Have you ever thought about starting a career in graphic design or has it been a while since you last worked in the field and you want to refresh your skills?
One of the amazing things that the internet can offer is online courses. Whether you want to learn about graphic design, learn a new language, or even learn how to grow watermelons, chances are there is a resource out there for you to learn how.
I know what you’re thinking though. That you don’t have the time. You have a full-time job and a house and kids to take care of and on top of that, you don’t have the extra money laying around to spend on books or materials or to pay for classes, and you definitely do not want to take another student loan to pay for it.
Believe me, I get all of that and let me say that those excuses are just that. Excuses. Yes, we’re all busy and have other responsibilities. However, here is the wonderful news you have been waiting for:
This page contains affiliate links and I will earn a small fee if you choose to purchase using my links, at no additional cost to you.
These graphic design classes are 100% free.
Yes, free. I know it’s not a word we use much anymore in our culture but they are. If you are interested in taking a course in graphic design, whether you’re a beginner or have 25 years in the field, free is good.
With that in mind, we wanted to highlight some of the best free graphic design courses that you can find online in 2021 and beyond. That way, you can table the excuses and start learning and either add a new skill or sharpen an old one.
Let’s get started!
How to teach yourself graphic design
Becoming a graphic designer does not have to be done at school, in fact, if you follow the below steps, you will be well on your way to becoming a professional designer.
- Understand the core principles of graphic design (see courses below)
- Ground yourself with the the history of graphic design (this book is essential)
- Familiarize yourself with the graphic design process & solving problems creatively
- Consider advanced study & development (either online or at school)
- Learn from professional graphic designers
- Develop your proficiency, intuition, and flow
- Put together a portfolio and blog
- Participate in professional graphic design communities
- Diversify your skillset (enroll in another course)
- Find work as a freelance graphic designer
Free Graphic Design Software Trial + Discounts
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Best Free Graphic Design Classes Overview
Below we’ve shared 5 reputable online course providers, and their recommended courses to start teaching yourself graphic design.
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Get 70-95% off any online course from Udemy, making most classes just $10-$15.
Free Skillshare Design Courses
Skillshare offers prospective students lots of short & in-depth courses centered around graphic design. Many of these are available for free, or with a paid subscription, you can access them all. To help those who may be just beginning, we wanted to highlight a few free courses that would be a great benefit.
Whether you’re new to graphic design or an old pro, everyone has to start somewhere. Generally, that means starting with the basics which is the focus of the Graphic Design Basics: Core Principles for Visual Design course that within its 35-minute class will walk you through 5 basic principles of graphic design.
Another class taught by Ellen Lupton, along with Jennifer Cole Phillips will show you how those basic principles can be perfect to use in all projects that range from creative design, marketing, to even photography. Through the course, you’ll learn:
- How to identify and define the 5 basic principles of design
- How to critique your own work looking for balance and effectiveness
- Learn how you can apply each concept to your future projects
Taught by Mike Ski and Jesse Jay, designers from True Hand, the Creating Brand Systems course asks students to think about how a great logo or brand system comes to be. Through the six video course, Ski and Jay go over and describe the collaborative process that they used in order to create the logo for Kensington Quarters, an eatery in Philadelphia.
A shorter class than most, the Creating Brand Systems course is designed with designers, illustrators, enthusiasts, and creative in mind. Those who are looking for a high-quality walkthrough of what it takes to create a dynamic logo that can be used across many different channels and applications will want to check this course out.
When you’re starting out as a graphic designer, you may spend a lot of time perfecting the logo that portrays your brand to prospective clients, but what about the typography on your website or business card? What is that telling your clients about not only your business but about you as well?
Also taught by Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, will help to teach you the difference between good typography, which can be very beneficial for you or your client and bad typography, which can have adverse effects. In this course you’ll learn:
- Sans + Structure – Learn what gives the sans serif typeface its special character
- Serif + Details – Exploit the details of the full-bodied serif type family
- Slab + Customization – Learn what to do with slab faces, described as heavy furniture by the syllabus
Coursera Free Design Courses
While not every course on their site is free, Coursera offers online courses from some of the top universities such as Stanford and Yale. While at first glance, the site pushes you towards paying for the classes they offer, there is the option to “audit” the class.
This means that while you can take the class, none of your work will be marked and you won’t be able to earn a certificate at the end of the course. To take the classes for free, follow this guide here and get started right away. Here are some free courses you may want to consider:
Taught by David Underwood, the Graphic Design course is structured to provide you wither the tools in order to generate professional looking reports, resume, presentations, and Powerpoints using techniques and practices that have been refined through years of practical use.
Through this course, you’ll learn how to make your work look inspired and fresh, how applying simple design “tricks” can give your project an air of professionalism and confidence. Finally, learn how to respond to criticism and use it to make your project go from good to great.
