Learn the basics and start creating your own projects.
In today’s guide, we are going to explain you all you need to know to get started with Graphic Design. We hope you find it useful!
Graphic design elements
Graphic design elements are the basic units that we use to build images and compositions. If a final design were a wall, every brick would be a design element. Let’s explain the most important ones!
A point is the most fundamental expression of visual representation. Its size and shape might vary. That is why we can perceive a point as a little part of something bigger or as a shape itself. Our perception depends on the context.
A line is a structure composed of several points. Our brain can perceive lines even when there is not an intentional representation. There are different kinds of lines: straight, curved, continuous, discontinuous, etc.
Shapes are forms, compositions made of lines combined in different ways. Circles, squares, and triangles are some popular kinds of shapes. These elements can take infinite abstract forms.
This term is the technical name of the background. In any composition, shapes lay on a surface. It can be full or empty, and its size can change depending on the design.
Color is the most noticeable element of graphic design. We relate it to emotions, and it has a significant impact on perception. You can work with it by combining different palettes. It is also possible to change its saturation, tint, or shadows to change the aspect of a design.
Graphic design principles
Principles are the guidelines we apply when placing the different elements in a design. Let’s look at the most significant ones.
The balance is the distribution of the different elements on a layout. There are three types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.
Symmetrical balance: the features of both sides of the composition have the same distribution.
Asymmetrical balance: both sides of the piece have similar elements, but the distribution of those elements is not the same.
Radius balance: the placement of the components follows a circular pattern.
This principle is about the hierarchy that the designer establishes among elements. It is a visual way to show the importance of every part of the design. To show dominance, you can play with factors like size, contrast, or negative space.
As simple as it sounds, this principle is about the size of every element compared to others.
Contrast allows us to distinguish elements that do not belong together. It is useful for grouping or ungrouping different parts of a design. It helps the designer to drive the audience’s attention.
This principle sets the path for the human eye to move from one element to another. This way, the designer can determine the attention flow and guide the audience through it.
There is unity when we can perceive that all the elements of a specific design belong together. This principle is essential for visual perception. The human brain will always focus on whatever it recognizes as a unit.
Fonts are a crucial part of graphic design. We use them to represent words that spread messages. For effective communication, we should look at their characteristics. There are many kinds of fonts. You can find an in-depth explanation of the different fonts in this article. Here is an abstract for our beginner’s guide.
They are inspired and often created by handwriting. They emulate original calligraphy.
We use these fonts on a bigger size, usually higher than 30p.
Also known as Roman, their name comes from their serifs, the ornaments at the end of their strokes.
Sans Serif fonts
Their name means “without serif.” There are no ornaments at the end of their strokes.
Their characters emulate the original press aesthetics.
Slab Serif fonts
These types are roman fonts whose serifs are thicker and block-line.
These fonts show different ornaments instead of letters and numbers.
Every character incorporates extra data to change its final aspect.
As we said before, color is a crucial element of graphic design. To properly work with it, we have to understand the main color models. Color models are representations of the different colors available to human sight. In today’s post, we will focus on two of them: CMYK and RGB.
CMYK stands for Cian-Magenta-Yellow-Key. The three first words are the names of the primary colors. By blending those colors in different amounts, we can get the rest of the colors of the model. The K is for “Key,” which, in this case, means “Black.” We will use this model of color for the designs that we will print.
RGB stands for Red-Green-Blue. This is an additive color model. By adding red, green, and blue light together, we can reproduce an array of colors. The purpose of the RGB model is to represent images on electronic screens.
It is essential to choose a color model to work with from the start. It is possible to change the color model afterward, but the aspect of the results will vary.
Graphic Design Software for beginners
It could be the case that you want to try to create a design, but you do not feel ready to use professional software. There is no problem!
Nowadays, there are several options for those who want to try graphic design for the first time. We have made a selection of apps that can help you get started.
