In our visual world, graphic design is an increasingly important skill for all kinds of creatives to have. For photographers and creatives in the fashion world, knowing the basics of Photoshop and the principles of graphic design is crucial for giving your work that professional edge. For illustrators and artists, graphic design is a fundamental part of the job and careers—all the more reason to keep expanding your design skills and knowledge.
Improving your graphic design skill set doesn’t have to mean going back to school, though. There are lots of online graphic design courses that can help you hone your design talents, offered by universities, graphic design experts, and online course hubs like Udemy.
We’ve searched for the best free graphic design courses out there to help you budding designers and other interested creatives brush up on the foundations of typography, color, essential graphic design software, and lots more.
Alison calls itself a “new world of free certified learning.” It says its goal is to make it possible for anyone to study anything, from anywhere, at any subject level, for free. However, it is a for-profit company, so the site does offer premium subscription plans that unlock additional features.
The site is full of different types of courses that often lead to earning a test-based certificate. This can add a new qualification to your resume. Having a certificate in a subject can actually go a long way to secure a job or freelance opportunity. But while it’s free to take any of the courses on Alison, there is a charge if you want a certificate. The pricing starts at about $20 for a digital certificate and ranges up to over $100 for a framed diploma.
Alison has a large number of free graphic design courses available. That means there are options to suit designers of every skill level. For instance, there are graphic design courses that focus on defining all the basic terms and principles, such as this certificate course in Visual and Graphic Skills. There are also courses that teach you how to apply those principles by providing case studies and practice exercises, such as this one on Design Principles.
There is also a range of more specific classes to help you learn to use the tools and software needed for graphic design, such as this class on Photoshop Essential Tools.
All of the courses on Alison are basically presented in slideshows. So instead of having to scroll through a long page of information, everything is broken up into easily-digestible chunks. However, the downside is that every time you move on to a new topic in a lesson, the page reloads and you have to watch an ad for 8 seconds (unless you’re willing to pay the $9 a month for a premium plan).
While it’s not perfect, Alison does offer a great free resource for those seeking to learn graphic design.
Udemy features videos by independent teaching contractors with prices depending on the length of the video, the teacher, and the field. Essentially, Udemy is a competitive classroom marketplace. This means classes are rated, and the quality of the class is illuminated by ratings just like on Yelp. There are frequently sale specials on the site, so watch out for deals on the classes you want. Many of the courses on Udemy are free, too.
The Introduction to Graphic Design is a great place to start. This free graphic design course covers topics including the design process, basic elements, the five main principles of design, and how to see design through new eyes. It aims to teach participants what real designers do, and give them an understanding of what makes good design. The course description says that students don’t need to have any specific software or any prior knowledge of design.
And when you’re done with the introduction, there is a wide variety of other online graphic design courses available for free on Udemy. The site makes it easy to browse through them as you can set the search filter to show only free courses. Just some of the topics they cover software guides, tips for common projects, and in-depth tutorials.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers online OpenCourseWare. OpenCourseWare is the most egalitarian form of education. It exists online as a free database of courses created by professional academic teachers and course writers. Most of these graphic design classes are related to an overarching course on another topic, such as web coding. But they are still helpful and trusted resources. Also, as opposed to discussing just the theory of design, these courses tend to focus more on practical application.
For example, this graphic design class is part of a course on user interface design. It provides a few simple activities that will help you learn graphic design techniques and concepts. That includes visiting a few example websites to study how they handle graphic design and how they could improve.
Also available is a variety of other resources such as lectures on design topics. One example is this presentation on intelligent web design.
The site is well-organized so its easy to navigate and find the lessons you are looking for. In addition, since MIT’s OpenCourseWare is a not-for-profit initiative, you never have to deal with any ads or marketing sales pitches for subscription plans.
Typography is key to the work of a graphic designer. In almost all instances of graphic design, you will see some use of type. Each font adds a different feeling and style to a design. So choosing a font can make or break your design project.
In this document, you can find a comprehensive yet simple introduction to the history and nuances of typography. It’s only about five pages long, but it has a ton of information. So while this is not a graphic design course by any stretch, it deserves a place on this list because it could be invaluable to any design student.
