The state of Prepress now and 30 years ago

It really shouldn’t surprise me but here I am at the eve of my retirement year, not looking to do a farewell tour or anything but…how come there is no longer anybody that gives a crap about prepress anymore? Printing used to be an art form. Something to be proud of. I guess in the world we live in today, nobody has time to appreciate what goes into the whole idea of ink and paper, and what a big factor prepress plays into a really good looking printed piece.
Kind of sad.
And now trying to find someone to take over my position - it’s not taught anymore. Digital has replaced offset printing that looking for that person - ANY person - with an interest in Illustrator, Photoshop, trap and choke, plates and so on - crickets.
Just a Saturday night with only myself to bounce things off of. No experience required.


Hiya Rick! Good to see you :slight_smile:

I think you will hear a few mentioning on here … they can’t retire fast enough. Seems the whole industry is going to hell in a handbasket :frowning:


Hey RKK! Been so long since I’ve really been here I don’t know what you go by anymore.

My boss is of no help. He knows I can’t give my years of experience to someone else but the guy he wanted me to train last had no graphic experience whatsoever. But he liked computers. I was expected to teach him illustrator. I am not a teacher. I did my time in trade school. I know there’s frustrated prepress people everywhere. I’m too proud to walk out without some sort of backup but it’s just not out there.

1 Like

Still the same old RKK or Kittie lol … It’s been with me too many years to change it :wink:

I can only imagine your frustration :frowning:

Here’s to finding a good candidate … soon!

Hey! I know the feeling!

You get prepress monkeys these days, or Mac Monkeys was the term years ago. People who know what settings to look out for on a prepress check - but have no idea why it was set that way or how to change it - or if it’s right or wrong for that task.

I started in prepress as an apprentice over 20 years ago, and when I started there was 3 designers, 1 typesetter, 1 proofreader, 2 prepress technicians (I was 3rd), 2 camera/film/plating techs, and 1 person assigned to impositions.

I was learning each of their roles at the time. There was 10 of them, and I had to learn all of their jobs.

By the time I finished - 4 years later - the camera was defunct, the proofreader had a stroke proofreading one day and had to retire, the typesetter had to quit as his pension fund went missing and he had to go solo to try make as much money as he could, one designer left for a big studio, and the other designer actually died (50 years of age) in her chair designing one day - one camera tech was let go - as the camera was defunct. The other guy was offered redundancy. They bought a platesetter and got rid of the camera and all the other platemaking equipment.

By the end of 4 years there was me and and 1 other guy - the prepress tech - in charge of everything. We had gone from about 10 to 2 - in four years!

Not only was I running the print, doing impositions, managing projects, but nobody really knew what to do. In fact, I have memories of having to jump in the forklift and get paper down from racks, run it over to the guillotine and trim it to size for the project.

So many things happened in those 4 years. I eventually left - when I told the owner I was leaving he couldn’t believe it, he actually gasped and fell off his chair. He was genuinely shocked.

1 Like

I’m looking for someone now too. Not just to replace me in a few years but to replace the two competent people who have left in the last two years. The problem is, the owner thinks it is a “neck-down” job to make signs and do print work and doesn’t want to pay what it’s gonna take to get someone who knows the software well enough to be taught, has real hand-eye skills and has enough personal autonomy to be sent out to do local installs. That ain’t no minimum wage job. Oh, and it’s NOT a design job.

rickself, I hear ya brother. Retired in June. I started off as a graphic designer before PC’s doing logos for teams and companies. Back then you charged by the project, not how little you could squeeze out of them. I quickly got into prepress since it seemed only natural. LOVED IT! And of course I thought PC’s would be the new tool to make our lives easier. Little did I know it would not only devalue the whole process but create generations of dunderheads who called themselves designers because they could throw some letters on a word doc and then take it to me to get printed. The same it true today with all of the “designer kids” on the phone grabbing web graphics and wanting 4 color seps from them. They don’t know they want that but the printing they want requires it…I could go on and on.

Throughout my time the only thing I have not done is actually run a press. Daylight cameras are fun but traditional plate making gives you toys to play with for lighting and darkness. Gone are the days when you could discuss trapping with a coworker and they knew what you meant. How about watermarks? Remember when you would double check those? Or how about the reason the stock curled is because the grain was going the wrong way? You mention this stuff today and people just stare at you. And don’t get me started on color theory…

Thirty-five years ago, there was no such thing as an amateur graphic designer. Few people had the tools or the skills and know-how to use them. Today, anyone with a computer has ready access to the basic tools, even though, like 35 years ago, they still lack the skills to use them properly.

Computers have created many new paths for design — some good, some not so good.


Just a follow-up, now that I’ve been thinking about it.

Thirty-five years ago, there was no instant gratification of seeing one’s work on a computer display. Instead, one needed to wait to see the Color Key or Match Print proof after all the camera work and stripping were finished and the negatives burned.

Instead of seeing what the finished product would look like on a computer display, envisioning it in one’s head was necessary. You needed to know, based on experience, what different color percentages would look like or how to figure out how much space the text would take up once the speced type got back from the type house.

Whether they had the tools and know-how or not, nobody would order type and color separations, then build a paste-up mechanical and cut all the amberlith overlays just for fun.

Today, instead of developing a working knowledge of prepress and printing, way too many designers move things around on their computers until it’s, um, pretty enough for them. Then they save it to a PDF and send it off, hoping for the best without really understanding much of what happens after they’re done with it.

Traps, spreads, dot gain, screen tints, the computer software handles all of it provided the right checkboxes are marked. Unfortunately, most new designers don’t really understand any of this, and they have little idea how to set up their software to accommodate these still-important parts of the process. Way too many struggle with the simple stuff, such as RGB vs. CMYK vs. spot color, resolution issues, or knowing what a halftone is.

I’ve never worked directly in prepress, but I developed a healthy respect for what’s involved long ago. I can only imagine the junk that shows up that they need to sort through from people who have no idea how to prepare their artwork other than making it look nice on their computer displays.

Two thoughts to add to the conversation.

First, and forgive me for sounding arrogant, but printer’s love to get files from me. There’s no back and forth. The rip and print the first time. Even with more complex jobs. i did an annual report a few years ago that had a flap inside the front cover with a die cut on the front cover. Everything had to line up perfectly so that the artwork that was printed inside the flap would be visible and square inside the die cut. The front cover is short in this case so that the flap doesn’t get cut off on the final three-edge trim. This was a rare instance when the printer’s sales rep called and tried to convince me the art would not print correctly. I stuck to my guns and told them it would. When the rep actually printed it out and made a mockup, she called and told me I was right. The point of this is not to pat myself on the back or sound like a snooty know-it-all, but it’s to say that a solid knowledge of the printing process goes a long way. I’d assume @Just-B and some of the other more senior members can relate to this.

The other thing I wanted to mention is the lost art of the tight marker comp. The guy that was my mentor in the business used to make these beautiful marker comps. Honestly, I wish I had some of them. I’d probably frame them and hang them in my office. They left little room for interpretation to the photographer or illustrator or production artist what the piece was supposed to look like. That’s a real lost art.

When I was in college, way back when, I took a class in using markers to draw comps and architectural illustrations. It seemed impossible at first, but after watching the professional from one of the agencies in town burn a few out, I realized that the secret was to do everything fast with quick geometric strokes. I never got especially good at it, but it wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined.

1 Like

©2021 Graphic Design Forum | Contact | Legal | Twitter | Facebook