How To Get Started With Graphic Design

How To Get Started With Graphic Design - millennial blog business advice

*Ask Rachel* ICYMI You can submit any question on any topic via the contact form on my site. My advice back to you will likely get featured on the blog in this series! This post contains affiliate links.

Last week, in the “Ask Rachel” series, I tackle how to stay motivated and organize your day to get all the thins done. The same reader also asked:

How did you progress with your photoshop (or which ever software you use) skills? I graduated college in 2015 with a communications degree and I would like to learn more about graphic design without enrolling into a masters degree program and getting further into debt. I feel I have more soft skills than technical skills which prohibits me from applying to jobs I see.

Teaching one's self photography and how to get started with graphic design are some of the biggest questions I actually get IRL, so I am excited to talk about this on the blog. Overall, I've done all of my own graphic design. I had an intern that helped with e-course slides and my old Instagram/Twitter quote graphics, but the bulk of everything TCM related you see is all me!

Before I jump into the DIY of graphic design and editing, I want to say that I DO believe in hiring designers when appropriate. When moving my site from SquareSpace to WordPress, I looked into hiring a designer. However, all the designers I contacted were $5,000+. Eventually I will be 100% okay with investing that type of coin into my design, however, I hadn't even had my first blogiversary yet.

If you are going to invest in a designer, invest in someone truly unique so your site won't look like every other one out there. I find that a lot of lower priced designers will just buy and install a template and add a few tweaks, which is easy to do on your own! You should also invest in someone if you are truly horrible at design and don't want to learn/deal with it. I prefer to teach myself (and my clients) so neither are tied to a designer to make minor tweaks in the future.

But I digress, this isn't about web design, this is about graphic design (even though there's some overlap!).

How I Taught Myself Graphic Design

And how you can get started with graphic design too!

The Platforms:

I started with Canva. They have tons of templates for different layouts and I used those as my jumping off point. I also scoured Pinterest to see which pins were trending. I would try to replicate things I saw on Pinterest in Canva. Playing with different fonts, shapes, and angles.

Overtime I progressed from Canva to Photoshop. I don't use Photoshop regularly for graphic design (since it's slow on my Mac and all my templates and designs are accessible from anywhere with Canva). But I used it for all my wedding invites, printed decor, and menus:

Photoshop gives you more control and clarity than Canva. Their gridlines make it easier to line things up just right, and you can add more custom font elements, and it feels more polished IMO. For learning photoshop I primarily watched youtube videos! Occasionally I would ask a photographer friend of mine if something just wasn't clicking, but Youtube was a life saver!

The key with both of these platforms though is what you bring to it.

The Elements:

Both Photoshop and Canva are kind of pointless if you don't bring your own elements to it, IMO. Don't get me wrong, you will still be able to do quite a lot on the platforms, but it will probably feel generic and like everybody else's stuff. Photoshop doesn't have graphics or icons to insert into the template like Canva does. However, Canva's search feature isn't great and their free elements are often so reused on-line that it can feel contrived after a while. Now if you are using Canva's premium plan, it's definitely worth it since you have SO many more custom fonts, photos, and the like and way fewer people are using the paid options!

What really up levels graphic design are finding unique elements. I recommend exploring:

Hand drawn effects.

I have no experience actually doing this, but I know Adobe Illustrator has the capability to give you a hand drawn effect on graphics. There are tons of videos out there to help with this.

Purchasable Downloads & Freebies. 

I love Creative Market. Each week you get 6 free design element options delivered to your inbox! Everything from fonts, to stock photos, to logos, to water color elements, and more! They have a ton of purchasable/downloadable options as well (it's where I bought the font to do my wedding stuff!).

As well as the initial bird and font in my first logo:

the confused millennial millennial blog logo


Graphic Burger has a ton of options (paid and free) too. Their elements are typically a little more business or professional centered. For instance, they have a lot of product mock up options.

One thing to look out for when purchasing/downloading elements from sites, is compatibility! Check if the download comes as a .jpg, .psd, .txt, etc. file and ensure you have access to software that can open the file type!

For additional help, I also love Brit + Co's classes! They have paid and free classes on SO many topics. Everything from social media, to photo/editing/graphics, to weaving and interior design! It's a maker's paradise!

Color Picker

Color is another major design element, so I wanted to talk about another free tool that helped me: color picker plugin for Google Chrome! I am sure there are tons out there, but if you ever stumble across a great color you want to incorporate into a design, you'll want this on hand. Essentially just install the plugin to your web browser, and move the eye dropper over the color. You'll get the hex code and can easily plug that into whichever platform you are using!