Led by Michael Worthington, a member of the faculty at the California Institute of Arts, the course will teach you how to implement visual, rhythm, and pattern in design, techniques of image making and how to create your own series of images as well as how to use scale, direction, texture, weight, and space in your project.
The Fundamentals of Graphic Design course does this by breaking down the topics into four one-week segments that cover a different topic each week:
Week 1 – Fundamentals of Imagemaking – In the first class, the lesson shows how an image functions in terms of conveying connotative and denotative messages.
Week 2 – Fundamentals of Typography – This week’s class looks at typographical terminology as well as the basic rules for typography creation.
Week 3 – Fundamentals of Shape and Color – Graphic designers use shapes and colors as the fundamental building blocks of their work. In this week’s class, you will take a closer look at how they do this.
Week 4 – Fundamentals of Composition – How graphic designers use visual contrasts, cropping, direction and hierarchy with complex compositions and single images is the focus of this week’s lesson.
Anther Kiley, an LA-based graphic designer teaches the course to anyone who already has a basic working knowledge of and access to Adobe InDesign how to get the most out of the program’s features and tools.
The Introduction to Typography course goes in depth into the different areas of typography and is broken down into 4 simple-to-take weekly lesson plans:
Week 1 – Talking type – In this weeks lesson, the course looks at types of typefaces, as physical artifacts as well as works of design.
Week 2 – Typefaces and their Stories – Exploring the way a typeface can express connotative meaning, otherwise known as how they can tell stories is the focus of the lesson this week.
Week 3 – Putting Type to Work – Learning to engage visual principles, as well as the conventions of typesetting is the focus of this week’s class. A look at how the spaces between letters, lines, and blocks of type can be manipulated to refine their appearance is included as well.
Week 4 – Making Meaningful Type – In the course’s final week, the class will look at the ways that typographic form can shape the meaning of written language dramatically.
BONUS: Coursera Plus – Get ‘Graphic Design Specialization’ Course and 3000+ more courses
You can access Coursera for free for 7 days as a trial, or for $49/month or for $499 a year with Coursera Plus, which is where the value is at.
You can access the Graphic Design Specialization through Coursera Plus, as well as 3,000+ other courses in variety of domains including business, computer science, health, personal development, humanities, and more.
Coursera Plus will save you money if you are planning on taking multiple courses over the year.
A ‘specialization’ such as this 5 part graphic design course takes an average of three months to complete, so that would save you approximately $130 over three months or $520 over the year.
Free Udemy Graphic Design Courses
Founded in 2009, Udemy is an online learning platform that was created to help people learn new skills. Many of the courses on Udemy can be perfect for someone looking for to learn graphic design. We decided to highlight a few of these that we think you may find useful, plus our list of the Top 10 Udemy courses.
The Introduction to Graphic Design is the perfect way to learn your way into the graphic design world with practical real world examples. You don’t need any special software or hardware to take the course, the only thing required as stated by the overview is “an open mind and thirst for knowledge”. You will use the web based Canva to create designs.
Designed to be a practical application course, the Introduction to Graphic Design helps provide beginners with information about the graphic design field as a whole, what is and isn’t considered a design and the process that goes into designs. If you’ve ever had an interest in graphic design, but aren’t sure if you’re ready to take a practical class, this is a good first step.
This course is suitable for beginners or professionals, there are 16 lectures and over an hour of free content, you’ll learn all about Canva & many different graphic design skills that will prove useful in real word projects like Logo Design or Business Card Design.
Created by Eduonix Learning Solutions, this free program provides students with eight hours of on-demand video and doesn’t have any specific requirements to take the class other than already having Photoshop installed on your computer. A comprehensive course that introduces beginners and experienced users alike to professional Photoshop principles.
The course is structured to provide you with a hands-on training of the software while sharing tips and tricks that pros use. Learning the outcomes is the focus of the course, it does this by using task-based lectures as well as discussions about the tools that can be used in Photoshop. Techniques and effects are taught through detailed process lectures. The Learn Adobe Photoshop from Scratch is a great class for anyone looking to get the most out of Adobe Photoshop.
In Professional Logo Design in Adobe Illustrator, created by Rawson Uddin, students are given access to over seven hours of on-demand video courses, as well as full lifetime access and receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. The only recommended requirement is to have a basic knowledge of Adobe Illustrator as the course is an advanced lesson.
Throughout the course, you will learn about a plethora of topics that can help you design your own logo or maybe even start a logo design business on the side. These topics include:
- How to choose the right typeface
- Using simple shapes in a design
- Designing with negative space
- Choosing colors for the logo
- Adding other effects to your logo design
Along with the course, you can download a working file to practice with as you go through the course. All in all, the Professional Logo Design in Adobe Illustrator provides a robust class for those looking to start designing logos.
