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Graphic Design for Beginners: Getting Started with Templates

Graphic design allows you to visually communicate messages, express ideas, and make content more engaging. With the right skills and knowledge, anyone can learn graphic design – no artistic background required. This in-depth beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know to start designing quality graphics, with a focus on leveraging templates to create stellar designs as you build skills.

Why Graphic Design is an Essential Skill

Graphic design is the process of planning and creating visual content to convey information. It combines images, shapes, fonts, colors, layouts and more to get ideas across. Graphic design skills are extremely valuable for:

  • Businesses – Design brand assets, marketing materials, presentations, ads, website graphics, product packaging and more. Visuals make companies and offerings more appealing and professional.
  • Social media managers – Create engaging posts, banners, graphics and videos to connect with followers and promote content.
  • Bloggers and publishers – Design images and graphics to illustrate articles and capture attention on social posts driving traffic.
  • Crafters and artists – Make your DIY projects, artwork and handmade products stand out with polished branding and graphics.
  • Nonprofits and churches – Promote your cause and engage donors by designing visually compelling marketing materials, signage, presentations and website.
  • Students and teachers – Create infographics, reports, visual aids, flyers, worksheets, flashcards and presentations.
  • Freelancers – Design services command great rates, especially if you specialize in areas like logo design, web design, social media graphics, presentations and more.

Graphic design elevates any kind of communication. Even basic skills can level up how you present information and express ideas. Continue reading our beginner’s guide to learn graphic design fundamentals, gain essential skills and start creating visual content that gets results.

Graphic Design Principles for Beginners

Before jumping into specific skills and tools, get familiar with core graphic design principles. These foundational concepts will guide your approach to creating visual content:

Alignment

Align elements purposefully – don’t just place them randomly. Use margins, grids and the rule of thirds. Aligned content looks polished.

Contrast

Use contrasting colors, sizes and styles to make key elements stand out. Contrast creates visual interest and directs the viewer’s attention.

Hierarchy

Establish clear visual hierarchy to guide the viewer’s eye through content in order of importance using size, color and positioning.

Repetition

Repeat colors, shapes, line widths and other elements to visually tie designs together into a cohesive, consistent whole.

Proximity

Group related elements together using whitespace and position them close together so they are perceived as related content.

Balance

Distribute visual weight evenly across a composition. One side should not overpower the other. Symmetrical and asymmetrical balance are both effective.

White Space

Use empty negative space between elements to prevent a crowded appearance and let key parts shine. Don’t overcrowd the canvas.

Scale and Proportion

Use properly scaled graphical elements and typefaces that fit together visually. Maintain appropriate relative proportions.

Keep these core design principles in mind as you begin creating graphics to improve the polish, organization and visual appeal of your work.

Beginner Graphic Design Skills to Master

Here are crucial graphic design skills every beginner should focus on building:

Digital Illustration

Create custom vector illustrations, icons, shapes and other graphics using programs like Adobe Illustrator. This allows limitless experiments with color, shape, and style to make exactly the graphic you want. Reference existing graphics for inspiration but create your own original illustrations.

Typography

Master the art of designing with text. Carefully select complementary fonts, point sizes and spacing to make type aesthetically pleasing and functional. Arrange type in ways that enhance readability and message.

Layout Composition

Strategically lay out design elements like images, graphics, text and negative space to form a visually appealing, balanced composition using principles like the rule of thirds and golden ratio.

Brand Style Guidelines

Understand how to maintain a unified visual brand identity across multiple design projects like logos, ads, website, business cards, presentations, etc. Use the same fonts, colors, graphic styles, layout principles, tone of voice and more to develop recognizable branding and style guides.

Color Theory

Learn the basics of color theory like warm vs cool colors, color psychology, and complementary color schemes. Select colors deliberately to evoke certain moods, emotions and reactions. Important for branding, websites, presentations, ads and more.

