Updated on April 30, 2024
Edited by Evelyn Keener
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University Headquarters (HQ) is an industry-leading, independent educational organization that provides independent college rankings using a proprietary formula to create first class unbiased rankings. The team at University HQ strives to provide accurate and trustworthy rankings and resources for graphic design students.

Graphic design is a field that is undergoing rapid transformations. As new tools and technologies come online, designers are discovering new outlets for their creativity. Since design is mostly a technological field these days, it's may be vital for you to study these tools with a university or other instructor. Furthermore, you will also need loads of other resources to navigate things like financing your education, preparing for a career, and even staying organized on campus.

Though many graphic designers are individualists, you can always use a hand when it comes to your education and eventual career. That's why we designed and built this page: so that future graphic designers will have an easier time finding tools and resources when they need them.

Resources for Graphic Design Students

Understanding Accreditation

Before you enroll in a graphic design program, you'll want to do your research. First, you should make sure the program has the sort of focus you're looking for. That is, if you specifically want to work in a field such as web design, typography, print media, or some other facet of the design world then you must make sure that the program can support your goals.

You'll also want to look for the school's accreditation. This is a credential bestowed on educational institutions by an independent agency. These agencies perform rigorous audits of schools to ensure that their curriculum, faculty, and student outcomes are all meeting high standards. That means that your knowledge and skills will meet certain standards and that you'll be prepared for the working world. Further, you'll be able to apply your credits toward future degrees, such as a master's. Graduate programs often require that your undergraduate degree come from an accredited institution.

Always check the accreditation for your first-choice schools. They should be accredited by one of the agencies listed below. It may be difficult to find this information on their website; if you can't find information on their accreditation, you can ask an admissions counselor.

Questions About Financial Aid

Nearly every student will need some form of financial aid before they graduate. Even if your family can afford to pay tuition and all your expenses in full, you still can chip in with grants or scholarships that you don't need to repay. If you fill out and submit a FAFSA form, your school's financial aid office may be able to submit your name to several arts scholarship foundations and programs. This is more common at large universities, but even smaller colleges may be able to enter your form for scholarship consideration.

If you aren't awarded any funds through your financial aid office, you can search and discover scholarships on your own. There are online databases that you can search or you could seek out local scholarship funds that are managed by local service organizations or companies. You should be aware that many of these awards are often $500 or less. Don't be discouraged, however. That’s another $500 that comes with no strings attached and, if you can win multiple awards like this, they will add up fast. If you make a regular practice of applying to multiple scholarships every term you should have no problem offsetting some of your educational expenses.

If you are already pursuing grants and scholarships but still need funds, you may need a student loan, federal or private. The FAFSA form you submitted to your school's financial aid office will come in handy here. You should try to borrow as little as you can but do make sure that you need to work as little as possible to meet your living expenses. Also, you may want to try to avoid private student loans, which, unless you have stellar credit, can carry higher interest rates and have less-favorable repayment plans.

Though the program has come under fire, the Obama administration instituted a plan that allows federal borrowers to defer loans and even have them forgiven. The catch is that you have to work for a non-profit organization or a government agency for a number of years commensurate with the amount you've borrowed. As a graphic designer you could work in the communications department of a large non-profit or you might even work for a city government and design maps for tourism, among other projects.

Popular Associations for Students

During your student years, you might feel that it's sufficient to work hard on your classroom work and play hard otherwise. However, if you devote a bit of time to membership in a graphic design association you will reap rewards down the road. Membership will open up a world of networking possibilities, provide inspiring journals or other periodicals, and even allow you to meet fellow graphic designers at national conferences.

  • AIGA:
    You might consider starting an AIGA group on your campus. AIGA's intention is to help students form a community among themselves but also in conjunction with the wider professional world.
  • Society of Illustrators:
    When you join the Society of Illustrators, you will be a part of a 100+ year-old association of creatives. Their membership levels increase as your career matures, so get a start as a student and reap the rewards now.
  • Society for News Design:
    if you are an ace at layouts, you'll want to associate with fellow designers in this niche. There is a student contest and campus chapters abound. If you don't have one on campus, find five others and a faculty advisor and form your own chapter.
  • Society for Experiential Graphic Design:
    Graphic design includes creative ways to connect people to the spaces they inhabit. This might include statuary, signs, or architectural features. You're sure to find their annual conference enlightening.
  • International Interior Design Association:
    You might not initially consider interior design a part of graphic design, but it is just as creative and important to people. They offer special membership rates for students.

