Graphic design before desktop publishing

Graphic design before desktop publishing

Cover image KR, featuring TG1 Faber Castell .35, .50, & .70 technical drawing pens, purchased 1989, sitting on 1992 final year illustration project.

by Kym Ramadge, February 2024

Our industry has a diverse, multi-stranded history full of fascinating and now, lost crafts and trades. Graduating on the cusp of desktop publishing ascension in the early 1990s, I was fortunate to witness the phenomenal change in technology sweeping graphic design and associated industries. This is a brief overview, each point could easily have in-depth research and an essay.

Many people are aware the advent of the Apple® Mac and development of software by QuarkXpress® and Adobe® was a revolution for creative industries, beginning 1984. The WSIWIG interface removed the need to learn ASCII or other clunky PC-based languages and the speed it replaced traditional typesetting and artwork creation was breathtaking, on the scale of the time.

But, how did graphic designers, commercial and finished artists work before this? What mysterious means were used to conjure up the printed material, film and television graphics, signage and all the other touchpoints of commercial advertising?

If you have seen Madmen or Darrin Stevens on Bewitched, you may have some insight, with Art Directors showing marker-rendered concepts to clients, working at an angled desk to make drawing easier. Prior to the ’90s there was a huge tactile part of work that is now, mostly, replaced by digital technology.

From left: Apple Mac II, 1984; QuarkXPress 3.2, 1993, Darrin Stevens in ‘Bewitched’, 1960s; Kellogg’s ‘Frostie Flakes’ 1960s ad; US Surfboard Championships 1965 poster, example of three colour artwork.

Here is 1960s footage from London inside Foote, Cone and Belding ad agency, (includes 1960s social values).

From 28 seconds, the inside of the studio is shown with the overhead desk lamps. Design students in the late 1980s–1990s had the same setup at university, with slightly newer desks. Professional studios were setup all over the world with similar layouts and furniture. Of course, by this time, the angled desks were barely used as we migrated to the computer lab with rows of Mac SE 30s.

Graphic design students were trained in methods to use in the professional workplace. They not only studied traditional Fine Art subjects such as Life and General Drawing, they were also taught how to use markers, overlaying the colours to carefully blend tones; paint with gouache, which is a flat paint for illustrations; rule lines with technical drafting pens; enlarge and expose artwork in the dark room to create bromides for paste-up; accurately hand-cut mockups of packaging with scalpels and use an Omnicrom CT 1000 hot foil colour transfer machine to apply colour to toner with heat.

These methods were primarily to have full colour mockups of design work for folios/presentation. This was the same both for design students, and in professional studios, before the widespread adoption of colour printers (either ink jet or toner-based laser printers). In the early 90s, colour printing meant taking a floppy disk or Zip Drive to the local copy centre, waiting, sometimes days; returning and paying for your prints.

To prepare an image for Omnicrom, the parts of the design, ie, text and image had to have toner to adhere to. The toner was either from a laser printer or photocopier. This forced the creative exploration of papers and best way to get the look the envisaged artwork required. A favourite technique of students to simulate gloss finishes was to use black paper, photocopy the pattern required on there and run through the Omnicrom machine with a clear cover sheet only, creating a gloss effect on the pattern. Pantone® colour sheets were used in the Omnicrom machine.

Left to right: Omnicrom CT 1000 machine, sheets of the Pantone® colour transfer film and machine with artwork being fed through.

Omnicrom machine in action on YouTube.

In our final year, 1992, we learnt the fine art of Cromatech. This involved creating separations for each colour required in the darkroom, mixing flat colours and using a silk screen with an underlay with adhesive. This was then applied onto the artwork to colour typography or other elements. Inside the darkroom was all analogue and included developer fluids and washing up facilities, as well as the enlargement camera.

Agfa is one of the large international companies involved in prepress, going back to the 1950s. With their history in photography, they were market pioneers in prepress, which all worked on analogue photographic principles. Pictured below left is an Agfa Repromaster designers and finished artists of the era will recall. The simple explanation is these machines were used for enlargements or reductions and to create separations of artwork into constituent parts. This step was prior to sending to a trade house for combining and setting the plates for offset printing. One challenge was keeping the glass at the bottom and at the top perfectly clean so as not to enlarge dust particles.

After the bromides were produced, paste up was the next step. This required using lined artboard, blue pencil (blue was invisible in the next prepress step), technical pens for line work and pasting the artwork into place. Accuracy and cleanliness were vital. Above are two photos from the 1960s showing paste up in progress. Pasteup also involved using Letraset sheets with text which was rubbed down into place. Letraset was a huge change when first released as it opened the range of available fonts and sped up the process of pasteup.

