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

Design museums and galleries – Part 1

Design museums and galleries – Part 1

by Kym Ramadge, June 2023

This is Part One of a subjective list of European museums and galleries I have sought and enjoyed for their art, architecture, curation, interpretative signage and ambience. Some focus on design history, some on the cutting edge. Some combine historical collections in contemporary buildings where the viewer has the best of both worlds. Design is a broad theme and covers, graphic, industrial, photography, textile, applied arts and technology.

As an Australian, the joy I’ve had experiencing European culture first-hand has been both awe-inspiring and humbling. I fully appreciate the opportunities I’ve had and would encourage all design students and graduates to maximise this aspect of travel at their first opportunity. Viewing artwork, objects and all forms of design, in person is unbeatable.

A well-travelled, European client of ours once defined it as this: ‘Australia and New Zealand are unsurpassed for landscapes but if you want to see the finest cities, go to Europe. Each localities have their strengths, and we should embrace the positive of where we currently are.’

Many of these choices to visit were influenced by material studied in the history/theory component of my graphic design degree at the former Phillip Institute of Technology (incorporated into RMIT University, 1992 during our final year).

An over-arching theme is the recognition of the continuity designers are part of. We are formed and guided professionally by previous generations, even if we are not aware of it. The museums and galleries discussed here all curate and display the talents of skilled artists, designers, craftspeople, architects both historical and contemporary.

London, UK

The Type Archive

I was fortunate to meet Susan Shaw and tour The Type Archive in January 2019. The pivotal trove of typographic and print knowledge collected here is difficult to distil into a summary.

From the TA website:

The Type Archive is home to the art of printed words. We hold an amazing collection of letterpress fonts in metal and wood which celebrates the joy of printing: the craft that has served as the fundamental basis of modern civilisation and graphic design. While modern type foundries are entirely digital ( the Type Archive’s collection spans the nearly 600-year period when the foundry cut letters in steel, drove them into brass blanks, and cast lead type from them in molten lead.

Unfortunately, the TA is unable to stay at its present location. According to the website, the collection is to be moved to the SMG site at its National Collections Centre near Swindon.

The SMG plan to conduct oral history interviews to ensure the Monotype skills are recorded for the future. Once this is resolved, I highly recommend a visit. Appreciating the history of typography is imperative for all designers.

Type Archive photographed by KR, January 2019 in Lambeth, including hot metal type and Monotype machinery.

Victoria & Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum is a must see, both for the temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection. One tip for any European museum is to get to the top floor first and work your way back down. This can be a way to skip the overly crowded sections near the front doors.

From the Victoria and Albert Museum website:

Henry Cole, the V&A’s first Director, declared that the museum should be a “schoolroom for everyone”. Its mission was to improve the standards of British industry by educating designers, manufacturers and consumers in art and science. Acquiring and displaying the best examples of art and design contributed to this mission, but the ‘schoolroom’ itself was also intended to demonstrate exemplary design and decoration. The story of the design and construction of the V&A’s buildings, and of the personalities who guided this process, is one of persistent vision and ingenuity, amid the changing artistic, political and economic circumstances of the last 150 years. 

The curation and interpretative design at the Victoria and Albert Museum is inspirational. Everything from the colours chosen on the walls, to the exhibition layout, to the signage, the building, to the objects themselves is compelling. I cannot single out one particular favourite area here.

The main part of the Victoria and Albert Museum is free for all to visit. So, you can visit as many times as you like without museum fatigue. Temporary exhibitions can involve an entrance fee. Check the website for current information.

The V&A building interior is as much a part of the collection as the objects themselves! The far left image ceiling is by William Morris and is a timelessly beautiful pattern.

The Courtauld

Located in Somerset House, the Courtauld is awe-inspiring. The scale is intimate, and the collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauve paintings is one of the world’s greatest. The Courtauld also features temporary exhibitions.

Bookings are required, check the website for current information.

Museum of Brands

Quirky, nostalgic museum located in Notting Hill. Showcasing 150 years of consumer culture. Not all the brands will be familiar to Australians, however, the sheer volume and the division into eras makes this unmissable for designers or pop culture aficionados. The fonts, colours, period styling, printing methods and embellishments, all add up to a 3D design extravaganza.

The museum runs temporary exhibitions as well as archives and other resources for our industry.

From the Museum of Brands website:

More than fifty years ago consumer historian Robert Opie began to unravel the fascinating story of how consumer products and promotion had evolved since Victorian times. By 1975 Robert had enough material to hold his own exhibition, The Pack Age, at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 1984 he opened the first museum devoted to the history of packaging and advertising in Gloucester.