Canva is a starter-friendly online design tool. It is available on a website version and also as a mobile app. It allows you to create any graphic and to save it in your favorite format.
Its library of templates is one of the biggest perks of Canva. You can use pre-made designs to create your version by modifying them. The models are copyright free. You can use the final result for personal and commercial purposes.
On Canva, you can find stock images, free icons and shapes, and hundreds of free fonts. You can also upload your files with a very simple drag-and-drop feature.
Most of the functionalities are available on the free version. The premium subscription provides extra tools. Premium users can upload their fonts and create a brand kit. It is also possible to resize the final products on this version.
The main features of PicMonkey are the photo editor and the design tool. This is the only tool that allows realtime collaboration. It is a bit more complicated than Canva, as it allows you to work with layers. It is an excellent way to get acquainted with the layers system. If in the future, you want to work with professional software, you’ll have to use layers too.
PicMonkey has +2K customizable templates. Its cloud storage system saves every change while you work. You can access the tool both through a desktop and an app version. On their website, you will find an extended resource center. There you can learn how to use every feature to get the results you want.
The most significant disadvantage of PicMonkey is that there is not a free version. You can take a free trial to check if the tool works for you, but after that, you will have to pay -even for the basic version.
Inkscape is a professional vector graphics editor. It is free and open-source. You can find a version for Windows, Linux, and macOS. It allows you to create vectorial designs, like SVG files. SVG stands for “Scalable Vector Graphics.” The format may sound familiar to those who craft with cutting machines. It is the best way to create graphics that need any kind of scalability.
This tool is an excellent alternative to Illustrator. As there is no license fee that you have to pay, you can try it and see if you get used to it.
At the software’s website, you can find a public library of resources. There are written tutorials and videos that will guide you through the tool. You can also find free books and manuals -in English, French, Spanish, and Italian.
10 tips for graphic design beginners
Make sure you have a license for every element you incorporate into your design. When you are new to graphic design, it is common to include some visual items made by others. Also, you will probably enjoy experimenting with fonts. This is all right as long as you make sure that you have a personal -or commercial- license that allows you to use every resource.
Search for inspiration -but do not copy! In the era of the Internet, inspiration is all around. Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest will be your best friends. You can also check another artist’s portfolio at Behance. And it is great to get inspired! Please, use that inspiration to create new artwork. Respect everyone else’s work.
Design with a purpose. Design is a communicative exercise. Behind every creativity, there must be a message. If you are just drawing because you enjoy creating beautiful aesthetics, that can be your purpose. But every piece of design must have a meaning.
Keep it simple. Specially at the beginning. It is better to focus on working with some specific elements than trying to play with everything at a time. To design is to drive the viewer’s attention. Make it easy for them and yourself.
Ask for feedback. But not only when you are a starter. Ask for feedback, always. Hearing other people’s perspectives can help you notice some things you didn’t see before. When you focus on developing an idea, there are a lot of things you can miss.
Make a sketch. And two. And three. It would be amazing to create a masterpiece at the first try. And it is possible, but there are few people who can do it. Making previous versions will help you to sharpen your ideas and to find alternatives. And, therefore, to become a better designer.
Don’t abuse fonts. We all love fonts, don’t we? A font library is always a great resource. We know sometimes you would like to use them all at a time. And that would be a mistake. It is better to pick one or two, combine them correctly, and stick to them. Here you have an article on how to do it.
Stick to a color palette. Same as with fonts: don’t overuse colors! Pick some of them you would like to combine. Color has a substantial impact on visual perception. We have to handle it with care.
Adjust the color model from the start. On this beginner’s guide, we have explained to you two of the most common color models. Choose the accurate one: CMYK for physical products, RGB for digital screens. As we said, it is possible to change it in the end, but this will change the aspect of the result.
“We are all beginners under the skin.”- Steve Krug.Don’t compare yourself to others. Keep learning and practicing. And don’t forget to enjoy every step of the process.