Student or Open Access Journals

You're an artist, not a regular academic student, so why would you need to read journals? The fact is that many journals in your field include lots of photographs of cutting-edge designs along with articles devoted to the artistic process, living as a working graphic designer, and all sorts of other inspiring and insightful articles. When you stay current with the most recent trends in graphic design, you'll have an edge in your classroom assignments. The magazines and journals might also offer interesting tips and tricks to help you master a new skill in PhotoShop, Inkscape, InDesign, or Scribus.

Study Resources for Graphic Design Majors

As you pursue your studies in Graphic Design, it will be immensely helpful to have outside resources to help encourage more learning. Even if you're too busy to pick up many new skills in the midst of a hectic semester, you can always study up on new tips or design ideas on breaks between terms.

On the other hand, it will be of immense help to have a bevy of resources handy in case you need help or inspiration on a project. For example, your ideas might exceed your current PhotoShop skills. Thus, you need access to tutorials that can help you master that skill and bring your project to its full, intended fruition.

  • InkScape Tips and Tricks:
    InkScape is a free, open-source vector graphics tool. You might not be familiar with it but take advantage of the free download and then study this Tips and Tricks wiki site.
  • 25 Graphic Design Tips:
    Everyone could use an extra source of inspiration and this site's 25 tips can help get you through a project or perhaps will inspire another one.
  • Udemy – Learn Photoshop:
    To say that PhotoShop is a deep program is like saying that the ocean is deep. That is: we still don't know how deep it really is. This affordable course will help you brush up on basics and perhaps learn new skills.
  • 450 PhotoShop Tutorials:
    You could probably spend days studying the Pen Tool alone, not to mention text effects, selections, and layering. Make a separate folder for PhotoShop tutorials and start with this comprehensive resource.
  • GIMP Tutorials:
    GIMP is an open-source, free piece of software that is useful for all sorts of photo-manipulation tasks as well as design. It's a slightly less powerful PhotoShop, but it's completely free. Get the free software and start learning with these tutorials.
  • Scribus Tutorials:
    Are you interested in layout, but don't have the money for InDesign? Scribus is free and open-source. Many non-profit literary journals couldn't survive without its power and low cost. Did we mention that it's free?
  • Indesign Tutorials:
    InDesign is the gold standard for layout and design. Make sure you review all the tutorials available. You just might discover new features or abilities.
  • Web Design Library:
    This is the ultimate resource for web designers. It offers loads of information on HTML, CSS, fonts, general design principles, and loads more.

Popular Apps

Graphic design is as much a technological field as it is an artistic and creative one. You need to master a set of digital tools in order to survive and thrive as a graphic artist. You also need to stay organized so that you submit your projects on time, make it to the next big party, and coordinate with your study groups.

The list below includes several open-source solutions to your graphic design needs. These software packages are as powerful as they are affordable. However, some do have limits. Peruse the list below and you're sure to discover at least one new tool for productivity or organization.

  • Inkscape:
    This vector graphics tool may be free, but it's worth so much more. The drawing tools are fantastic, it works with a drawing tablet, and it allows you to export your work to a wide range of file formats that are compatible with many other (paid) packages.
  • Scribus:
    Desktop publishing software is not cheap, unless you're talking about Scribus. Download this and compare to those expensive packages.
  • GIMP:
    Need a quick solution for a photo-retouching job? GIMP is free and open source. It doesn't support CYMK files, but it's perfect for your web projects and also has 3D modeling capability.
  • Blender:
    The world of graphic design is rapidly moving towards three-dimensional representations. If you need a free, open-source tool to create 3D animation or a video game, this is your software solution.
  • Libre Office:
    As a student, you'll still have to get through your core curriculum. This productivity package is free to download and use. It includes a powerful word processor, spreadsheet software, presentation package, drawing tools, and more. Considering the price, there's no reason to not download it.
  • MyHomework:
    Artists may be considered charming for their unstructured, cluttered lifestyles, but you need to get your stuff done. This mobile app will keep you on top of your assignments, activities, and all the various appointments (and parties) that come with student life.


Internships are increasingly the way that students are able to prove themselves outside of the classroom, in the real world. During your time in a professional design environment you will meet many of your future colleagues and you'll get a real sense of how things are done in the real world. You might be familiar with the pressure of a class deadline, but that doesn't quite match up to when a million dollar client demands massive changes overnight.

You can look for internships in a variety of places. Your design department may have a database of firms who have taken their students in the past. On the other hand, you could send your resume around to firms in your town, or in the town you want to eventually live in. You might also use the following resources to find a graphic design internship.