In the early 2000s, the collection needed a new home. With the help of global brand agency pi Global and founding sponsors Cadbury, Twinings, Vodafone, Diageo, Kellogg’s and McVities, the Museum became a charity in 2002 and opened in Notting Hill, London.

After ten successful years, the Museum had outgrown its building and in 2015 relocated to a larger site nearby, just around the corner from the world-famous Portobello Road Market.

The relocation project added new galleries, event spaces and garden. Support for the project has come from founders including Diageo, DS Smith, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the John Lyon’s Charity.

Paris, France

Paris is of course, teeming with museums and galleries. The well-known ones are of course, covered elsewhere and well worth the crowds.

For a much-less crowded space, I recommend:

Musée des Arts et Métiers

This is a museum with the following categories: Scientific instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication and Transport. This is under the industrial design history category.

Various parts of the collection, a testament to research, ingenuity, precision, detail and creativity, all photos by KR.

Musée Marmottan Monet

The Marmottan Monet is highly recommended. Not only are Monet’s paintings exquisite to see in this carefully curated and lit space, the interpretive signage is outstanding and includes footage of Monet painting late in his life. Further, the Marmottan has an incredible collection of Middle Ages art, including illuminated manuscripts. As part of our graphic design degree, in our history/theory component, we studied the fine detailed art of the illuminated manuscript. To see them firsthand is to appreciate the beauty and its contribution to typography.

Lyon, France

Musée de l’Imprimerie et de la Communication Graphique

(Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication)

This is possibly one of the geekiest design and printing museums to visit. Anywhere. It contains the history of printing and ends up with the Apple Mac including original DTP software packaging for Quark Express. Tucked away in a back street of the oldest part of Lyon, this is unmissable for anyone interested in the history of graphic arts. A fraction of what is on show: a replica Gutenberg press, amazing poster collection, original hand-bound leather cover books and hot metal type.

Museum exterior courtyard, leather-bound book and original Apple Mac Classic with laser printer, all photos by KR.

Musée des Confluences

Breathtaking architecture situated at the confluence of the River Rhône and the Saône, this is a science and anthropology museum. Every aspect of this is worth visiting, the exhibits are artfully curated, knowledgeable and all components of design is carefully considered. The views from the building of the rivers and Lyon are a travel highlight for any visitor.

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (Museum of Fine Arts)

Housed in a former Benedictine convent, this museum focuses on Fine Arts. The building is beautifully restored and the Ancient Egyptian collection is impeccable. If interested in numismatics, the coin collection here is France’s second largest. There is also a large collection of Modern Art, plus an Art Nouveau room. All exhibits are displayed in world-class layouts with thoughtful design.

From the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, all photos by KR.

Johann Gutenberg sculpture in Vienna, photo by KR.

Vienna, Austria

For graphic designers, Vienna is potentially destination number one in terms of the modernist design instigated by the Vienna Succession. As a bonus, on the walk between the Wien Römermuseum (Roman museum) and St Stephens Cathedral, a sculpture of Gutenberg is tucked just off Rotenturmstraße.

Essay worthy, this is a brief overview: the Vienna Secession was an influential art movement founded in 1897 in Vienna, Austria. Led by artists such as Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, and Koloman Moser, it aimed to break free from traditional academic art, embracing modernism and promoting the integration of art into everyday life.

MAK Vienna (Museum of Applied Arts)

From the MAK website:

The MAK is home to an unparalleled collection of applied arts, design, architecture, and contemporary art which has developed in the course of 150 years.

Established in 1863, the MAK Vienna, or the Museum of Applied Arts, been a pioneer in showcasing applied arts from around the world. The museum’s collection spans over five centuries, encompassing an array of disciplines such as textiles, ceramics, furniture, and graphic design. Its extensive collection not only celebrates the achievements of renowned artists but also serves as a source of inspiration for contemporary graphic designers. The MAK Vienna is not just a repository of artifacts but a living testament to the ever-evolving nature of design.

The MAK houses huge collection of graphic design works we studied at university. There is also the quirkiest collection of chairs. Another superb architectural building and setting.

MAK Vienna, all photos by KR.

The Vienna Succession

The Succession building was restored after World War II. There are a number of Gustav Klimt works on display here. For me, the building itself was the key. The combination of modernist lines and the intricate entrance combine beauty and functionality. The colours are harmonious. There is no doubt in my mind that this building and the Bauhaus represent significant markers in my design journey. I made a point of photographing it early in the morning.

Published on LinkedIn here.

Craft, Creative, Commercial

Craft, Creative, Commercial

Creativity takes many forms. Any human endeavour to produce something that didn’t previously exist, is a form of creativity. You may think that creativity in two dimensions is limited to original arts like drawing or painting, however, design that serves a commercial purpose is also creative.