With any skill, hard or soft, it takes practice to refine! Make sure to ask for feedback, or compare the finished product to trending images on Pinterest or google. Some action steps to play with:

Fonts: Mix fonts as well as weights, styles, and sizes

Angles: Practice tilting, pulling, flipping, and zooming your images or elements

Spacing: Play with line height of text, white space, borders, margins, and so on. Spacing is a major hot point for me. I like things to be easy to read on various platforms and never feel smooshed.

Colors: Experiment with the gradient, shade, and transparency of colors. Simply tweaks can change the entire feel of a graphic!

[RELATED] How To Create An At Home Photography Studio On A Budget

Lastly, if want a little motivation here's how things progressed for me:


65 thoughts on “How To Get Started With Graphic Design”

  1. I’m still working on improving my graphic design skills. The best advice I could offer is to find a ‘sempai’ to teach you lots of amazing things.

    Cristina | *janded

  2. I’m so into Canva and love all the options it has! But I definitely want to check into some of the other platforms you have mentioned, too! Love these tips and suggestions you have!

  3. Thank you SO much for this! I am still pretty new to all of this, and have only used Canva. I’m excited to try some of the others you suggested! And why didn’t I ever think about using YouTube for help!? haha!

  4. Allison Lancaster

    Great tips! I am designing a graphic today for a client, saving this for reference for sure!

  5. I guess a lot of us are self-taught, aren’t we?! Thank goodness for YouTube. I got the 30-day free subscriptions to both Canva & Picmonkey before plunking my $ down for extra features. I also grab the Creative Market freebies even though I’ve settled on branding for my Pinterest graphics. Free is the right price!

  6. Thank you for this post! I’ve been trying to learn Photoshop for a while now. I’ll have to do more research with the Youtube videos. I’ll be sure to save this post as a reference.

  7. LOVE this.

    I use Canva at least 1083038943753092089579 times per week (that’s not an exaggeration… Ok maybe JUST a little 😉 ) but I freaking love it. I know I’m going to need to take the jump to photoshop soon because there’s little things that annoy me with Canva like the fact that you can’t edit the width of a line and when you create PDFs, you can’t insert links into it.

    Thanks for all of the awesome tips!

  8. Alexis Schroeder

    I use picmonkey to do all of my blog designs. I have no design background, and I’m the farthest thing from creative, but I’m constantly trying to get better. 🙂

  9. I love Canva! I advise a chapter of my sorority and oversee PR and social media and every year I sit down and am like, “Use Canva for everything!” haha. It’s so user friendly although I hope to get better with Photoshop.

  10. This is super helpful for beginners! Canva is definitely the easiest starting point. Plus, once you get the hang of it, you can really make very custom images! Yes, your content will definitely look like everyone else’s if you just copy and paste the template…and I definitely see people doing that lol.

    So far, I haven’t used Photoshop at all, and my fingers are crossed that I won’t be needing it anytime soon!

  11. I’ve always loved your designs and picked up a few tips! I’d love to get photoshop one day but canva, picmonkey, and pixler are great free options as well!

  12. The first thing they teach you in design classes (ok maybe not the first, but close) is how to pick your fonts. You just need two! A script and a serif. I see so many blogs with 10000000 different fonts. A different one for every post or every graphic. While it might be ok to do it for different posts, it can get expensive and using the same fonts will help you brand yourself! Like I see a graphic on pinterest and I think “oh, That’s Rachel’s blog!”

  13. As a marketing professional/graphic designer I definitely agree that practicing and learning to play around is what it’s all about. The only way you can improve is to just keep trying things. I just recently signed up for Creative Market and am loving the freebies every week!

  14. Corey Wheeland

    I’m a graphic designer, and the key is really practice, practice, practice. The more you do it, the better you become!

  15. I love this! Practice is seriously #1 – I use Photoshop and I started using it when I was a sophomore in high school. I’m all self taught and seriously just practicing non-stop has helped me learn what I know!

  16. You always have really eye catching graphics and this post helped me so much! Graphics are definitely something I could improve on but I often don’t know how to begin, as like the person that asked this question I didn’t take any graphic design classes in college.

    xoxo A

  17. Elizabeth Johnson

    This is really great info! I love that you talk about practicing. I am still so new with this and will probably always be changing my graphics but the more I do the better I become. I also love your wedding invite and paper goods you created. So beautiful!

  18. I have never used Canva, but instead dove right into Photoshop. I am fortunate though, in that I had Adobe Photoshop at my art college. Before my blog, I hadn’t used it since 1994, so as you can imagine, I felt a bit rusty. Luckily, everything came back, and it was quite intuitive for me. I only had to look up a couple of tutorials on line.

  19. I have templates on Photoshop that makes everything so much easier and I alternate between those three. These are wonderful tips though!

  20. April Kitchens

    I’m still in the beginning stages of graphic design using canva and I love it so far. I’ve been creating all of my graphics there. I would love to upgrade soon to Photoshop though.