Also available were clip art books. These were used for decorative borders, simple graphics or in advertising in the same way stock graphics are incorporated into artwork today on certain projects. Instead of cutting up the Clipper book pages, the page was taken out of the folder, a bromide created, and then added to the paste up. Which is probably not what Clipper intended but likely a common practice in many studios.

Before the precision and ubiquity of digital full colour printing, there was far more use of special mixed colours for one, two and three colour printing. The Pantone® system was common. Paste up instructions for prepress would include putting a colour chip out of the book onto the side of the paste up, with instructions. Brands had (and still have) specific Pantone® colours to maintain colour consistency across all printed material.

All the materials referenced above were generally expensive and design students would save up for top-quality fine paint brushes to use with gouache; fiercely keep all scraps of Omnicrom, sharing with friends when you needed a scrap of colour; and keep coloured paper from previous projects.

The benefit of learning these methods back in the day was to comprehend the intrinsic link between the artwork design, prepress and all print outcomes. Designers had to understand setup for production. It demanded a rigorous attention to detail and meticulous fine skills. Of course, no one would deny the options available now in the digital world are far superior, in most ways, to old technology. Still, as letterpress type, film photography and vinyl LPs are all enjoying a renaissance, there is always the opportunity to incorporate some of these techniques, particularly in illustration work.

For those interested in further info:
Paste Up
How to Paste Up 1980s Style
When Letraset was King

Article on Omnicrom:

Printing Techniques: Omnicrom Hot Foil

Excellent article on working in packaging design in the early ‘90s in London:

Keeping it real

The Importance of Art Education: Nurturing Creativity for life

The Importance of Art Education: Nurturing Creativity for life

“The benefits of the visual arts are lifelong. Visual art does not have boundaries. It enables people to play with materials, to express their thinking, to problem solve and make sense of emotions,” says Dr Lindsay, Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the University of Wollongong’s School of Education, “Art makes us resilient, it is great for problem solving and understanding the world. It helps us develop our creativity across every aspect of our lives.”

Innovative thinking

As we head into a new era of technological development, with advances in Artificial Inteligence, robotics and other various science-based wonders, it would be a mistake to dismiss the human element in education. Arts education – across all creative fields – visual arts, performing arts and music – all contribute to the development of innovative thinking.

We are at a precipice. At the moment AI is functioning on what we have and can input into a dataset. It is not functionally sentient. It is interpreting human content, rearranging, and presenting it back to us. It is not creating something completely new and unique. It is an amalgam of human achievement. Once AI and quantum computing become both prevalent and stable, these systems will be self-sustaining, and the space left for humans will be in creative innovation.

The creative element of new endeavor remains the domain of people. Skills for the future of humanity, and future economic participation are deeply rooted in arts education.

NAAE (National Advocates for Arts Education) advocates for the inclusion of Arts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to create STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) in order to better prepare students for the future. We don’t know what the jobs of the future will look like. Many jobs that exist today were unheard of 40 years ago. A diverse and thorough education gives our children the best possible foundation for the future. While specialization is important, a strong foundation provided necessary skills for future learning.

Transdisciplinary engagement

Skills from Arts education, and their outcomes are important for transdisciplinary engagement – from critical and creative thinking to communication with collaboration and teamwork. One example of this is science communicators. Interfacing between science, media and the community requires a skillset that is not found solely in STEM education. Communication and teamwork skills are intrinsic to a school drama class. Should a student be exposed to both STEM and Arts learning, there is the opportunity to engage and understand interpersonal creative learning.

We also should not think that creativity is limited to the arts. An engineer without creativity is unable to ideate to develop, design and build a bridge. We should not underestimate the amount of creativity across all STEM disciplines. By also being exposed to Arts education, we encourage people to experiment and grow, skills which can then be applied to all aspects of life and learning.

Enriching lives

Aside from flexible career skills, arts education also benefits people in everyday life. A willingness to experiment and problem solve is vital to many aspects of life, from organizing your household, cooking delicious food, communicating with friends and family or even developing fulfilling hobbies.

As mental health is becoming better understood, the balance arts provide for some is invaluable. The arts cultivate empathy, cultural understanding, and creative thinking, fostering well-being, empowerment, and a deeper appreciation of the human experience.

Benefits of arts exposure is not limited to individuals, as engagement with public arts projects creates a sense of belonging and community. Art nurtures and enhances problem-solving skills, and encourages innovation. Perhaps bringing people together to spark new business or social enterprise.

A more colourful, creative life experience

Irrespective of whether a student goes on to practice art as an element of their career, learning the fundamental skills associated with the arts is beneficial in all aspects of life, both working and personal. Lifelong learning of any kind enriches and enhances experiences not only in the direct area of study, but across all aspects of human experience.

