What Is the Difference Between Graphic Arts and Graphic Design

What Is the Difference Between Graphic Arts and Graphic Design?

There’s always been confusion in the minds of the general audience when it comes to the two professions of graphic art and graphic design. The purpose of this blog post is to clear the air with regards to this topic once and for all. So before we dig into what exactly makes graphic art and graphic design two distinct lines of work, let’s look at how are they similar and what could have - in the first place,  given birth to the misconception of the two being one and the same.

It’s not difficult to understand why the confusion might have arisen in the first place, given that both the professions have some fundamental things in common:

  • Both depend on visuals to accomplish their work.
  • Both work in print and digital formats.
  • And, of course, they both start with the word, “Graphic.”


Graphic Art

The purpose of graphic art is to craft a story or portray an idea through the use of visuals. At times the visuals might form the bases of an entire narrative, while at other times they may be just that – a visual, without any purpose and apparent logic behind the creation.

The number of mediums that a graphic artist can use to present an idea can be infinitely many. There is no limit to the kind or amount of mediums a graphic artist can use.

Furthermore, a graphic artist often takes the liberty to bend or even completely disregard some of the design principles if it helps the story being told.

Some of the typical products associated with graphic artists are cartoons, graphic novels, comic books, and movie illustrations. The underlying theme across all these works of graphic art is that they are artistically inclined.  They do not follow any particular set of rules, and the main purpose is to entertain the viewer and enhance the portrayal of art.

Graphic Design

When you look closely enough, you will come to realize that graphic design is a totally different ball game. The primary purpose of graphic design is to engage the viewer in a certain way and convey a very specific message to them. It is said that the content is the most important aspect of graphic design as the very purpose of graphic design is to carry that message or content to the viewer or the target audience, as businesses would call it.

Some of the typical products associated with graphic design are:

  • Infographics
  • Digital Design
  • Print Design
  • Marketing Collateral
  • Presentation Design
  • Logo Design
  • Web Design
  • Instructional Design

Since this is basically graphic art with a defined and definite business purpose, there are strict rules that are followed in the design work. Things such as the layout, color schemes, and the symmetry are all afforded a certain level of significance


The Difference Between Graphic Art and Design

The difference starts to become glaringly visible as we dig deeper and develop a thorough understanding of the two.

Different Beginnings

They differ at the very point of conception, and that’s where one of the clearest differences is laid bare. Art and design have starting points that are quite far off from each other. Design work originates from a very specific need or purpose to convey a pre-existing message, a tag line, a call to action, or a logo. On the other hand, artwork is primarily a form of expression. It uses imagination and creativity and brings to life a visual representation of an idea or a thought that goes on to create a personal bond with the viewer, depending on how they see it.

Inspiration vs. Motivation

Since the primary purpose of creating a graphic design is to convey a certain message that can have a specific effect on the audience, the primary intention of graphic design is to motivate the audience to perform a certain action. A graphic artist, on the other hand, lacks such intention to elicit a specific response from its audience directly. The artist is usually looking to inspire the audience with an idea. It may go on to lead to action later, but the priorities are different.

Lost in Perception

While graphic designers are meticulous about ensuring that their infographic or logo design is perceived and understood in a specific way so that the message is effectively conveyed to the audience, most graphic artists do not strive for a definitive interpretation of their work. They would settle for a less obvious connection.  The viewer is allowed and, in fact, expected to interpret the art in the light of his or her own experiences, values, and worldview. It will rarely have a definitive, singular meaning. For example, there are diverse and extremely varied opinions on the famous smile of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Skill vs. Art

Graphic art is a natural gift as the graphic artist is born with an exceptional talent for the craft. Certain artists excel in areas such as oil painting or sketching. Design, on the other hand, is a skill that can be acquired, especially since it involves a lot more than just artistic ability to be a successful graphic designer. It takes analytical skills, communication skills, and a decent understanding of business principles such as branding, consumer psychology, and marketing to make it in the graphic designing field.

Strict Rules vs. An Open Canvas

Graphic design is bound by strict rules and guidelines due to the business inspired parameters of content and the mediums such as websites, brochures or posters, etc.  On the other hand, the graphic artist is unhindered by such restriction and has a relatively open canvas to draw on due to the unlimited ways a story or idea can be presented.


To sum it all up, there are various differences between graphic design and graphic art. The primary one being the difference in the very purpose and intent of the two.  The main purpose of graphic design is to facilitate content and convey a certain preset message to the target audience, while the graphic art is used to portray an idea or story.

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