How much software experience do I need to be a well-rounded graphic designer?
How many different software applications should a designer be familiar with? I've been asked to work on Illustrator, and also .paint [Paint.NET? -Ed]. I'm confused about how many applications I need to practice. If I don't learn .paint, will I still be able to survive in the industry? I can't settle for only knowing Photoshop.
My questions is: What software applications are most important for graphic designers to know?
I list Photoshop as major and Illustrator as minor in my portfolio, but I've also been asked about Inkscape, PaintShop, GIMP, and others. I don't feel like my portfolio is complete with just PS and AI.
We all know this field is very vast, but I don't have time to master every application. I want to learn, but I need to decide which software to focus on.
As many of the other answers point out, software is just a tool to bring your concepts and ideas to life. So, most importantly, make sure that you are very well versed in creating unique concepts. Always start with sketches, as they help you to explore ideas quickly and possibly come up with things "by accident," which can often lead to some of your best ideas.
That being said...
Photoshop - great all around tool, the MacGyver of design tools
Illustrator - great for vector work and illustrations
InDesign - great for print layouts and multi-page projects. The standard in the print industry
Dreamweaver - helpful for wysiwyg web design, although not necessary. Depending on your coding background/experience, many people just do the coding by hand.
After Effects - great for motion graphics. If you are into video and motion graphics this application is EXCELLENT and is very powerful
Flash - great for web application design (some people will refute this) and animation. Great in small doses but is often overused, esp in web design.
Fireworks - helpful for web graphics and slicing, but not essential
PowerPoint 2010 - Although PowerPoint has gotten a very bad rap over the years for its misuse and terrible presentations(the users fault), the new version of PowerPoint is capable of making some graphically stunning presentations, and is fairly easy to use. Check out this great example of what is possible.
Expression Web - helpful for web design. Very similar to Dreamweaver, but offers some more optimization tools.
Autodesk Maya - Amazing 3D rendering software. Most places don't specialize in 3D, but this can really help to give you an edge against another applicant. It can also help a design firm to have an extra asset on their team. Be forewarned, there is a bit of a steep learning curve
Again, the bottom line is to have a strong background in graphic design. The ideas far outweigh the means of expressing them, and any piece of software can be learned over time.
If going for a job in print: Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are a must. The entire Adobe suite recommended.
If going for a job in web: Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver/Expression Web are a strong recommendation.
Hope all this helps.
Not to sound too much like Charles Dickens, but yours is a good question and it is the wrong question.
It is a good question, because you do need some kind of starting point for your software toolkit. But it is the wrong question for two reasons: first, because unless you know what kind of design work you want to do, nobody can say what's the best software; and second, because if you want to be a graphic designer, unless you know the basics of graphic design it doesn't matter what software you know.
If you don't know how to design, then it doesn't much matter which programs you learn, just as having a great set of woodworking tools won't make you a carpenter. Learning how to use the software does not equal learning how to design; if it did, Microsoft Publisher would have created tens of thousands of good designers instead of millions of really bad designs.
So my advice would be this: It doesn't matter what program you start with. Illustrator is a good starting point. Photoshop is a good starting point. But get a couple of good books on how to design (Robin Williams "The Non-Designer's Design Book" is a good one to start with) and use whatever program you have to practice making great designs. Next, buy magazines, surf the web, collect posters -- just find lots of examples of design work that looks well done, that is the kind of stuff you would like to be able to do, and build your own library of great design ideas. You won't copy these, but you will use them for inspiration in your own work. Every designer has an "idea book" or an "idea file" like this.
When you begin to get the idea of what area of design you would like to work in (print, web, logos and corporate identity, packaging, whatever), push the tools you know to the limit. If you find that what you have won't do what you need, then it is time to expand your toolkit by learning a program that will let you do what you're trying to do. Build your toolkit one program at a time, as you find you need new tools, not based on what someone else thinks.
You can't learn everything at once, and what you know right now is good enough to get you started. Follow the route that seems natural to you, that you enjoy, and you will get better and better over time. Don't expect it to happen overnight or in a couple of weeks, just persist, and make every design you create, every job you do, better than the last one.
If every piece you do is your best work so far, you'll eventually become a great designer. But it isn't software that will get you there. It's you, and your knowledge of design. The stuff you want to create will pull you into the software you need to learn so you can create it.