Learning Graphic Design: 5 Easy First Steps For Beginners

Learn graphic design online for free, without going to school or without a degree. If you would like to become a graphic designer, you can do so for free or by taking affordable and free courses. I taught myself graphic design and have helped many others learn to become designers through this article. Keep reading — you got this!

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So you want to learn graphic design for beginners? You’re in the right spot! I’m going to teach you how I became a freelance graphic designer with zero experience and without holding a degree in graphic design.

For three years I worked as a freelance graphic/web designer, and while my career has taken a different path now, my graphic design experience was the catalyst to an online career and has helped me tremendously.

First, let me say that this article isn’t meant to undervalue those who do go to design school.

Designers who spend years working on their craft are obviously very knowledgeable and do amazing work.

But sometimes school isn’t in the budget for everyone and you might want to learn graphic design on your own. Figuring out how to learn graphic design is the hardest part, which is why I’ve written up all the steps for you.

STEP 1: LEARN THE BASICS OF DRAWING

You don’t need to be a skilled drawer, but you will need to know some basics.

Before I began learning graphic design, I started with a good old pen and paper and went back to the basics. I had to learn things like shadows and drawing 3D objects (something I wasn’t good at, but knew I would need to improve if I wanted to do logo design and mockups).

You learn all sorts of incredibly handy information, such as object shading and highlighting, how to give your designs more depth and structure, and different techniques that you won’t come across if you dive straight into learning Adobe Illustrator.

You might be asking “but what’s the big deal? Graphic design software has rulers and the ability to draw straight lines!

Illustrator (which is a program you’ll use to design your work) doesn’t tell you when your shadows are all in the wrong direction or when you have got the proportions all messed up. And Illustrator also doesn’t tell you when you are trying to draw a face and the eyes are half the size they should be. But this book does. It helps you through it all.

STEP 2: LEARN GRAPHIC DESIGN THEORY

Your next step in learning graphic design is to learn some theory. “But the theory is so boring.” I know, I know. Graphic design theory is rarely fun but I’m here to tell you how to become a graphic designer and the theory is super important.

If you want to become a graphic designer you’re going to need to learn some of the tedious material before jumping into the fun stuff.

Just because you are teaching yourself doesn’t mean you get to skip out on the boring material!

Knowing what types of fonts and colors go together and what doesn’t go together is going to help your designs immensely. So teach yourself graphic design theory!

In regards to theory, I suggest starting off with learning the basics of color, typography, shape, space, lines, texture and size.

STEP 3: GET SOME GRAPHIC DESIGN TOOLS

As a bit of a digital nomad, my office moves around a lot so I like to keep it minimal when it comes to the tools I use. Luckily, graphic design doesn’t require lots of gadgets and gizmos.

But the one thing you will need to become a graphic designer is graphic design software — this is non-negotiable

You can purchase Adobe Creative Cloud here which contains:

  • Illustrator: will be used for logos and other vector-based graphics
  • Photoshop: will be used to create special effects and edit media
  • InDesign: will be used to create materials for print or online such as brochures, PDF’s, books etc.

STEP 4: LEARN THE TOOLS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

Now that you have the tools and the know the foundation of graphic design, it’s time to actually learn the tools (yes! You finally made it to the step where you are going to actually learn how to become a graphic designer that can make designs)!

Opening up Illustrator for the first time is overwhelming, but knowing the basics will propel your learning forward much faster. Illustrator can be overwhelming at first, with many different tools to use.

If you want to learn graphic design, you obviously need to learn the tools, and having video instruction will make that process so much easier. After you’ve learned the basics, you’ll be able to use the tools to create your own designs.

GRAPHIC DESIGN TUTORIALS

You can also use YouTube tutorials to teach you everything if a course isn’t in the budget. YouTube is great because you can learn by doing, seeing and hearing.

STEP 5: BUILD UP YOUR GRAPHIC DESIGN PORTFOLIO

I have, however, been asked to see past work or a portfolio, and when my prospects see my portfolio, they almost always book immediately.

So, where else can you find small projects to help develop your portfolio if you want to become a graphic designer?

There are lots of sites that allow graphic designers to pick up work. When I first started building my portfolio I found clients through friends and family, my local sub-Reddit, and 99designs.

I got a lot of graphic design practice through 99designs but I personally wouldn’t recommend it to make money, because you have to design for free and your designs only get chosen if the client likes it best out of the rest of the designs.

I don’t like advising anyone to work for free, but I did like that 99designs gives you a brief and lets you see how a real client process should look. In that respect, I found it useful.

You can also take on non-profits and let them know you are a design student who would like to get some real-life experience. Many non-profits don’t have a budget to hire designers so it’s a win-win for both of you.

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