Graphic Design Courses & Certificates Overview

Graphic design certificates help budding graphic designers learn how to do basic photo edits, capture audience interests online, and build branding and marketing campaigns. Many graphic designers pursue careers as artists, illustrators, photographers, and more.

Many graphic design courses and certificates are offered online through synchronous and asynchronous options or in-person. Many classes cover topics to help new designers with typography, color, and new graphic design software and programs.

This article reviews what a graphic design certificate is, the types available, and how to obtain one.

What Is a Graphic Design Certificate?

A graphic design certificate allows students to learn core graphic design skills more quickly than pursuing a full bachelor’s degree — usually in one year or less. Students who opt into a graphic design career certificate program receive training in typography, design conceptualization, and more. Students taking courses in graphic design may explore certificates focusing more on the business end, illustration, or the fine arts components of the graphic design field. Graphic design programs usually require a high school diploma for acceptance into a program as well as a portfolio or statement of interest or intention.

How Can I Use a Graphic Design Certificate?

Graphic designers usually build upon their portfolios throughout the course of their careers, and having a certificate shows initiative, knowledge of best practices, and a certain expectation of talent and completion within the work. Graphic designers use visual art and concepts such as infographics, photos, and typography to convey visual ideas to audiences and consumers, all of which can be learned when taking certificate courses.

Graphic designers just starting out may rely on their portfolios as well as credentials such as certificates to find career opportunities. Having a graphic design certificate leads to numerous career opportunities and pathways in many industries. Graphic design is utilized in private, nonprofit, and schools in departments such as marketing or instructional design. Different certificate programs prepare students for different types of opportunities, including positions in:

  • Marketing (marketing specialist, marketing coordinator)
  • Social Media (management, oversight, branding)
  • Photography (studio, personal photographers, freelancers)
  • Creative Management
  • User Experience (UX) Design

Graphic Design Certificate Program Courses

Each certificate program for graphic design majors is unique. Some programs feature concentrations in a specific subset of graphic design, but all require courses in topics such as digital arts, illustration, advertising principles, and graphic design software programs. Many of the classes include digital applications to help make ad campaigns and designs. Some types of applications and programs include digital publishing, graphic web design, page layout, typography, and design strategies.

Some require prerequisites or knowledge of basic design, such as basic studio drawing or 2D and 3D drawing courses. Students generally complete their programs with a culminating experience in a capstone, doing research, or with a final portfolio or gallery showing off their work. Many students also participate in hands-on learning opportunities with internships or other work-study programs, some of which provide financial assistance or alleviate some of the costs of pursuing the certificate.

Some of the most popular graphic design certificate courses include:

  • Graphic Design Specialization
  • Graphic Design Masterclass
  • Google UX Design Professional Certificate
  • UI/UX Design Certificate
  • Adobe Creative Suite MasterClass
  • Typography
  • Branding
  • Design theory
  • Color
  • Layout
  • Essential design techniques

Additionally, there are different levels of certificates, and one can choose from a post-undergraduate degree certificate, post-graduate certificate, or a stand-alone certificate before beginning any further studies or obtaining a degree. The benefits of certificate programs are the flexibility, short- and long-term options for courses, and overall affordability.

Graphic Design Course Concentrations

Graphic design certificate program participants can choose their area of expertise or concentration within the field. Concentration options may include options such as business statistics, economics, marketing, mass communications, motion graphics, interactive design, and user experience design. Some students can pursue graphic design specialized for certain industries, such as sustainable graphic design, fashion graphic design, or nonprofit graphic design.

When looking into graphic design certificate programs, students can check out what the faculty research areas are, review the course descriptions and curriculum, and consider the initiatives of the art program or design program at that school to help them match the program to their interests.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Graphic Design Certificate?

Most certificate programs require a minimum of one class or course to complete, but many require four or five courses. Many graphic design programs build upon previous coursework, meaning students start with basic courses like basic drawing and computer programs and then move into more advanced coursework that is program or software-specific and work up to higher-level classes with more comprehensive programs and education. Many certificates provide a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level offering for each specific area of study or program. Upon completion of any level, there is usually an opportunity to do a final portfolio or overall capstone and assessment showing the work completed and ability to convey knowledge about the graphic design techniques and concepts mastered throughout the duration of the course.

Discover More About Graphic Design Programs

How much can graphic designers earn?

The median salary for graphic designers is around $53,000 per year1. Graphic designers are often a part of branding, marketing, sales, education, and computer software teams working in creative programs alongside sales teams to influence overall sales of products. The career outlook for graphic designers looks to be growing slowly at a rate of 3%, with an estimated 7,300 jobs from 2020 to 20301.

What is the application process like for graphic design certificate programs?

To apply for a graphic design program, you usually need a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Then there is the application fee or design portfolio. As you explore your online graphic design classes, reach out to admissions advisors for the programs or counselors who can answer many questions about the application process. Some certificates are only offered at certain times of the year, while others might be available monthly or on an ongoing basis.

What types of financial aid or scholarships are available for graphic design certificate programs?

Financial aid may be an option for graphic design certificate programs, although students may not be eligible for federal financial aid since the programs don’t result in a degree. Look at the financial aid office of the online graphic design school you’re interested in attending, and make an appointment with the financial aid office if needed.

Is it worth going to school for a graphic design certificate program?

Attending classes allows you to meet with other like-minded students, meet experts in the field, and learn best practices for success and long-term plans.

What software programs do graphic designers need?

Often, certificate programs offer students access to graphic design programs such as Photoshop, Canva, Indesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and more.

Do I need a graphic design certificate to get a job as a graphic designer?

Many graphic design jobs and positions require applicants to possess at least a certificate in graphic design for eligibility, as well as a portfolio and certain classes.

Does location matter for a graphic design certificate program?

Plenty of graphic design certificate programs are offered online, which means location may not matter while completing coursework. However, students may want to consider location if they want to also network in an area where a lot of graphic design firms are located, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Atlanta. The location might also be a factor if a program offers hands-on experience working with local marketing, design, and advertising firms.

What does an online certificate program in graphic design cost?

Cost can depend on the program, length or duration of study, and program location. Graphic design certificate programs can cost less than $300 to more than $5,0002.

Are scholarships available for graphic design certificates courses?

Look into the admissions and financial aid offices at the school you’re trying to pursue to find out more about costs, financial aid, and other benefits to make college accessible and affordable to you.

What kind of classes should be taken during a graphic design certificate online course?

Many graphic design careers require knowledge of typography, branding, photo editing, color theory, package design, web design, UX design, and e-marketing.

What’s the difference between getting a graphic design certificate versus a graphic design degree?

Certificates are best for students interested in learning vocational and skills-based topics. For example, a student wanting to quickly learn Adobe Photoshop or web design for a particular job role. A degree in graphic design covers a wider array of skills, in addition to fulfilling general education requirements. A degree program also takes a lot longer to complete, with most bachelor’s degree programs requiring four years of study and associate degree programs requiring two years of study. Certificate programs, on the other hand, can typically be completed in one year or less.


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Graphic Designers.

[2] Dennon, A. (2021). What is a Certificate Program? Best Colleges.