Photo Editing

Use photo editing tools to resize, crop, adjust color and lighting, remove backgrounds and polish images for use in designs. Basic photo editing makes a big difference in quality.

Idea Visualization

Brainstorm design concepts and elements that will best visualize the desired message or idea. Translate ideas into complementary visuals that convey the information or story.

With practice, these essential graphic design skills will quickly improve the quality of your visual content.

Graphic Design Tools and Software

These powerful graphic design programs are used by professionals and are perfect for beginners looking to learn:

Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign)

The industry standard design programs for photo editing, vector graphics/illustration, typography and page layout. Lots of depth but beginners can start with basic features.

Canva

Free browser-based design program with drag and drop simplicity. Extensive templates, photos, fonts, illustrations and design assets. Great for non-designers.

GIMP

Free open-source raster graphics editor similar to Photoshop with layers, selections, filters and more. Popular with budget-conscious beginners.

Affinity (Designer, Photo, Publisher)

Well-reviewed Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign alternatives at a lower price point. Nice middle ground between Canva and Adobe.

PicMonkey

Intuitive browser-based design platform for photo editing and simple graphic creation. Many templates. Freemium model.

Adobe Spark (Post, Page, Video)

Free creative apps from Adobe for animated videos, social graphics and web pages. Very user friendly if limited features.

Figma

Leading browser-based application for user interface and interactive design. Real-time cloud collaboration features. Very popular for website and app design.

Don’t let uncertainty about which graphic design programs to learn stop you from getting started. Begin with free and low-cost options like Canva, GIMP and Adobe Spark to build confidence. Later you can graduate to more advanced software like Adobe Creative Cloud or Affinity. The most important step is simply getting started creating designs!

Getting Graphic Design Inspiration as a Beginner

When first starting out, graphic design inspiration can be hard to come by. Here are helpful sources:

Graphic Design Blogs and Magazines

Follow sites like Design Week, Creative Bloq, AIGA Eye on Design, It’s Nice That and Digital Arts for trend reports, new projects to admire, industry news and tips.

Graphic Design YouTube Channels

YouTube has a wealth of graphic design learning channels like The Futur, Kel Lauren, CharliMarieTV and more sharing tutorials, case studies and motivation.

Social Media

Follow graphic designers and letterers on Instagram like Jessica Hische, Dana Tanamachi, Martina Paukova and Lisa Congdon to see examples of great work.

Behance

Peruse the leading online portfolio platform to discover impressive designs. Search by type like brochures, branding, magazine layouts and more.

Pinterest

Follow graphic design boards and save designs you love to Pinterest. Great for color scheme, font pairings, layouts and visual style inspiration.

Graphic Design Communities

Join Facebook Groups like Design Army, Women of Design, Freelance Creatives Community and more to engage with designers.

Graphic Design Portfolios

Look through professional portfolios from top agencies and individuals. Notice what makes their work excellent.

Logo Design Inspiration

Logo design galleries like Logopond, LogoLounge and LogoDesign.net offer thousands of real-world logo examples to analyze.

Print Design Inspiration

Sites like Print, Print, Print Showcase beautiful magazine covers, brochures, business cards and other print layouts.

Immerse yourself in great design work for inspiration as you develop your graphic design skills. Practice imitating and recreating designs you admire to improve.

Establishing Your Graphic Design Style

Over time, refine your own personal graphic design style by:

Reviewing Past Work

Look back at your old projects. Make notes about what techniques, fonts, colors, and compositions you used most. Find the common threads that define your style.

Collecting Favorite Designs

Gather designs and assets that appeal to you like illustrations, icons, fonts, color palettes, layouts etc. Study them to recognize the styles and themes you are drawn to.

Choosing Signature Elements

Pick signature visual elements to use consistently in your work like hand-drawn elements, a particular color palette, specific fonts, repeating geometric patterns or a favored layout scheme.