Many designers are labelled ‘creative’ their whole lives by family and friends. As a branch of the creative arts, graphic design and by extension, graphic designers are creative people. Creating within parameters – of varying stringency – can be extremely rewarding. Like a visual artist who creates a series of monotone works, limitations can in fact enhance and focus elements of design.

Designing with parameters: form follows function

When working with limitations, design is no longer simply creative or decorative, but rather, forms a solution. A well-engineered bridge is a creative masterpiece. Something we find both useful and aesthetically pleasing. The interplay of creativity and functionality is more evident in industrial and civic design works than in graphic design, which for the most part deal with surface design. That is not to say it is lacking in graphic design. A shape that is not ‘read’ as part of a main communication may not simply be decorative, but rather a device to direct your eye to the order a piece should be read. Or to create visual balance to that your eye is not distracted from what is to be read.

The shorthand for this is ‘form follows function’, which is a mantra that influenced generations of modernist architects and designers. The statement was instigated by the Bauhaus founder, Walter Gropius. The object shape is intrinsically linked to the object function. This is a truth at a basic level, a knife looks like a knife, as it is used to cut. Once you expand this thought to more complex objects, it is less clear cut. If people responded to this theory alone, houses would be almost completely utilitarian. A blanket would just be a plain piece of cloth. Instead, minimalism is a design aesthetic choice, as is any number of stylistic choices – Victorian, Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern, Scandi, the list is extensive, if not endless.

Evolution of craft industry to commercialism

Historically crafts have informed design. Before the industrial revolution a blanket would be either knitted, woven, or sewn from old clothing. Each item created would be unique to its maker, and sometimes, like in case of tartan – unique to a family group. Various regional communities developed their own popular techniques and designs, which over time become traditional.

Craft and commercialism were linked even before the industrial revolution, when craft guilds provided professional services like embroidery or weaving, guaranteed to a high standard.

Craft from a hobby to an influencer

The act of crafting by traditional methods can be an enjoyable activity for creativity and self-expression. Craft combines the act of design and manufacture, resulting in a unique product. The aesthetic of a finished craft project can also be used in large scale manufacturing, for example – a mass produced quilt which mimics the design of a traditional quilt. This brings the finished craft aesthetic into the commercial realm.

The influence of craft on commercialism is not always so immediate. Craft may also influence design indirectly, or with more subtlety. A styled photograph featuring hand-crafted quilts might be used in product photography to associate a furniture brand with a crafted, bespoke, hand-made aesthetic. This same craft aesthetic may have influenced the design of the upholstery. Or perhaps a brand of tea wants customers to associate their tea with warm, cosy living rooms, so their advertising photography features this same hand-crafted style.

Crafts, creativity and commercialism become quite circular once a particular design aesthetic becomes established as a recognised style. To paraphrase The Devil Wears Prada, fashion starts from the top, designers and craftspeople, and disseminates through life to become a style.

260 Auburn Road

260 Auburn Road

Our studio at 260 Auburn Road Hawthorn has an interesting backstory. Having driven past the building for many years and being intrigued by the design – prior to leasing our tenancy in 2022 – it has been captivating to learn about the building and Prentice Builders, the company who designed and built it as their head office.

Prentice Builders

Founded by George Prentice, who arrived in Australia in 1909 from Scotland. During the early years the business traded as George Prentice Pty Ltd.

Prentice Builders Pty Ltd was registered 10/02/1941 with George and his son, Robert Shields Prentice, as directors. The company was deregistered 14/09/2009.

At the time of incorporation, the registered business address was 200 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn.

Left, Evans House, 1930. Above left, Hawthorn Town Hall, 1938. Above right, Kantay House, 1940. Right, Town Hall Hotel, 1941. Far right, Xandau, 1948.

Building projects

Prentice Builders were responsible for major building projects throughout Melbourne and Victoria. This includes Evans House (1930), a splendid Art Deco building at 415-419 Bourke Street; the extension of the Hawthorn Town Hall (1938); The Orrong Hotel (1940); Kantay House factories in Little Collins Street (1940); The Town Hall Hotel extension in Swanston Street (1941); the pipeline and reservoir of the Mount Beauty township water service (1947) and the private residence, Xandau in North Balwyn (1948).

