California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Graphic Designers in California

May also be called: Advertising Layout Workers; Art Directors; Catalog Illustrators; Desktop Publishers; Digital Artists; Graphic Artists; Layout Artists; and Multimedia Specialists

What Would I Do?

Graphic Designers analyze, plan, and create visual solutions to communications problems. They use a variety of print, electronic, and film media and technologies to achieve a design that meets the client's needs. Graphic Designers consider cultural, physical, and social factors when planning and executing appropriate designs for a given product line. They use computer software to develop the overall layout and production design of magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate reports, and other publications. Graphic Designers also produce promotional displays and marketing brochures and design distinctive logos for products, services, and businesses. They also may produce the credits that appear before and after television programs and movies. Increasingly, Graphic Designers develop material for Internet Web pages and multimedia projects.

Designers generally prepare sketches or layouts (rough thumbnails)—by hand or with the aid of a computer—to illustrate their vision. They use a variety of methods such as color, type, illustration, photography, animation, and various print and layout techniques to create designs and achieve artistic or decorative effects. They also select colors, sound, artwork, photography, animation, font style, and other visual elements for the design. Designers select the size and arrangement of the different elements on the page or screen. They may create graphs and charts from data for use in publications, and they often consult with copywriters on any text that accompanies the design. Designers then present the completed design to their client or art director for approval. In printing and publishing firms, Graphic Designers also may assist the printers by selecting the type of paper and ink for the publication and reviewing the mock-up design for errors before final publication.

Some Graphic Designers work with communications specialists to visually depict scientific ideas and statistical data and to illustrate complicated processes. Graphic Designers create the graphics used to inform customers, train employees, and promote products or services. Design needs range from exhibits, product displays, logos, packaging, and models to marketing and training materials. They may sculpt three-dimensional models of scientific processes. They design graphics and layouts for product illustrations, company logos, and Internet Web sites.

Graphic Designers usually work on a team with researchers, sales managers, and customer or technical service staff to create communications and visual designs. In small organizations, they may perform all graphic design functions. In larger firms, they may coordinate the work of other specialists, such as biomedical photographers and medical illustrators. They build relationships with external suppliers including freelance Graphic Designers and commercial printers. They may develop and maintain an image library. They must ensure design projects are completed by deadlines and that all involved stay on schedule.

Graphic Designers sometimes supervise assistants who follow instructions to complete parts of the design process. Freelance Graphic Designers may devote a considerable amount of time developing new business contacts, choosing equipment, and performing administrative tasks, such as reviewing catalogs and ordering samples. The need for up-to-date computer and communications equipment is an ongoing consideration for Graphic Designers.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Mark up, paste, and assemble final layouts to prepare layouts for printer.Visualization
Draw and print charts, graphs, illustrations, and other artwork, using computer.Design
Create designs, concepts, and sample layouts based on knowledge of layout principles and esthetic design concepts.Originality
Review final layouts and suggest improvements as needed.Critical Thinking
Determine size and arrangement of illustrative material and copy, and select style and size of type.Judgment and Decision Making
Use computer software to generate new images.Computers and Electronics
Confer with clients to discuss and determine layout design.Active Listening
Develop graphics and layouts for product illustrations, company logos, and Internet websites.Communications and Media
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Graphic Designers employed by large corporations or design firms usually work regular hours, up to 40 hours per week. However, they may need to work additional hours to meet deadlines. Designers in smaller design consulting firms may frequently adjust their workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines and meet with clients during evenings or weekends when needed. Freelance Designers generally work on a contract or job basis and tend to work longer hours and in smaller, more congested work environments. They are also under demands to please clients and to find new ones in order to maintain a steady income.

Generally, most work environments are brightly lit and temperature-controlled, with computers, drawing tables, and easels arranged for the quick and efficient production of commercial art. Because Graphic Designers work with a variety of people under sometimes stressful situations, they must be resilient, efficient, and able to relate well with people.