Creating Style Guides

Make style guides documenting your preferred fonts, colors, illustrations, graphical elements, layout principles, tone of voice, etc. Refer back to maintain consistency.

Practicing Techniques

Focus your learning and practice on specific skills and mediums you enjoy most like hand-lettering, watercolor illustrations or editorial layouts tailored to your interests.

By analyzing your past work and consciously focusing on developing personal style, your design work will become more confident and consistent. Give it time and dedication.

Using Templates to Improve Graphic Design Skills

For beginners, templates are an excellent way to create high-quality graphic designs while you continue developing skills and confidence. Take advantage of templates by:

Mixing and Matching

Use different elements from multiple templates like colors, fonts, layouts, illustrations etc. to create unique customized designs.

Replicating First

Start by directly replicating templates, then gradually customize them more with your own content. This builds familiarity with professional templates.

Studying their Structure

Deconstruct how templates are constructed to understand their layouts, information hierarchy and use of principles like contrast, balance and alignment.

Practicing Over Top

Use quality templates as a base layer, then practice designing over top by adding your own photos, illustrations or graphic elements on layers above. Great for practice without starting completely from scratch.

Using Small Elements

Harvest smaller reusable elements like icons, textures, banners and frames from templates to incorporate into your own original designs.

Customizing Colors and Fonts

Make good templates your own by changing colors, swapping out fonts, modifying text and switching up visual elements.

Paying for Premium Quality

Invest in premium templates from sources like Creative Market and Etsy for extremely high-quality modern designs with trendy styles. Avoid cheesy generic templates.

Templates provide beginners with polished starting points to modify until you gain enough know-how to design fully original graphics on your own. They provide excellent foundations for practice.

Developing Your Graphic Design Skills Further

Once you’ve grasped the basics, here are ways to go deeper:

Master Advanced Software Features

Expand your skills in Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign etc. by learning more complex features like anchor points in vector graphics, layer blending options for effects in Photoshop and using style sheets for typography formatting in InDesign.

Try New Programs

Branch out by gaining skills in additional programs like open-source Inkscape for vector graphics or dig into 3D, AR and VR design tools.

Learn Animation

Take your static graphics to the next level by learning to create engaging animated videos, cinemagraphs and animated social media posts using tools like AfterEffects.

Practice Hand-Lettering

Develop your hand-lettering skills using brush pens and iPad Procreate. Design your own display fonts and hand-drawn quotes.

Dabble in UI/UX Design

Understand user interface and user experience design for apps and websites by learning tools like Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD. A highly in-demand specialty.

Print Projects

Try new mediums by designing business cards, stationary, planners, wall prints and other physical print projects. Work through mockups and templates.

Read Graphic Design Books

Expand your knowledge by reading respected graphic design books on color, typography, layouts and more from authors like Robin Williams, Timothy Samara and Stephen M. Heaver.

Study Design History

Learn about pioneering designers like Saul Bass, Swiss Style, Bauhaus and more to enrich your design knowledge. Understand important historical context.

Practice Every Day

Set a goal to spend at least 30-60 minutes daily practicing and learning new design techniques to build muscle memory and speed.

Consistent practice expanding your skills and knowledge using the tips above will significantly advance your work over the next year. Be patient with the process and enjoy seeing your improvement.

Mistakes for New Graphic Designers to Avoid

As a beginner, steer clear of these common graphic design mistakes:

Not Having a Process

Design haphazardly without a deliberate creative process. Always start by defining the goal, audience and required elements. Brainstorm ideas. Refine the most promising idea. Create initial drafts and get feedback. Only then move into the execution phase. Rushing in without thinking through goals and objectives leads to subpar results.

Forgetting the User

Design based only on your personal tastes instead of the target audience. Do user research to understand your audience’s preferences, pain points and goals so you can craft designs that resonate with what they want and need. Don’t assume you know.

Cluttering the Canvas

Overcrowding designs with too many elements. Trying to include everything makes for visual chaos. Be selective. Follow the principle of simplicity. Use only what is essential to communicate key messages clearly and highlight what’s most important. Declutter and edit down designs.