It includes a list of the 100 best typefaces, short descriptions and histories of the 10 most popular typefaces, a list of suggested reading, and explanations on typeface classifications and characteristics. It’s a great introduction for any aspiring graphic designer, and has enough helpful information that it could be a useful resource to revisit again and again.
This article outlines all the resources you need to create a self-taught graphic design course to replace a traditional education. It’s written by Sean Hodge, who’s currently the Business Editor for the Tuts+ educational network. He also has experience building a number of high traffic blogs.
The article is broken down into helpful subtopics such as design principles, history of design, and how to put together a design portfolio. Each section provides a list of helpful resources including design books, educational blogs, job boards for finding design jobs, and websites where you can promote your work.
It’s an incredibly comprehensive list of information that could be the primary basis for how you learn graphic design. At the very least, it is a helpful supplemental resource.
Veerle Pieters is a Belgium-based graphic/web designer with a website dedicated to all things graphic design. She has experience designing everything from marketing and branding to logos, stationery, and brochures, as well as websites and intranet user interfaces.
Her site includes a wide selection of articles with tutorials, tips, and tricks to help you learn graphic design. She includes helpful insight on working with clients and developing a portfolio, as well as simple solutions to problems many graphic designers might face. Most importantly for the new designer, Veerle offers tutorials and tips for using design software.
This blog is delightfully well-designed, and is worth a visit if only for some inspiration.
Canva Design School offers lessons, tutorials, resources, and articles on a variety of topics that will be helpful to new graphic designers. For example, one of their graphic design courses titled “Creativity” is made up of seven lessons that cover subjects including “how to grab attention with your designs” and “how to create and maintain your own vision and style.”
Another helpful graphic design class available is called How to Build a Brand. It covers subjects including how to build a logo, choose a color palette, choose a type palette, find imagery, and create graphics that suit your brand and marketing.
Each lesson in these courses is laid out like a long-form article and they and packed with helpful information, example designs, and links to resources. Besides the online graphic design courses, there are many more articles under the site’s blog section. These articles are an ideal place to find some quick tips or inspiration for your next design project.
Envato has created a dense and helpful tutorial archive to help with almost any software and process in design. There is the whole gamut of topics, including Illustrator, Photoshop, Cinema 4D, Rhino, and many more.
There are over 1,000 courses and how-to tutorials in Envato’s design and illustration database. And browsing through them all is a breeze since the database lets you choose categories such as the specific software or design process. Another helpful feature is that you can filter the results by skill level.
So if you are stuck with a problem you don’t know how to solve, then try this site, you’ll probably find a solution.
9. Creative Pro
Creative Pro is an online design magazine that has a great “How-To” section for helping to learn graphic design. Most of the videos and articles are for experienced designer problems. These articles focus on common challenges that designers face and they provide pro tips on how to overcome them. One example is their article on how to move vector graphics between Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop.
One issue with the site is the How-To articles aren’t organized with categories, so it’s not very convenient for browsing. But the list is searchable, so if you have a topic in mind, it’s not too hard to find what you’re looking for.
Overall, this is a great resource for anyone who’s seeking to learn graphic design for free. Beginners could pair these more specific how-to articles with some of the other resources listed here for a well rounded auto-didactic education in graphic design.
CreativeLive offers a range of online courses geared towards designers and artists. The full courses typically aren’t free. However, there is a wide range of free video lessons available that can help you learn graphic design.
However, only the video lessons are free. You don’t get access to course materials like readings and practice assignments unless you pay for them.
Another issue with the site is that when you’re browsing through the large database of lessons, there’s no easy way to tell which lessons are free until you click on one. But once you visit the page for a lesson, it will show you all the lessons from the same course that are free.
If you want to sign up for a full course, they typically cost around $30 to $50 each. Alternatively, you can sign up for a subscription for $25 a month that gets you access to as many courses as you want.
Despite these gripes, the sheer amount of helpful graphic design classes available on CreativeLive make it well worth a visit.
This introduction to design is offered through the California Insititute of Arts on Coursera. Coursera offers online courses from a wide range of universities and companies. The California Institute of Arts has five different free graphic design courses available on the site, under its graphic design specialization section.
The Fundamentals of Creative Design is a great starting point as it covers the basics of topics from typography and image-making, to shape, color, and composition. But all of the courses in CalArt’s graphic design specialization are worth checking out, as they delve into each of those topics in more detail.