Resources for Students and Professionals

Graphic Design Certification

Even if you already have a degree in studio art, or loads of experience working with Adobe products, you might want to pursue a certificate in graphic design so that you'll be better prepared for the job market. You might also be a creative person with an employer who'd rather train you to take care of incidental graphics needs than hire someone new. On the other hand, you might love tinkering with design and have a set of skills you now wish to hone through a formal certificate program. No matter the reason, when you achieve a certificate in Graphic Design, you'll be better prepared to land a job, or attract clients to your freelance venture.

Though a full bachelor's degree might seem optimal, remember that this field primarily rewards you on the basis of your portfolio of design work more than your diploma. Thus, you might be able to edge out even a graduate from the lauded Rhode Island School of Design when you present a portfolio that specifically matches a client's brand identity.

Temp Agencies

Before you land your first great job as a graphic designer, you may first need to join the temporary workforce. Designers can find work through staffing agencies to fulfill short-term needs for their clients. You might join a team to complete a massive photo retouching job for an upcoming campaign or help layout and design a newsletter.

These temporary positions allow you to gain experience, network within your field, and pay the bills. Unlike other workers who might find limited value in temporary assignments, you can discuss your situation with the staffing agency or the client to make sure that you can keep copies of your work for your portfolio.

Resources for Graphic Design Professionals

Professional Graphic Design Associations

When you join a professional organization, you will open up a world of graphic design resources you might not have realized before. These organizations offer their members things such as newsletters, job boards, conferences, networking opportunities, and sometimes even webinars or other educational opportunities. They also allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of your field.

Their websites and other publications often post news when top designers take a new job, or when a design firm either expands or contracts. You'll be able to see where the industry is headed in a business sense as well as from a purely aesthetic point of view. After all, creativity is what it's all about. Associations will provide you and others the ability to share your work and innovations with other professionals who can give you an informed opinion that your non-designer friends may lack.

Here are a few top design associations. You can join more than one, if you choose.

Popular Graphic Design Journals

Journals are a vital resource to keep on hand. During your down time you can peruse their pages to discover what others in the field are doing. You might discover the newest, hottest font or a new technique for InDesign, PhotoShop, or one of the fantastic open-source alternatives. If you are still in school, your library might subscribe to a few journals. If not, discuss this with the periodicals librarian to see if they can fix that.

If you are working in a firm you should discuss starting, or expanding, the corporate library with a few of the options below.

Industry Conferences for Graphic Designers

There's nothing like a conference to kick your energy and excitement into high gear. Conferences offer the opportunity to meet and network with design professionals from all over the nation. You'll learn loads from workshops, panel discussions, and keynote speakers. There are sure to be loads of vendors in attendance whose tools can help you take your practice to the next level. At the end of the day, you'll return to your drafting table with a head brimming with new creative ideas.

  • AIGA Design Conference:
    This conference is sure to be packed with speakers and events designed to ramp up your design practice.
  • How Design Live:
    This annual gathering is full of workshops, keynote speakers, and a swath of new tools and technologies for your design practice.
  • SmashingConf SF:
    With four cities to choose from, the Smashing Conference is easily accessible for everyone on your design team. You'll return home with more knowledge than you know what to do with.
  • VueConf US:
    Every year brings a new top-notch lineup of workshops and speakers to the VueConf. Start bugging your boss about this one now!
  • Leading Design:
    This conference is held in one of the nation's most creative cities, San Francisco, so you really have no choice but to attend.

Professional Graphic Design Software

These days a graphic design degree is very close to an IT degree. You'll need to master multiple software tools to succeed. Web designers will need to write HTML and CSS, if not JavaScript or PHP. The following tools are open source solutions that are free, and which might wind up replacing the tools you pay for every month. They are robust applications that will enable you to maintain a strong workflow with their familiar interfaces and outstanding output. Plus, your client will have no idea that you cut a budgetary corner, if not a technological one.

  • Inkscape:
    Inkscape is becoming more well-known all the time. Since it's freely distributed, it has no marketing team behind it. However, once you download and start using this vector graphics tool, you'll be amazed at the value it brings to your work. If the tools and commands aren't familiar, there are many free tutorials in YouTube and elsewhere.
  • GIMP:
    When PhotoShop is too expensive, Gimp offers free photo editing and design tools. There is no support for CMYK files, but otherwise you're covered. You'll find many familiar tools like the pen tool, layers, a variety of options for making selections, 3D modeling, and more.
  • NetBeans:
    This integrated development environment is the perfect open source solution for web coders and web designers.