What is Graphics Design Software?

Dana Hinders

While basic documents can easily be prepared using a simple word processing program such as Microsoft® Word, more sophisticated effects require the use of specialized graphics design software. These software programs let you choose the color, font, size, and style of your text and add images or clip art. Graphics software programs can be used to turn simple documents into artistic creations, even if you don't normally consider yourself a very creative person.

Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop can be used to make infographics.
Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop can be used to make infographics.

Not all graphics design software programs are intended to accomplish the same goal, however. While Adobe® Photoshop® is used to edit digital images, for example, QuarkXPress® is used for desktop publishing tasks such as laying out a newsletter or designing a holiday greeting card. There are also various illustrating software and 3D graphics programs that can be used to design original computer-generated artwork. Before you spend your hard-earned money, it's recommended that you spend some time thinking about what types of projects you want to complete.

QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign are design programs newspapers use for page layout.
QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign are design programs newspapers use for page layout.

When purchasing graphics design software, there are a number of different factors to consider. First, you will need to remember that not all programs will run on both PCs and Macs. In fact, Macs are generally considered to be the standard for professional level graphic design. Additionally, graphics design programs can require a great deal of computing power to run properly. If you have an older computer and plan to do graphic design work on a regular basis, you may need to upgrade to a newer desktop or laptop before investing heavily in software.

Learning how to use graphics design software can be a challenging task. For example, Adobe® Photoshop® has many different filters, brushes, and special effects that can take years to truly master. Fortunately, there are numerous Web sites offering online tutorials as well as books and DVDs to teach you how to use nearly every major computer program in existence. If you prefer to learn directly from an experienced teacher, many community colleges also offer short workshops or continuing education courses that can give you a solid foundation for learning a particular software program.

If your design needs are minimal, you may want to keep in mind that there are many free graphics design software programs available. While these programs lack the sophisticated features of their paid counterparts, freeware alternatives can be a cost-effective choice for basic image editing or desktop publishing tasks. One example of a popular free graphics design software program is GIMP, a GNU Image Manipulation Program that is often considered the closest free counterpart to Adobe® Photoshop®.

Software may have pre-loaded clip art images.
Software may have pre-loaded clip art images.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - Some of the best graphics design software isn't that expensive if you shop around. Often older versions are a bit cheaper but don't have much less functionality, and there are often student discounts as well.

Sometimes you can get it in a bundle which can make it that much cheaper too.


@croydon - Some programs will provide the ability to do both, but usually they are geared towards one or the other. If you want to try both, you can do so at a very high level by using free programs like GIMP and Inkscape. Both of those are used by quite a few freelance designers and there's nothing wrong with either of them.

They aren't quite as powerful as professional software, but the pricetag on that can get into the hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, so I wouldn't buy them unless I absolutely had to.


If what you want to do is create pictures, the two basic kinds of design software are raster and vector. With raster, you are creating a picture pixel by pixel, and can do all kinds of special effects. This is what Photoshop and similar programs can help you to make.

With vector programs you are making shapes based around lines rather than squares. And these lines can be resized and manipulated as much as you like. Clipart is usually made with vector graphics, which is why it looks like cartoons. It's basically line art with color in the closed shapes.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages and you just have to decide which is best for individual projects. I often end up using vectors as a base and then finishing off a design using raster graphics design software.

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