Graphic Production & Multimedia

“WHAT’S A PRODUCTION ARTIST
...and would I want to be one?”

In a Graphics Department, there are creative people (designers and illustrators), administrative people (account managers), and production people (print production managers and production artists). They all work together.

A Print Production Artist takes from a designer a comprehensive, better known as a "comp," which could be an incomplete electronic file, a bunch of images, or even a hand-drawn sketch of a designer's intention, and creates a mechanical — a complete digital file or combination of files that's problem-free when it goes out to the printer.

Production artists are usually the ones on staff who often stay late to fix things at the last minute to meet the printing deadline after most of the rest of the staff has gone home. They rarely get credit for what they do, as they're working on the nitty gritty details in the background and the designer usually gets all the glory. So unless a production artist is paid well, is in it for the experience (i.e., to become a better designer), or lives to work, he or she can wind up in what is my opinion one of the least rewarding occupations in the graphics industry.

...Still interested?

The main software tools of a Production Artist are usually (but not exclusively) Quark Xpress or Adobe Indesign (page layout), Adobe Illustrator (drawing), Adobe Photoshop (image editing), and Adobe Acrobat (PDF document manipulation).

The Basics

Some of the skills required: Checking the sizes, resolutions, color modes of all graphics, proofing and retouching art, fixing tints, recreating logos, checking plate separations for offset printing and making any changes to trapping; knowing the difference between an overprint and a knockout, cmyk vs. rgb, spot color vs. process, vector vs. raster, what a bleed, a trim and a live area means, how to create or work with a clipping path or a die cut, plotting charts and graphs in Illustrator from spreadsheet data or tracing from a scan or a pdf file of a chart and adapting an Illustrator chart to a design, knowing when to convert type to outlines in Illustrator, when to add a slight stroke to "beef-up" the type or ensure proper positioning, extracting elements from a pdf file and knowing when it’s not such a good idea.

Type- and Layout-wise, it helps to know about kerning, tracking and wordspacing, when ragged copy looks bad and when excess hyphenation or bad spacing makes it look even worse, widows and orphans, hanging indents and columns vs, hitting tab, tab, tab, tab, tab..., soft returns on every line in a layout vs. strategically using nonbreaking spaces, and keeping page layout master pages pristine by not messing with their elements after document pages are generated from them.

Believe it or not, there are many so-called production artists out there who don't have these basic skills.

Beyond the Basics...

Added experience, like using a densitometer, calibrating an imagesetter (like a Linotronic for film or paper), setting up print spooling network software to work with a software RIP for various settings (e.g. paper, emulsion up film, emulsion down film) when there isn’t anyone else around who will figure out how to do it, and proofing and retouching halftone art based on what comes out of that imagesetter can also add a competitive edge, as it did for me back in the '90s at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ) (before the merger with Credit Suisse).

I not only did high-end print production there, but eventually dabbled in Web and multimedia. Links to a few examples of my work at DLJ can be found above right.