Inconsistent Branding

Failing to maintain a consistent visual brand identity across all designed assets like your logo, website, social posts, ads, packaging, stationery, store displays, signage and more. This weakens recognition and trust. Follow brand guides to prevent confusion.

Forgetting Legibility

Using text and fonts purely for showy effects without ensuring readability for the intended use. Selecting inappropriate decorative display fonts for large bodies of text rather than clean easy-reading fonts. Form should facilitate function.

Cheesy Stock Art

Using tacky generic clipart and outdated stock photos that cheapen the look of designs. Invest in quality custom illustrations or high-end stock photos. Or create your own illustrations to stand out.

Lack of Contrast

Designing with elements too visually similar without enough variation in size, color, style and position. This fails to establish clear hierarchy and direct the viewer’s eye. Embrace contrast to make designs pop.

By being aware of these common stumbling blocks, new graphic designers can avoid heading down the wrong path in your work.

Finding Graphic Design Jobs for Beginners

These entry-level graphic design jobs are attainable for beginners:

Production Artist

Entry-level role implementing and executing designs using software rather than creating custom designs from scratch. Gains technical skills.

Junior Designer

Works on simple design tasks under supervision of senior designers. Focuses on learning through executing established design systems.

Design Intern

Short-term internships, apprenticeships and trainee programs offer beginners workplace experience and mentoring.

Freelance Assistant

Work part-time remotely under a freelance graphic designer assisting with projects to gain experience and build portfolio pieces.

In-House Design Assistant

Large companies often hire design assistants to help established in-house teams with tasks like presentations,basic graphics and revisions.

Social Media Design

Create social media posts, stories, banners and other collateral to build skills and portfolio.

Blogger Graphics

Offer affordable rates to new bloggers in need of blog headers, social media graphics, ebook covers and other visual assets as you refine skills.

Nonprofit Volunteer

Many nonprofits need design help on a budget. Offer to volunteer doing posters, flyers, brochures and other collateral for a good cause and portfolio builder.

Junior Production Artist

Entry-level production artist roles focused mainly on prepping files for print and output vs. custom design. Great for newbies to gain technical skills.

The options above help aspiring designers gain real-world experience, build a portfolio and progressively take on more responsibility leading to a full design role.

Continuously Improving as a Graphic Designer

Here are tips for improving your graphic design skills over the long-term after the beginner stage:

Stay Current on Design Trends

Regularly analyze current trends by following graphic design publications, blogs, social media, Behance projects and award sites. Adapt your work accordingly.

Master New Programs

Keep expanding your software skills. Learn to use new programs that become popular like Figma, Sketch and InVision Studio so your skills stay relevant.

Immerse Yourself in Inspiration

Constantly collect inspiration for styles, layouts, fonts, colors etc. to spark ideas and avoid creative blocks. Use Pinterest, Behance, LogoLounge, Typography Served and more.

Refine Your Style

Define your personal style more distinctly over time through your custom fonts, color palettes, illustration style, preferred layouts, recurring visual branding elements and areas of specialty. Read old portfolio pieces and highlight commonalities to pin down your unique style and strengths.

Grow Your Graphic Design Process

Become more adept at the full design process from research and ideation to mocking up concepts to presentation. Systemize your creative workflow.

Specialize

Move into a profitable design specialty like logo design, packaging design, lettering, data visualization, UI/UX design, motion graphics or another discipline that interests you.

Uplevel Your Branding

Invest in branding yourself as a professional designer through a slick portfolio, personal logo, templates, sophisticated marketing materials and branded social media presence.

Get Client Feedback

Check in regularly with clients about what they liked and ask how you can improve on future projects. Listen carefully and adjust accordingly.

By continuously learning, expanding your skills, absorbing inspiration and honing your personal style, graphic design will quickly become second nature.

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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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