Cover image by Alexander Ant / Unsplash

Behind the scenes on a very beachy Christmas

Behind the scenes on a very beachy Christmas

Christmas gives us an opportunity to create something unique – something to celebrate the season and the year that has been, and the year to come. Each year we try to create something engaging, fun and different.

Some years these ideas flow easily, others take a little more time. The KRD Christmas project is put on the WIP list on 1 July, and we keep a file of ideas. These then tend to be formed into a single direction later in the year.

This year’s theme ‘a very beachy Christmas’ developed to combine the shared European (winter) history of Christmas with the Australian experience of a summertime celebration.

Starting point is the end format

Our starting point is knowing the formats we want to produce. In years past, this was mostly printed with a simple digital accompaniment. This year we started with the knowledge we wanted to create an animation as the primary piece. We also need a suite of material for social media, emails and our website. In the studio it gets a job number and treated like a client project, and is worked on incrementally as workflow allows.

Our starting point for this years animation sequence was Australian flora and beach landscape imagery. This becomes the overarching theme and narrative.

This is the point where we create (now digital) mood boards to capture the type of imagery, colour, vibe and aesthetic for the project. Initially we work on simple sketches to communicate ideas within the team.

 

Inspiration

When deciding the graphic style of the pieces we find a lot of varied inspirational images for both techniques and styles. The beach theme brought the broad brush stroke textures to our rendering, reminiscent of sand. The illustration components are simple shapes that get their personality from the colour and textures used.

Sometimes along the way, there are happy accidents. In this case, when storyboarding an animation of a flower made from beach themed icons, it was noted that the final frame looked a lot like a snowflake. And so, the idea of a summer snowflake began.

The idea that a traditional motif from a European Christmas could be flipped to an Australian summer theme was the hook needed to bring the project to conclusion. Taking the motif of the snowflake, we altered this to apply to summertime.

Thematic colour choices

Initially we were working with the traditional Christmas colours, but this was not creating the look we were after. Changing the colours of a piece can do so much to change the feel and the messaging.

To really push this to an Australian theme, we needed to find a colour pallet that communicates ‘Australian’ and ‘summer’ that was also beautiful and sophisticated. We drew inspiration for our colour pallet from Bluey, which so wonderfully illustrates the Australian landscape using tertiary colours for nuance and feeling.

Final storyboarding and test animation

The next storyboard was made to show how we could bridge the two vastly different Christmas environments together. This included how the scenes would transition, how the individual elements would move and the timing. Also, how this would incorporate our Christmas messaging. An idea of a scene was developed for the summer snowflake to morph into, including an iconic seagull who would become the star of the production.

All elements were then built and illustrated as separate components to be synchronised within the animation, with final testing focusing on the speed of transitions and incorporation of sound effects and music to complete the scene.

Reaching our audience

To serve a business purpose, the animation must also incorporate important dates and information. The end credits are a signoff to the animation, but are also covered elsewhere to ensure consistent messaging. From a business perspective, it would be nice to think everyone in our audience will watch all of our video. We know however, that audiences are fragmented, and consume media and information from varied sources. As such, it’s important that vital messaging is repeated in different formats and locations.

The final step in what becomes our ‘Christmas Campaign’ is to ensure that our messaging is distributed effectively. That means sending the video as part of an eDM, incorporating matching messaging in our email signatures, posting to socials, and even putting this article up on our recourses page. Ensuring that messaging is across as many touch points as possible to reach our audience how they like to consume information.

Why precise measurements are critical for graphic designers

Why precise measurements are critical for graphic designers

Let’s talk about measurements. In engineering, manufacturing and scientific applications, measurements deal in thousandths of a millimetre, or smaller. Mechanical engineers use digital Vernier calipers, outside micrometers, pitch gauges and feeler gauges for precise measurements. These can measure up to 1/1000 of a millimetre.

For graphic design that will be printed, we deal in millimetres. For design with a digital outcome, the units are pixels. Printers use outside micrometers to assess the thickness of paper. At the intersection of graphic and product design, microns come into play. The need for precision in our industry is pivotal in ensuring the accuracy and professionalism of our work.

In graphic design, even the slightest deviation from the intended measurements can result in errors in printing and binding, or significant visual discrepancy in online applications. Whether it’s creating a print design, a web layout, or a logo, precision ensures that the final product aligns perfectly with the designer’s vision and adheres to the client’s requirements. Accurate measurements also contribute to the overall consistency and coherence of a design, which are crucial factors in maintaining a strong brand identity.

