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Graphic Design Production—30 Years of Advancement

WRITTEN by: Gerald Hillman |
categories: Branding

Jan 2015


As a production manager, I  find myself thinking about how much the design production process has changed over the years.  Often,  while speaking to a new printer, our conversation goes from how we used to do things to how they are done today. We once prepared art and had a unique pre-printing process in the 1980s. Now we use digital artwork and computer design programs with computer software for plate preparation. This shift in technology has changed the design production process as a whole.

In the late 1980s, while working as a lithographic stripper and plate maker in a small print shop, I would be handed negative and positive film to burn images, using a strong light, onto a light sensitive polychrome plate for the printing press. These pieces of film were produced from stat cameras that took an exact size picture of paste-up artwork—also known as a mechanical. A keyliner or paste-up artist carefully pieced together a mechanical by hand, using a photographic paper.

Back then, if a typo was found or the client needed text changes, we were required to produce new text on a phototypesetting machine that printed to photographic paper. The paste-up artist would then cut the new paper and re-paste it onto the mechanical. This was part of the laborious process of producing printable art and making edits when text or photographic changes were added to the already lengthy process.

One of my printers commented how they needed up to seven weeks in advance for a finished printed piece. Even with the incredible advancements in computer software design for text and photo editing, nearly every print project becomes a rush order to meet the client’s deadline.

It’s clearly evident how the advancements in computer technology allow imaginative professionals to raise their creative standards in text and photography layout.  With more time now to deliver client approved artwork to a printer, the process is more efficient. Even making edits from a printer’s proof can be made in a matter of minutes. A new print’s ready file is produced and uploaded to the printer within a few hours. The ultimate beneficiaries of these many technological advancements are our clients. What changes and advancements have you noticed in graphic artwork over the past 30 years?

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