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Any list we create would be incomplete without Alison Online on it. Taking the Visual and Graphic Design course on the site will earn you a test-based certificate upon completion, which can be great for anyone already studying graphic design.
Now for some who may have been working in graphic design for some time may not see the value in the completion certificate. However, if you are a graphic designer just starting out, having a certificate in a subject can help establish credibility when trying to secure a new job or freelance project.
Founded by Mike Feerick, while Alison online offers completely free classes, they are uncredited. This means that no matter if you receive a certificate of completion or diploma, your current or prospective employers may not recognize it. Self-described as a “new world of free certified learning” Alison Online offers not only classes in graphic design but in so many different subjects, that it’s worth checking out regardless.
Canva Design School
In the six years since they started, Canva has grown to include a design school as a way for those who may not have that much experience with graphic design to learn the basics and some helpful hints.
The Design School area of their website provides students with several resources that can be beneficial to beginners, those with a little bit of experience, or anyone working in graphic design for quite some time. A great starter course for anyone looking to learn the basics of design.
The Design School from Canva is broken down into different modules for easy learning.
Shaw Academy – Adobe Certified Online Graphic Design Course
Shaw Academy have a number of graphic design courses available including a thorough Graphic Design course, a budget graphic design course, as well as courses on Photoshop, Illustrator and Web Design. The course is free for 4 weeks and then goes to $70/m which includes access to all other courses in their catalog.
*Attn* – Update Jan 8th 2021 – We have been notified by some consumers that it is difficult to cancel the subscription after 4 weeks but I have contacted Shaw Academy and they have told us that they upgrading their system at present to keep up with the increased demand.
More Free & Paid Graphic Design Courses Online
There are so many different sites out there that can help you learn more about graphic design, but I didn’t have the room to list them all. But in order to give you the best information to start your journey, here are a few more! If you have any other courses to add, let me know!
Top 3 Graphic Design Courses on Udemy (Paid)
The Complete Graphic Design Theory for Beginners Course (8.5hrs)
As the name of the course suggests, The Complete Graphic Design Theory for Beginners Course tackles basic color and layout principles, visual disciplines, and typography lessons. Led by brand experience experts Lindsay Marsh and Jeremy Deighan, this Udemy offering packs 10 downloadable resources, full lifetime access, and a certificate of completion. Prepare to upgrade your approach to design and become a more critical storyteller after finishing this course.
Graphic Design Masterclass: Learn Graphic Design in Projects (4hrs)
There’s a lot to unpack in design, and Good Creative Academy founder, Chad Neuman, understands this. Join his Graphic Design Masterclass and immediately learn how to apply graphic design strategies, create stunning gig posters, and develop captivating online ads. With four hours of on-demand video and easy access to mobile and TV, you’re sure to become a wiser designer at the end of this Udemy favorite.
This is a fairly short but succinct course that covers the essentials.
- Produce effective designs in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
- Apply color theory and typography practices
- Design an online ad, infographic, poster and postcard.
The Brand Design Masterclass – The Brand Design Process (8hr)
The brand design process isn’t quick or easy. Take the cue from Lindsay Marsh, Udemy’s instructor for this Brand Design Masterclass course. Similar to her first course on this list, the brand expert is shedding valuable insight into the complex world of design and all that it entails to succeed in the industry. But unlike her first offering, her she explains sketching, brand voice, portfolio creation, and more tips and tricks in detail.
Learn Graphic Design Online – Top Paid Design Courses
Looking for the best paid Graphic Design courses online? Here are a few 4 options to consider:
Business Branding (4.5 hours)
- Build a strategic brand from the ground up with Stephen on Udemy.
- One that sparks interest, connects through emotion and nurtures long-lasting and loyal relationships.
- Learn how to build a strategic brand from the ground up.
Graphic Design Fundamentals (3.5 hours)
Designed for beginner and intermediate graphic designers as well as more experienced designers looking for a brush-up on design principles.
- Identify and apply fundamental graphic design elements
- Add essential design skills to your toolkit
- Approach and manage the creative process through varied projects
A Brand Called You—Debbie Millman (4.75 hours)
You’ll learn how to make a living doing what you love—graphic design.
- Create a meaningful philosophy that will guide your career
- Present yourself in meetings and interviews
- Network and standout from your competition
- Find discipline in your approach to work
- Sell yourself with more confidence
How to choose the best Graphic Design Course for you
Choosing to take an online course to learn a new skill, try a new path or even just as a refresher for the skills you already have is a very honorable thing to do. Like you, I understand that time, money and many other factors can keep you from picking one course to take over another.
We hope that the courses showcased here can give you some idea of some of the best free graphic design courses available online today.