When briefing projects, clients should provide clear instructions. This may require supplying a specification sheet for both web and print advertising, pop-up banners or promotional items. It may mean delivering a sample of items to the designer or printer to be measured for packaging and point-of-sale. This is then used in the creation of a dieline either by a printing company using a CAD system, or by the designers for simpler projects. The client may be working with architects, engineers, or a signage company. They will have CAD drawings, and these should be supplied to the designers. Consultation is key in all instances.

Occasionally for practical reasons, the client may need to measure a product or point-of-sale display. Our suggestion is this is usually best as a two-person process. Someone should hold the ruler straight against the item and someone else take a photo, clearly showing the edges and where the markings on the ruler line up.

A day in the life of a design studio

A day in the life of a design studio

A design studio is a fast and flexible working environment. Projects vary in size and scope, with often concurrent timelines. The team dynamic is important to keep things running smoothly to ensure we complete projects with upmost quality, on time. As a small studio, KRD team members work on projects both end-to-end as well as shared between us.

Project planning

At the start of the week, we discuss upcoming projects for the week, timelines and delegate tasks. Often projects are continued over from the previous week, and new ones are added in throughout the week.

Projects in the studio are assigned a client unique code, which allows for easy tracking and filing. For our larger clients this is indispensable, as we constantly reference previous jobs for images or text. We store all these codes – along with brief descriptions – in a database hosted on our server. This is accessible and searchable on our network via a browser.

For clients that we prepare work for on an ongoing basis, and we often have larger regular projects that require updating. A lot of imagery is stored on our server for easy access, or we access imagery via the client’s media library, available online.

Project management

Depending on the stage of a project, we may receive feedback or changes via email or phone. Clients may visit the studio to sit with us and work on changes in real time. Post-Covid, we also utilise video calls for briefings and more complex project alterations.

Days often vary with the kinds of projects in the studio; larger data intensive projects such as video editing take hours of time. Smaller tasks like web image creation or retrieval, or small edits to print pieces can be quick, again depending on the project. When one team member has larger projects to work on, we move the smaller tasks around.

For more complex design tasks, like brand development, everyone gets involved. We will work on research and concept sketches, then view them together to discuss direction. Smaller projects can also present interesting design challenges. This is especially true for pieces that need to fit a lot of information in a tiny space. When this happens, we reach out to the team for thoughts – sometimes a solution is easier to find when you’re not in the middle of a project.

Variety of work

The types of projects can range from print through to digital. In the morning we may be working on catalogues, packaging and point-of-sale. The afternoon may bring website updates, social media campaigns and video edits. Interspersed is writing and editing content, project management, print deliveries, and, always managing deadlines with client and suppliers.

Urgent requests

Occasionally there are super urgent requests. These are often to supply print and/or digital advertising when Marketing teams are offered distress rates from magazines. This is known to happen on Friday afternoons and can mean last minute finishing and uploading to meet the print deadline, often with a level of panic involved.

Brand Guidelines

Much of our client work involves careful understanding and following of brand guidelines. We pay careful attention as global brands are constantly refining their corporate identities with new assets or adaptations for evolving technology. This information is shared between the team and discussed regularly.

Larger projects

For larger projects, there may be site visits, eg. Interpretative signage or collaboration and input from suppliers. This may be with a marketing consultant, copywriter, photographer/videographer, printing companies or manufacturers. Suppliers often visit the studio, calling in with samples, deliveries, and answering important production questions. There is constant managing of deliveries of printed materials and following up on delivery receipts.

For point-of-sale projects we often create print tests and take to a local retailer to check instore. This is vital to ensure measurements are correct and materials will work in the situation required. Particularly on complex projects there can be new products/methods/technology and this will require liaison between ourselves and suppliers, including press checks and factory visits during manufacturing.

Pack and despatch

From time-to-time we undertake pack and despatch. This may be intricate mail outs requiring careful attention and specialised gift wrapping. The studio can become a small factory on these days, with a couple of Studio Assistants helping. Larger projects are worked on by mailing / fulfilment houses.

Team interaction

Importantly, a small team needs time to converse each day and keep up to date with relevant local, national, and international events. At various times of the day there will be lively conversations. For example, we discuss podcasts, articles or books we’ve read, TV shows, movies, and all kinds of pop culture. Like most teams, we have numerous ‘in-jokes’. We quote lines from the IT Crowd. We share stories on technology gripes with all major software updates. We discuss our personal projects. Recipes are shared. Traffic and weather anecdotes are on high rotation. As we’ve noted in our article ‘What makes designers tick?’, we believe in life-long learning and constant curiosity of the world around us to enhance our daily design journey.