  21. Photoshop is so great to know and really helps in the blogging industry!

  22. I like these tips a lot. I’ve definitely improved my graphics over the last 18 months since starting my blog and a lot of it was just what you said, learning angles, using Pinterest for inspiration and trying to brand myself.

  23. I’ve been to art school (for illustration, not graphic design) and Canva is life!! Design is supposed to be fun and a way to communicate, and I enjoy just playing around. Also, Canva’s slightly limited options compared to Photoshop make decisions easier. Sometimes I spend way too much time on moving text around by tiny fractions in Photoshop and could get way more done in Canva. 🙂

  24. This was so good. I know nothing about graphic design so it was helpful! I work with someone who is like a graphic design genius and I pick his brain a lot. I’ve learned a lot just from working with him.

  25. I am so glad I stumbled across Canva – they’ve been amazing. I’ve definitely gotten better at editing my photos and doing my graphics over the past few months, and I’m actually looking forward to switching over to photoshop for a few things in the future! Glad I generally only use 2 fonts in each of my graphics as well as Kate below me pointed out!

  26. I swear by Canva. I use it for social media graphics, press kits, invites, Pinterest board pins. It’s so easy and i love the fact that most elements are free, but if you do find a paid one most are a $1! Such a great tool.

  27. These tips are so amazing. I am terrible at it. Thankfully my husband does it 🙂

  28. I have so much to learn and will start with Canva. Thanks for the inspiration.

  29. Christine Goulbourne

    I am still learning about graphic design and I had never heard of Canva before reading this article. Thank you!

  30. Ashley Vickney

    I NEED THIS SO MUCH! Also I really need to learn about picking my fonts lol. I normally stick to the same two but want to learn how to branch out. I love your stationary for your wedding!

  31. I’m not much of a graphic designer but I have dabbled in photoshop, Canva and Lightroom. Though I like photoshop the best I also use Canva fairly often because it is so simple and straightforward (so important if blogging isn’t your career and/or you have a tight schedule).

  32. “However, Canva’s search feature is terrible and their elements are often reused so often on-line.” I almost screamed when I saw this. I could not agree more! That is the one thing that prohibits me from committing fully to Canva. I hope that when I get some time off this summer, I can explore Adobe and get my hands more into the aesthetics of my website.

  33. As someone who’s been designing graphics for years, this is an awesome post for a beginner. Literally you hit the nail on the head for how to get started. I dove head first into Photoshop when I started and for anyone who plans on making things long term, it’s definitely worth the investment.

  34. Rachel, thank you so much for sharing this. I am still kind of scared of photoshop and use canva. It seems to me that photoshop has too much that I don’t need. But I do agree with you about canva not being original anymore ? Oh and I am installing color picker for chrome now! Thank you ?

  35. I love seeing how your images have changed/how you’ve grown! Your pins look so professional and fresh. These are great tips — like with so many things, you have to start small!

  36. I use Photoshop for most things design-related, but I taught myself InDesign last year and I find myself switching between the two!

  37. I did the same thing — started in Canva and progressed to Photoshop. Now I use it for everything because I like my fonts to be cohesive! These are perfect tips.

  38. Leanna Forsythe

    Great information, thank you for the tips. I have not purchased photoshop yet, but know I will have to. Currently I am using picmonkey, but I certainly want to get more sophisticated especially with my free printables. Appreciate the knowledge.

  39. These are all great tips! Since I’m wayyyyy too cheap to hire anyone, I do all my graphics myself. I’ve definitely taken advantage of quite a few of these tips myself!

  40. This is something I need to work on. I took a “high school” course on this and I say that loosely because I don’t remember anything and it wasn’t anything to serious. Thanks for all the tips!

  41. Canva is my BFF. I took yearbook in high school and learned how to use InDesign but over the past 6 years, everything I learned has slowly started to slip my mind. I’d love to get back at it.

  42. Love all your suggestions here for Graphic Design sources. I taught myself and it is absolutely addicting. It is hard to stop once I get started on projects. Great post, thank you for sharing.

  43. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do this! It looks so cool but I have the design capabilities of an ant so it’s gonna take a while to learn lol x

  44. This is a great post Rachel! I have started to really get into using canva’s designs and even picmonkey’s new design features. 🙂

  45. Kelsie Kleinmeyer

    I love Canva because it’s so easy! Your wedding invites are/were gorgeous!

  46. Breanna Manson

    I keep hearing a lot about Canva..Obviously I need to just try it! Thanks for the helpful post:)

  47. This is so interesting! I honestly haven’t even thought about trying to teach myself, but I think I’m going to try it out!

  48. Wow, these are really great tips! I’m still getting around to graphic design learning and Canva has been of help. Maybe I’ll try my hand at adobe photoshop to see how far I can go. Definitely bookmarking this for later. xo

    Ash |

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