One thing that sets these graphic design classes apart from many of the other options out there is that they are much more than just slide shows. Instead, they include a combination of video lessons, readings, and practice exercises.
To have your work marked by an instructor and to receive a certificate when you complete the course, you have to pay to enroll. Typically, to enroll in a specialization and get access to all of its related courses costs between $39-$79 per month. You can search through the website to find different instructors that suit your learning style.
However, you can get access to all of the course content for free. All you have to do is choose the “audit the course” option when you sign up (avoid the “free trial” offer as it just means you start paying after seven days).
The high quality of these courses and the ability to access all of the content for free makes them an ideal way to learn graphic design.
This online graphic design course from the University of Colorado is another one that’s offered through Coursera. That means you can get access to all the videos, readings, and exercises for free.
This course is a great choice for inexperienced graphic designers. That’s because it is part of a four-course program on effective communication. That means it is aimed at a more general audience and doesn’t require any previous knowledge of graphic design.
It offers easy-to-understand lessons that teach students some design “tricks” that will make it easier to get started on design projects with confidence. It also includes practice exercises where students are presented with example designs, and then have to use what they’ve learned to identify the designs’ strengths and weaknesses.
So while it is perfect for those who are just starting out and are unsure about how to learn graphic design, it also has no shortage of valuable information. If you take the time to go through this free graphic design course, you’ll be off to a great start!
This online graphic design course is offered by the Maryland Institute College of Art. It is available through Kadenze, which is an online learning platform that is very similar to Coursera. They have courses from universities and institutions around the world, and you can get access to all of the course content for free.
This course on graphic design history provides background knowledge that will be useful to any graphic designer. The course description says that to know where graphic design trends are going, you have to understand where they began, what shaped them, and how avant-garde artists reinvented them along the way.
The topics covered include the origins of text and graphic design, liberated styles of the late 1800s, mechanical abstractions and photomontage, practicality in typography, international styles, and more.
The course is packed full of content. It is made up of seven sessions that each involve multiple video lessons and coursework such as quizzes and practice assignments. Another cool thing about this course is that it gives you access to the class discussion forum even as a free user.
So if you are looking for a free graphic design course that you can really sink your teeth into, this is a perfect choice.
This online course was created by the Cornish College of the Arts and is offered through Kadenze. It focuses on the integration of design principles and drawing skills. It’s recommended that participants should already have some understanding of fundamental design theory before taking this course, so it is a good choice once you’ve taken some of the other courses listed here.
The course syllabus covers some topics in design theory such as the principles that make illustration effective for communication. It also covers more hands-on topics including digital tool demos to show some advanced techniques for Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.
Similar to the course listed above, each session in this course is made up of multiple video lessons. They also include assignments that will give you a chance to apply the knowledge you’ve picked up. It is a great option for designers who are looking to expand their illustration skills.
So now you know some of the options that are out there when it comes to learning graphic design for free. These online graphic design courses will let you expand your abilities and career prospects, all from the comfort of your home and working at your own pace. The wide range of classes available means you should have no problems finding something that matches your skill level and needs. So start brushing up on your graphic design skills today!
Skillshare is an online learning platform that offers a variety of different courses. There are over thousands of courses available from marketing to branding and graphic design to videography. There are both free and premium plans for Skillshare, so anyone can start learning on their platform.
The courses from Skillshare offer an option to interact with the community and the educator. There are optional assignments that can be completed as well. While there is no guarantee that the instructor will participate during your learning, they may sometimes respond to your messages on the board. However, the community on Skillshare is very engaging. Other students and learners provide great feedback and insight into the courses you are taking.
Ellen Lupton’s course, Demystifying Graphic Design: How Posters Work, is one of the most popular and a great one to consider if you’re looking to learn more about graphic design. With over 41,000 students, this short one-hour class explores how posters work and explore moves that make modern graphic design so compelling.
In Ellen’s course, you will be able to explore different posters from movie posters to political propaganda. Learning about the story behind each graphic design, as well as how you can create effective and emotional posters that are impactful.
If you are looking for even more Photoshop resources, we curated a list of 61 of the best Photoshop tutorials that you should check out!
This article was updated January 5, 2020.