Sheridan Close (1953) at 485-489 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, with 78 apartments and a shallow curved façade was a landmark building built by the company. In 1953 Sheridan Close was the largest development of its kind in Melbourne. The architect was Sir Bernard Evans, who later became Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

Of architectural and cultural importance, Prentice Builders began construction of the Baillieu Library at Melbourne University in March 1957. Designed by architect John F. D. Scarborough, the library was opened in 1959 by Prime Minister Robert Menzies. A key feature of this modernist building is the glass curtain wall with ‘opaque spandrel‘ panels that form the façade overlooking South Lawn on the east side. For more information, see: and

Later works include a research laboratory at CSIRO Clayton (1982); and the refurbishment of the Melbourne GPO (1986).

George Prentice was president of the Master Builders Association during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He died October 20, 1955, aged 73 and was survived by his children, David, Robert and Jane.

Bailieu Library, Melbourne University. Left, under construction, 1957-58. Above and right, completed building 1959.

Head Office

Prentice Builders were located at 200 Riversdale Road Hawthorn – now the site of the Australia Post Delivery Centre – for many years. George Prentice and his wife Annie lived in Cotham Road, Kew before moving nearby to St Helens Road, Hawthorn East.

The head office at 260 Auburn Road was built in 1973 in the Brutalist style, featuring exposed brick and concrete. The office was developed on three blocks facing Auburn Road, with an existing residence and factory being demolished to make room. The exterior concrete facing Leslie Street includes roughened edges as a decorative element. Original industrial windows remain upstairs facing west.

The architect was Sol Sapir Pty Ltd. Sol Sapir was known as ‘Melbourne’s best-known high rise specialist’ during the 1970s. Of note architecturally, is a block of flats from Canterbury Road, St Kilda West, 1970. This too is in the Brutalist style and reminiscent of 260 Auburn Road. A fascinating biographical overview for Sol is here.

Prentice Builders built their own headquarters. Dating by interior features, the building was converted into nine tenancies during the early 1980s. This timing would correlate with Robert Prentice being of retirement age.

The building features two original staircases, both expressing the functional, modernist styling of the era. The main staircase is panelled with slats and has rounded corners and includes 4 short flights with three landings. There are two built-in interior garden boxes in the formed concrete, panelled with the same slats. Other period features remain in the building.

This image of the building was captured from the 1976 Crawfords Production, Bluey, in the episode The Changeling. All aspects of the building as filmed are intact, with the only addition of a portico to the front entrance, likely during the late 1990s.

The font used for the (since removed) exterior signage ‘Prentice Builders’ and extant throughout the building on doors is Volta, a popular 1950s typeface.

Research sources include: National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne City Council, Boroondara City Council, University of Melbourne, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, The Age and The Argus.

Special thanks to Mary from Boroondara Council Building Services for specific information on the building age and architect.

Other links

Published on LinkedIn here.

The Origin of the Serif

The Origin of the Serif

All travellers to Rome experience the convergence of history; iconic monuments, fascinating architecture, cobbled streets. A maze of narrow roads and lanes to wander, struck by the placement of fragments, fountains, pillars and parks. Not to mention traffic, tourists and tiramisu.

For a graphic designer, the first glimpse of Trajan’s Column is peering into the evolution of serif typefaces. The serif origin begins in Roman antiquity, then moves to the Renaissance when interest in the classical world combines with the advent of the printing press. In particular, the font Trajan takes its direct inspiration from the ancient hand-carved inscription at base of the column. Designed by Carol Twombly for Adobe in 1989, most will know Trajan as a font used on movie posters and book covers.

Walking the Roman Forum is to see up-close carving remnants lying on the ground. In the four arches one cannot but admire the skill of people long-past; the elegance of the letter forms surviving through time. Of course, beyond the artistry, the inscriptions provide direct evidence for events and people of the Ancient World.

In the four arches one cannot but admire the skill of people long-past; the elegance of the letter forms surviving through time.

For a designer, apart from the historical chronicle, the typography has a beauty all of its own. There is a tangible sense to our collective professional past. Long before desktop publishing, offset presses, hot metal type, illuminated manuscripts and Gutenberg; masons elegantly carved roman letters into slabs of stone. Throughout the former Roman Empire, there are hundreds of museums and sites to view artfully carved inscriptions. Two particular favourites of mine are: Lugdunum Museum, Lyon and Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Colonge.

For those wishing to explore further, The Origin of Serif, 1968 by Edward Catich is recommended reading. Whether we can truly say at this point in time serifs originate from brush strokes or if they were used to neaten the chisel end, is perhaps, to miss the point of the underlying typographic elegance.

The serif is one of many fonts used in Ancient Rome. Technically, these are known as: Republican and Imperial capitals, rustic capitals, square capitals (Imperial Roman capitals written with a brush), uncials, and half-uncials, and a cursive script. The Vindolanda Tablets feature mesmerising examples this handwriting.