Graphic artist vs graphic designer: differences and skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The differences between graphic artists and graphic designers are few in that they both create art for commercial purposes. They also typically work in the same sectors, such as marketing, entertainment, advertising and media. There are a few key differences between these roles to be aware of, though, and if you're pursuing a career in either field, it's important to consider them. In this article, we look at what each of these professionals does and explore the similarities and differences between the responsibilities, work environments, salaries and job outlooks of the two positions.

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Graphic artist vs graphic designer

When comparing a graphic artist vs a graphic designer, you may see several similarities, but the two are also distinct from each other in important ways. Here's a closer look at some of the similarities and differences between graphic artists and graphic designers:

Duties

Depending on the industry that graphic designers and graphic artists work in and the employer they work for, exact duties can vary. Also, these two professionals typically work in different capacities and have different objectives. On a typical day, a graphic artist may perform the following activities:

  • use various media to draft visual art pieces

  • convey a message, story, idea or emotion about their subject matter

  • incorporate various stylistic elements into their work

  • experiment with unconventional design principles

  • interface with stakeholders if in a client-facing position

  • sell work to media and marketing companies

Comparatively, graphic designers often perform the following duties:

  • combine various elements to create aesthetically pleasing communication materials

  • convey information in an intelligible and engaging format

  • use technological tools, such as photo editing and design software, to draft designs

  • design fonts to create specific branding

  • interface with clients to assess their needs

  • understand industry-specific design principles and compositional standards

  • implement design principles

Training

Both professionals typically hold a bachelor's degree or similar level of training in their field and a significant amount of practical experience. While studying for a bachelor's degree, both graphic designers and artists learn about artistic principles, techniques and methods for creating work that resonates with audiences. They may also learn how to use various types of design software. Degrees aren't always required for these positions, but studying for a degree can equip both professionals with valuable knowledge and training that helps them perform better. Some designers and artists are self-taught through practical experience and studying.

Related: 35 graphic design interview questions (with sample answers)

Work environment

It's common for both graphic artists and graphic designers to work in the following fields:

  • marketing

  • promotions

  • advertising

  • publishing

  • journalism

  • animation

  • television

  • media

Also, these professionals may work on a full-time, part-time or freelance basis, working for one or multiple clients at a time, depending on their preferences. It's typical for graphic designers and graphic artists to work for several clients at once when working as freelancers. Both may work for a single client if the workload is significant. When working full-time or part-time for an employer, these professionals may work on one large project over a lengthy period.

Both may work in studios or offices where they can access computers, Wi-Fi and other resources needed to do their work. When working for an employer, designers and artists can access more expensive equipment, such as tablets, printers and drafting tables. They may also work from home or in multiple locations if they work freelance. The environments these professionals work in can depend on the medium with which they work, but graphic designers almost always use technology to produce their work regardless of location.

Related: How to write a graphic design cover letter (with examples)

Salary

The salary for graphic artists varies depending on the industry, employer, job location, hours worked and the availability of overtime. The national average salary for graphic artists is £24,414 per year.

Graphic designers also earn different wages according to the same factors, and the national average salary for these professionals is £26,230 per year. Both of these jobs may also come with some employment benefits, such as private healthcare, free eye tests and flexible working schedules. Employers provide these benefits at their own discretion and they may not apply to all positions.

What is a graphic artist?

Graphic artists create art on behalf of businesses to tell stories, convey ideas and express emotions to audiences. Their work is often highly creative, as they produce cartoons, animations, comic books and illustrations. This means that the work they produce often serves a wide range of purposes, covering many subjects and genres according to varying client requirements. These professionals often employ unconventional design principles to maximise creativity in their art, using various media to help with ideation. To engage audiences, they make use of multiple stylistic elements, dialogue and activities to bring their art to life.

These artists sometimes draft work using traditional artists' tools, such as paper, pens and pencils, or they may draft work digitally using electronic tools. The decisions that graphic artist makes depend on their tastes and experiences. For example, if an artist comes from a painting background, they may favour working by hand and use various stylistic features of painting, such as colour and textures. The objective behind their art is to provoke a specific emotional response from audiences, and they employ whatever techniques they deem appropriate in the completion of this goal.

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Graphic artist skills

The skills that graphic artists use overlap with those of graphic designers in many key areas, but they also have some distinct skills that help them do their job effectively. These include the following:

  • Traditional art skills: Many graphic artists are proficient with traditional art techniques like drawing and painting. Having these skills helps enable them to produce a range of decorative effects on websites and other communication materials.

  • Problem-solving: Many graphic artists spend time solving problems that arise. They use their problem-solving skills to figure out ways to meet the objectives laid out in the briefs presented by their clients.

  • Communication: Art is a visual medium for communication, so it's important for graphic artists to communicate effectively through their work by translating written ideas into visual ones. They may also present their work to clients or employers, so verbal communication skills help ensure clients feel appreciated and understood.

Related: How To Write a Graphic Designer Cover Letter (With Examples)

What is a graphic designer?

A graphic designer also produces art for commercial purposes, and their clients typically commission them to create art for audiences to interact in specific ways for specific purposes. They may design infographics, presentations, email templates, logos, website designs, advertisements, marketing materials and other branded content. Graphic designers work in sectors like media, advertising and marketing to create art that elicits engagement and responsiveness from their audience. Audiences interact with the work of graphic designers in the form of clicks, reading, subscribing and directly purchasing. The functions of pieces of art differ according to the guidelines of each client.

Regardless of the specific project, graphic designers attempt to translate ideas into simple visual designs so that audiences know what to do with them. They try to make communication efficient by reducing potentially complex ideas into symbols and other visual designs. This means that much of their work involves problem-solving. It's the graphic designers' responsibility to try and keep the end-user in mind so that their work is easy to understand and engage with. Graphic designers maintain awareness of symbolism and how symbols develop so they can communicate messages appropriately when creating design elements, like text and logos.

Related: Visual design vs graphic design: What's the difference?

Graphic designer skills

Graphic designers employ a consistent set of skills to do their job, regardless of the industry they work in or the company they work for. These skills include the following:

  • IT skills: Graphic designers rely on technology to do most of their work, so it's important for them to familiarise themselves with computers and specialised software. This helps them create consistent work at scale.

  • Understanding symbols: It's important for graphic designers to understand the symbolism and the meaning associated with images. This helps them select the right images to communicate messages and avoid negative, inappropriate or offensive symbols.

  • Creativity: Graphic design is a creative field that involves producing art and visual concepts. They often rely on their creative skills when translating client briefs into impressive artworks and designs.

  • Typography: This means understanding fonts and the art of designing letters so that they're unique and intelligible. This is a big part of a graphic designer's job, as they often create the fonts that businesses use across all their branded communications.

    Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.


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