However, if you’re a Graphic Design Specialist III, you can expect to earn a salary of around $75,866.

Likewise, specializing in a particular area of graphic design could mean more money. For example, designers that are experts in typography might be able to command a higher salary because of their level of expertise.

The area in which you live can influence your income as well. Typically, salaries for graphic designers in urban areas like Los Angeles or New York are higher than those in less populated areas. However, the cost of living is far higher in large cities than they are in rural areas, so the take-home pay might be far less if you live in a large city.

What is the job outlook for graphic designers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for graphic designers is predicted to increase by three percent through 2028. This represents a very slow growth rate. The average growth rate for all careers is about five percent.

But you have to look at the numbers closely to see what the job outlook really is.

For example, graphic design jobs in the newspaper industry are expected to decline. In fact, the BLS predicts the number of graphic design jobs in the newspaper industry will fall by 22 percent over the next handful of years.

Alternatively, the BLS expects the need for graphic designers to skyrocket for online applications. As businesses continue to expand their online marketing, the need for graphic designers that can create designs for the internet is only going to increase. It is predicted that job growth for online graphic design jobs will increase by 24 percent through 2028.

Job prospects will vary depending on other factors too.

For example, the need for entry-level graphic designers is usually pretty strong. This is because employers often have a team of lower-level workers that are managed by more experienced graphic designers.

By structuring their graphic design team in this way, companies can minimize costs. That’s because entry-level workers are paid less.

The higher-end jobs in graphic design will be more difficult to come by. On the one hand, higher-level jobs are less common. This means there are fewer jobs to fill. On the other hand, higher-level jobs have a lot of competition from top graphic designers. This means that there is increased competition for fewer jobs.

So, the job outlook for graphic designers just depends. If you’re new to the field, entry-level jobs, especially for websites, should be plentiful. But if you’re an experienced graphic designer looking to move up the pay scale, the job outlook isn’t as good.

OCR Staff

June 2020

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