Select Page

What Software Programs Do You Need to Learn as a Graphic Designer

When you start your path of becoming a graphic designer, you need to learn two things: how to design and the tools and software you design with. There are so many choices out there to choose from and so many different aspects of design that you might start to feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. However, like every great adventure, it starts with a single step. In this article I will go over the software and some program platforms that I use the most as a graphic designer to help you on your journey to being the best graphic designer you can be.

Because graphic design in today’s market requires you to know everything without the expectation of generalization as a student or someone new to the field, it is hard to know which direction to take the leap. I recommend from my own experience that is best to start out becoming a generalist in most of the software. Some people will disagree with me on this aspect, but there is a method to my madness. Especially when you are new to the field, you might have an idea on what you like to do or what you are good at and because of that you might not have tried other aspects of the field. If you love drawing you may have played with illustration software but have never worked on website design software like Adobe Dreamweaver or Muse.

It is because of this reason I recommend learning at least the basics of most if not all of the design software that you might have to use for a potential graphic design job, either freelance, in house, or agency. With exposure to new software, you will see how and why these programs can all interconnect in design and maybe find something new that you really like. After you have experience in these programs, you can make an informed decision on whether or not you want to specialize in a specific program, which will, in turn, influence what aspect of graphic design you want to pursue.


Adobe Photoshop

I want to start off with one of the most versatile and universal programs out there, that is one of my personal favorites. Adobe Photoshop is a powerhouse of a program because it is one of the most used out there by professionals today. Within Photoshop, you have the power to not only edit images but also create and edit text. You can also incorporate vector files from illustrations as well as animate images and even work in 3D. This program is a must for any professional designer as it is an industry standard, despite all the other image editing software available out there, and is my number one pick of what I call “The Big Three” programs all designers must learn. I will be offering Photoshop tutorials and lessons later on in future articles and posts, to help you master this program.

Adobe InDesign

This program is essential to learn if you ever want to focus on print design. I know there are tons of people out there saying print is dead or dying, but let me reassure you, it will never actually die. Yes, a lot of the platforms out there are going digital with e-books and online material but people are always going to create print material whether it is for advertisements or for reading. I know an e-readers and tablets out there are great choices for people who don’t want to carry a lot of books, but nothing beats actually holding the book and turning the page. InDesign is crucial because it is the go to program for any document that is text heavy or text oriented. It is the second of “The Big Three” programs all graphic designers have to learn.

Adobe Illustrator

This is the last of “The Big Three” programs designers have to learn. Adobe Illustrator is a great program to create and edit vector images. Now I will go over in a future article some basic terms you will hear in the graphic design field, but for now, a vector image is an image that is not based on pixels (which is a rasterized image) but rather based off a mathematical grid system. Because of this, vector images are ideal for scaling because they will not pixelate, making them ideal for logos. Illustrator might not be the best program out there for creating a lot of complex illustrations say for comic books, but it is absolutely essential to learn for any graphic designer and helping you land those freelance or agency jobs.

Adobe Bridge

This might not have been expected by some people as a lot of people do not know what Bridge is or what it does. Adobe Bridge is a program is a media browser and asset management program that acts similar to your Windows Explorer, or Finder for you Apple people out there. It has expanded capabilities especially when using it in conjunction with “The Big Three” programs I mentioned above. This program will speed up your work flow and help keep you organized because it links or “bridges” the Adobe programs together. Often times you will find yourself working on one project that requires you to use “The Big three” programs and learning how to use this program will save you plenty of time and stress when navigating projects that have a lot of assets. I will go over this program and most of these programs in tutorials in future articles.

Adobe CC Suite

Most of the programs in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite are essential to learn in doing various aspects of potential design projects. The programs above, although part of the suite, deserve special call outs because of their importance in navigating graphic design jobs. However, if you have at least a basic familiarity with the rest of the suite you will have a little bit of an edge when applying for jobs. I have used Dreamweaver, Animate (previously known as Flash), Adobe Camera Raw, and plenty other programs in the suite. As a graphic designer however I definitely recommend to learn at least the interface of Dreamweaver, Animate, After Effects, Camera Raw (which will help you with Photoshop and Lightroom) and Premier Pro. I want to call special attention to the After Effects and Premiere Pro however. A lot of web based design will require you to incorporate motion graphics and short videos to different sites, so having a basic understanding of video editing and animation will be valuable to you.

Sketchbook Pro from Autodesk

If you want to pursue a graphic design or graphic artist position that requires a lot of illustration, I would recommend Sketchbook Pro from Autodesk. The software is designed to be used in conjunction with a stylus or Wacom tablet to simulate paper and pencil drawing. While it may not be exactly like drawing on paper, I have found it to be one of the best programs out there that emulates that feel. For all you illustrators out there, this program is a must to learn.


In today’s society a lot of websites out there are being built off of content management systems (CMS) with WordPress being the most popular. Learning some coding like HTML, CSS and Java is going to help you tremendously in design, but if you are like me, you tend to be more visual when designing. Now with CMS platforms, backend coders have done the heavy lifting in writing codes for plugins and you can focus more on the front end of the design and usability. Knowing some coding in the languages I’ve mentioned will be helpful when editing certain plugins to make them fit your design but you need to make sure you are familiar with the WordPress platform and interface. Every theme for WordPress will be different so there is a high learning curve, but if you at least know some basic coding and how to navigate WordPress, you can be designing websites in no time.


Take Away

There are a lot of programs out there that seem similar but if you start with these programs you will be one step further on your road to becoming a better graphic designer. I will provide links to these programs so you can learn more about them from the companies themselves and save you some time. If you can learn these seven programs you will have your bases covered and a great starting point in seeing all aspects that graphic design entails. From here you can figure out your strengths and your weaknesses and figure out where to focus your efforts and find out more about yourself as a designer. It is only by trying something and challenging ourselves can we get an accurate measure of what we are capable of and I guarantee you that you will surprise yourself at what you can create and accomplish.


Thank you for reading and if you found this information helpful, make sure to subscribe for more helpful tips and updates on how to be the best designer you can be!