Graphic artist vs. graphic designer

The terms graphic artist and graphic designer are often used interchangeably by people who are unfamiliar with the industry. Knowing the difference between the two is vital to discovering which of these careers is right for you. While both jobs require strong artistic talent, these professions have drastically different educational requirements and workplace duties. 

The differences between the graphic artist and graphic designer

Essentially, the difference between a graphic artist and graphic designer is their area of focus within graphic art. Graphic artists create artwork for advertisements, packaging, websites and more. A graphic designer’s role is to oversee design elements and solve visual problems, ensuring systems or products are aesthetically pleasing. Rather than creating art, they may be charged with overseeing color palates, font types and psychologically making the item appeal to the consumer.

Graphic artist

A graphic artist creates the actual artwork for advertisements, book covers, logos, movie posters and much more. Some graphic artists work in print while others create artwork digitally or a hybrid of these techniques. Most graphic artists have a specific style expressed in a digital or physical portfolio. This signature style is often what they are hired for, rather than someone else’s design style. The more unique and sought-after a graphic designer’s portfolio, the more flexibility they have to be self-employed and work for a variety of clients on a case-by-case basis. However, larger or visually-centric companies frequently keep in-house graphic designers in creative departments.

Some graphic artists are self-taught, but most have a degree in advertising, art, design or graphic art—often from an accredited program. While they are perfecting their skills through classes and rigorous practice, the importance of a strong portfolio to show future clients cannot be underplayed. A benefit of going through an academic environment is the creation of a starting portfolio, peer and instructor review, and a deepening of skills and techniques. All of this helps diversify their portfolio and hone their personal style. 

Graphic designer

Graphic designers focus on making eye-catching and persuasive designs that target consumers, likely for a product or marketing campaign. They take the work of a graphic artist and bring the project together so that it conveys a specific marketing message. They may add typography and other images to the artwork to create a persuasive design. 

One of the key differences between a graphic designer and graphic artist is the medium of a designer is almost exclusively digital. They focus on the overall visual presentation of a page, product or user experience. Unlike a graphic artist, they may not have training in traditional arts. Instead, their focus may be on consumer interaction or how a digital or visual landscape comes together. However, in some companies, graphic artists and graphic designers may take on some of the same roles.

Graphic designers usually have a two or four-year degree in advertising or graphic design. In college, they study subjects such as color theory, design principles, graphic design and typography. They also learn how to use graphic design software, such as the Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud. Much as graphic artists do, graphic designers create a portfolio to represent them to prospective employers.

Get started with Lynn

Lynn University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design will help you get on the right track for either of these careers. Our comprehensive program teaches you about advertising and web design, magazine layout and product design. You will receive rich instructor guidance, peer review and classwork designed to hone your skills. During your time at Lynn, you will discover whether being a graphic artist or a graphic designer is a better path for your ultimate career. 

Looking to advance your knowledge of graphic design? Check out our master of fine arts in graphic and web design.