A History of Graphic Design Production

Up until just over 30 years ago, when the desktop computer debuted, the whole design production process would have been done primarily by hand, and with the aide of analog machines.

This is wonderful.



  • James Hughes

    I still have my proportion wheel.

    I remember the first time I set some text in Aldus Pagemaker and printed it to my new QMS PS-810 printer. We all marveled as to how quickly it printed. We printed it on laser paper that had a special blue coating on the back though. I mean we had to, how else were we going to run it through the waxer?

    • brucej

      I need to re-bug my mom for Dad’s old leroy lettering set. She knows it’s around the house somewhere, just not where. I also have a mostly complete set of Rapidograph pens around somewhere, and should really get my beloved old #2 out of storage and se if I can get t working again. http://dbdev2.pharmacy.arizona.edu/images/gallery/rapidoradII.jpg

      • James Hughes

        That was one of my favorites too. For daily work I’d use a Kohinoor set, .25, the tan ringed one, was my go to pen. I miss those days of cutting rubylith (or amberlith), and paste up, composition work. Fanning out set text on curves etc. Except one day when I was working at a photo studio / lab, and cutting out masks for hundreds of lamps. : /

        • Mo

          I can’t remember whether I used a .25 or a .5 Rapidograph for drawing. At the school newspaper, I used those pens more for cartooning (on paper that destroyed the nibs) than for making ruled lines.

          I never dealt with rubylith; that was the negative strippers’ domain, after they got our completed boards.

          • James Hughes

            And the only time I used a brayer was in college transferring the ink for wood block art. I should take a new art class sometime.

          • Mo

            We used lucite brayers for flattening type on the page. I believe mine still has some wax on it.

  • MonkeyT

    That 3 minute film was my printing career. I learned traditional letterpress as an undergrad, learned typesetting as a senior, got my first job shutting down a darkroom in a small print shop as I taught them how to produce a full layout via an AGFA imagesetter (Pagemaker and Photoshop before they had numbers in their name.) The shop went from two color loose register work to four color process in four years, then I moved to a startup with a fully digital workflow (from concept to digital press in as little as six hours). Direct to press wasn’t efficient (burning plates occupied the press, which is where the real money was earned), so I backed into direct to plate and high end photo retouching for the next few years. Within four more years, software had caught up to me, and interns could now do what I’d learned over a decade (at half the price). I left prepress because I’d seen the daily operation of a print shop move from requiring twenty highly skilled professionals in broadly different fields to producing five times the work with four moderately skilled workers. I love technology, but if you’re on the wrong side of it, it will bite you on the ass.

  • rick gregory

    My Dad sold printing paper to agencies and printers and I still remember him taking me, when I was 8 or so, to a letterpress printer and the guys there showing me how they set metal type by hand.

    Later, in college, I sold Letraset press-on lettering and Pantone color guides to graphic arts folks. A bit after that I was writing papers on the first Mac and still remember printing on a LASER printer. At 300 dpi!!

    It’s interesting to wonder what kids today will look back on and marvel at… “we used to carry our terminals in our hands! And called them ‘Phones’!!”

    • brucej

      Haha. Back when I was in high school we still had a robust Industrial Arts program that included a printing shop. Learned to hand set type, made a couple litho prints and etchings and got to use a Linotype machine, a gift from the local newspaper.

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  • bobrk

    Literally chills. My dad made the transition from paste up to Macs.

    • James Hughes

      Many of us did. Now I work in IT and manage a prepress department. Because it’s not quite like it was, if you didn’t explore other areas of expertise, unfortunately you’d be left behind or become stagnant at best.

      • Mo

        I worked as a typesetter for a bunch of years at a small commercial printer (offset litho) whose owner apparently believed his Mergenthaler CrTronics would remain viable forever, even as PC-based shops were taking more and more business away from him.

        In the end, I was setting type for him on my Mac Quadra 650 and LaserJet 4M, saying hi to his messenger twice a week, while he sat on the phone in his empty plant, trying to broker print jobs.

        • James Hughes

          I was the fallback guy for our CrTronic, I hated that thing. What was it again.. | B F120 PL12″ or something like that. I couldn’t wait for Anita to come back from her vacations so I could get back to doing fun stuff like paste up. I still miss doing it. Back then it was actually relaxing. I still remember late nights staring at a light table and going out to the dark and not being able to see a thing.

          • Mo

            It was the CrTronic that almost gave me RSI, but that was more about the desk/chair setup than the hardware. I actually liked the keyboard (the Linoterm’s keyboard before it had required a sledgehammer keystroke force), and even the coding made sense after awhile. But I sure didn’t miss having to specify line length, leading, etc. after migrating to my platform of choice.

            Flash forward to the Web, and HTML appears. It looks damned familiar. Too familiar.

    • Mo

      So did I! Speak up, sonny!

  • Kip Beatty

    Between this and the FinalCut Pro documentary, my Mac/Designer/Film Maker passions are getting a serious belly rub. My leg is thumping.

  • Mo

    That page links to another one which has more description of the video, plus another link to its source:

    https://www.dexigner.com/news/30309

    Yep, this is my history, too. I was taught pasteup by the art department at a catalog production house while running their stat camera. Apart from the rubber cement and Bestine Thinner fumes, I loved assembling pages with an X-Acto knife. Everything made sense. I still have some of my tools from that time. I should probably find a picture frame that’ll hold them all, except for the brayer.

    I learned typesetting on Mergenthaler Linoterms while working on my college newspaper, and never looked back at my computer science degree. Personal computers were a curiosity, but until the Mac appeared, I had no interest in them. And then the Mac appeared; it seemed to be what I’d been waiting for. And it was.

    I was too late for letterpress, which probably also means I’ll be too late to collect Social Security before it’s taken away.