How Long Does it Take a Beginner to Learn Graphic Design?

Graphic design is a powerful discipline of visual communication. With the immense reach of mass communication outlets like social media platforms, digital publications, and online content providers, graphic designers are in high demand as businesses and organizations look for ways to connect with their target audience. So how does one get into graphic design and how long does it take to learn it?

A beginner can learn the fundamentals of graphic design in as little as a few months by attending a full-time course, or within nine months by taking part-time classes. Highly motivated people can learn graphic design on their own and some have even done it while holding down a full-time job. Using template based graphic design software can increase your learning period, and get you started making professional designs faster.

Customizing templates is the fastest way to learn graphic design for a beginner. It allows users to see what great design layouts look like, suggests colors that go well together, and ultimately allows users to download these customized templates and use them commercially. Our favorite website for this is because they are the leader in the graphic design template industry, they give users full commercially usable fonts and graphics, and we personally use them ourselves!

Creativity cannot be taught in a classroom (live, digital, or otherwise), and in the case of graphic design, it can only be nurtured and utilized through knowledge of basic concepts and techniques. Graphic design can be learned in a year or less, even by those without natural artistic talent, but only by taking the right approach. Read on to learn how.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Graphic Design?

Although graphic design is an artistic discipline requiring creative and problem-solving skills, it also has technical aspects that successful graphic designers have all mastered. Whether they are learned through a design school or on your own, these are the 8 principles of graphic design that every graphic design beginner should know inside and out:

  • Alignment – this basically refers to the way that elements of a design relate and connect with each other in an orderly, eye-pleasing manner
  • Hierarchy – this concept is what designers use to emphasize a particular design element to help deliver the intended message
  • Contrast – this visual tool draws the audience’s attention to particular elements or areas of a design
  • Repetition – repeating colors, fonts, words, or shapes (such as in the branding guidelines of a business) enhances brand recognition
  • Proximity – grouping related design elements together is a vital part of an effective messaging strategy
  • Balance – this principle is about creating cohesion in a design and facilitating the audience’s perception of its various elements
  • Color – this is a powerful, non-verbal way to trigger an audience’s emotional response to a design
  • Space – effectively employing negative space (aka white space) is as important to a design’s overall impact as its substantive elements

There are certain things that every beginner in the field of graphic design needs to learn. How they go about doing this, however, can vary from person to person.

Attending a Graphic Design School

For beginners who have the means, attending a graphic design school is more often than not the most thorough way to embark on a career as a graphic designer. There are several paths to attaining a formal education in the field of graphic design and the most rigorous is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree. This is a four-year commitment but offers the most comprehensive education and training by:

  • Placing students in small, studio-style cohorts
  • Encouraging close interaction between students and instructors
  • Providing a highly structured and immersive curriculum in all facets of graphic design, including history and theory
  • Facilitating mentorship and peer interaction
  • Laying a strong foundation for post-graduate networking

But pursuing a formal 4-year degree in graphic design does not appeal to everyone and for many, it simply is not feasible for any number of reasons, not the least of which are the time and money it would take. Fortunately, there is another viable option that still places students in a challenging academic environment for learning graphic design.

Highly specialized graphic design schools offer intensive, “boot camp”-style instruction that can result in students emerging with a design degree or certificate in a fraction of the time and cost that it would take to complete a 4-year program. Here is an example of how much faster alternative graphic design school students can complete their studies and be on their way to a career in design:

  • Students who commit to enrolling full-time can complete graphic design school in as little as three months
  • For beginners whose work or personal obligations limit the amount of time they can devote to their studies, graphic design school can be completed on a part-time basis in nine months

The structure, learning environment, and support fostered by a graphic design school can be instrumental to the success of certain people aiming for a career in design. But for others, attending graphic design school may be a luxury they cannot afford or an obligation that would be exceedingly difficult to fit into a busy schedule. This does not close the door to learning graphic design, however. It simply requires a different path.

Learning Graphic Design on Your Own

Success stories abound with self-motivated people demonstrating that learning the ins and outs of graphic design on their own terms, without attending design school, can be done with the right combination of determination, persistence, and resourcefulness. The process of becoming a self-taught graphic designer can be as short as six months to one year for those with the proper amount of self-motivation.

This path to learning graphic design may not be suitable for everyone but for those whose circumstances make attending formal classes a challenge (or simply undesirable), here are a few insider tips from successful self-taught graphic designers to keep in mind:

  • Learn the basics of drawing, graphic design theory, user experience (UX), and writing
  • Learn how to use indispensable software like Illustrator and Photoshop
  • Emphasize specialty areas like logo design, mobile app design, and web design
  • Build a marketable portfolio of representative work through mock app and website designs, design competitions, design workshops, pro bono graphic design work for non-profit organizations and churches
  • Become more marketable (i.e., improve your chances of landing a graphic design job) by learning to work with developers and creating your own website highlighting your graphic design work

For those looking to learn graphic design on their own, it is important to maintain a grounded perspective. This means taking on odd projects during the early stages just to build up a portfolio of representative work, and oftentimes, performing graphic design services for free. As far as learning fundamental skills, there is a wealth of online resources comprising self-paced courses on virtually every graphic design topic imaginable.

Learning graphic design on your own will not be short on struggles but with commitment comes measurable progress. For people seeking a career change or planning to add graphic design skills to enhance their professional prospects, embarking on a path to becoming a self-taught graphic designer will afford great scheduling flexibility but this freedom to dictate the pace of learning requires discipline.

Ultimately, prospective employers will want to evaluate your work and on the portfolio end of things, taking a creative, outside-the-box approach can go a long way.

For instance, you can use pre-made templates to design your own t-shirts, corporate branding mock-ups, and other marketing collateral, are great ways to build up your portfolio and demonstrate real-world applications of your talent and skills. Plus, you get full usage rights with sites like, so you can even sell these designs!

Final Thoughts

Pursuing a career in graphic design can lead to opportunities in a countless number of fields and applications. And for beginners looking to learn the fundamentals of graphic design, there are different paths that can be taken, ranging from formal undergraduate degrees to intensive specialty programs to independent self-study.