There has been little or no unionization of Graphic Designers. However, they may belong to organizations such as the Northern California Graphic Artists Guild or the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Graphic Designer will appeal to those who enjoy activities that promote self-expression and deal with the artistic side of things, such as shapes, forms, designs, and patterns. This occupation satisfies those with artistic interests. Artistic occupations include activities that can be performed without following a clear set of rules.

Artistic talent is crucial in graphic design. People in this field need a good sense of line, color, form, balance and proportion, and an eye for detail. In addition to creativity, Graphic Designers also need to have sketching ability and strong sales and presentation skills in order to persuade clients to purchase their designs. The work also requires initiative, resolve, and the ability to organize and estimate print bidding.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2021 for Graphic Designers in California was $63,176 annually, or $30.37 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefit packages vary among employers and generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Self-employed Graphic Designers must provide their own benefits and retirement.

What is the Job Outlook?

The demand for Graphic Designers will continue to grow due to the expanding market for Web-based information and expansion of the video entertainment market. Job seekers are expected to face keen competition. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree and knowledge of computer-aided design software, particularly those with Web site design and animation experience, will have the best opportunities.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Graphic Designers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Graphic Designers are expected to increase by 5.1 percent, or 2,000 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Graphic Designers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Total Job
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Most employers prefer applicants with a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level graphic design positions. Formal training programs may range from two-to-four years of academic or vocational art education. It is important to select a school where students train under the direction of a professional artist. Graphic Designers need a solid base in design and color, practice in drawing, and knowledge of reproduction techniques. Aspiring Graphic Designers also need to learn the latest computer-graphic techniques.


One-to-four years graphic design experience is usually required by employers. Graphic Designers must be creative and able to communicate their ideas visually, verbally, and in writing. They also must have an eye for details. Designers show employers these traits by putting together a portfolio—a collection of examples of a person’s best work. A good portfolio often is the deciding factor in getting a job.

The ability to work independently and under pressure are equally important traits. People in this field need self-discipline to start projects on their own, to budget their time, and to meet deadlines and production schedules. Good business sense and sales ability also are important, especially for those who freelance or run their own firms.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in art, art history, sketching, lettering, mechanical drawing, principles of design, and computerized design are helpful.

Work Study Programs

Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) are availabe for Graphic Designers in some areas. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is not required; however, it is important that Graphic Designers remain knowledgeable and keep up with new and updated computer software, on their own or through software training programs.


Graphic Designers may obtain a certificate for their graphic design software of choice or as required by their employer. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Artist, Commercial Art, Graphic Design, and Illustration.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Graphic Designers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Specialized Design Services12.1%
Advertising and Related Services6.1%
Printing and Related Support Activities4.9%
Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods3.9%
Merchant Wholesalers, Durable Goods3.5%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants may find jobs through their school or training facility’s job placement office. Designers also can gain exposure to potential employers by entering their designs in student or amateur contests. In addition, they can locate jobs through other people in the industry, professional affiliations, or through advertisements in trade journals, newspapers, and on the Internet.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Graphic Designers.

  • Artists, Commercial
  • CAD Systems & Services
  • Computer Graphics & Digital Imaging
  • Designers-Industrial
  • Desktop Publishing & Service Bureaus
  • Graphic Designers

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Experienced Designers in large firms may advance to design department head or other supervisory positions. Some Designers leave the occupation to become teachers in design schools or in colleges and universities. Others become consultants or open design studios.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Graphic Designers with links to more information.

Art DirectorsProfile
Camera Operators, Television, Video, and Motion PictureProfile
Commercial and Industrial DesignersProfile
Fashion DesignersGuide
Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and IllustratorsProfile
Interior DesignersGuide
Makeup Artists, Theatrical and PerformanceProfile
Producers and DirectorsProfile
Set and Exhibit DesignersProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification27-1024
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Graphic Designers27-1024.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ARE
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Web Page, Digital/Multimedia & Information Resources Design 110801
   Computer Graphics 110803
   Design and Visual Communications, General 500401
   Commercial and Advertising Art 500402
   Graphic Design.500409
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Website Design and Development061430
   Computer Graphics and Digital Imagery061460
   Applied Design100900
   Commercial Art101300
   Graphic Art and Design103000