Would anyone be able to explain (in a simple way) what 'analog' refers to in graphic design, and what falls under that label? (i.e. 'analog vs digital design')

Hello all!

  1. I’m writing a paper on the resurgence of handmade, or elements of it, in graphic design [in contrast to digital design] and know what ‘analog’ loosely means, but couldn’t explain it if someone were to ask me and am not confident on the term. How does it relate to ‘handmade’ or elements of it, and in what ways is it different?

Does ‘analog’ refer to print design, or the process of hands-on techniques whilst designing? (i.e. die-cut, handdrawn elements, cutting/tearing, traditional media)

  1. Side note: Any resources that may be of interest on the handmade ‘revival’ in graphic design (not just typography) and the mix of digital/handcrafted elements in present day design would be welcome too! I have researched and researched and am going in circles a bit now.

Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this :slight_smile:


In theory, any print process that applies ink in a mechanical process could be considered analog, where any print process that uses “inkjet” technology would be considered digital.
For instance with silk screening, even on a mechanical press, ink is still squeegeed onto the receiving surface, whereas something like direct-to-garment printing spews ink through digitally controlled print heads.

You won’t find much analog any more on the backend though unless you go all the way back to handset type. Everything is pretty much set up using a computer file to make the films for the plates or screens.

That example I gave you of the scenic artists, the painters who do hand-painted drops are “analog” while the 40’ prints I do are “digital,” and the video projection taking the place of my 40’ prints is also digital to the point of being multi-media.

In my industry, analog can also refer to the hands-on process of assembling various materials into a thing. For instance, look at this picture:
When you look at that, what is digital and what is analog?
Is the model analog while the touch screens on the rails outside it’s case are digital?
Or is the model digital because the contours of the topography were likely cut on a CNC router table?
Assume the text on the panel in the upper left is silk screened on a handpainted board. Is that analog or digital?
The mural is obviously a digital print. The little irrigation gate display in front of it is analog.

Another area I work in often is with interactive exhibits.
Analog vs digital there might be more along the divide where the exhibit is mechanical rather than video driven.

We recently did a series of exhibits that went into historical homes or museums where using video would have been extremely anachronistic. Historical children’s skill games and non-electric interactives were used. Alternatively, in some recent science exhibits, everything interactive was controlled by touchscreen or with video game control type of interfaces.

Like design, the choice has to suit the intended message.

If you use a computer in the design process, it’s digital artwork. If you draw a picture with a pencil, that’s analog but if you scan it into PhotoShop (other image manipulation software is available) it becomes digital. Your original picture is still analog, but the scan is a digital artefact.

If you cut a woodblock and then ink it up and print from it in a block press, that’s all analog.

This past week, I needed to draw a B&W illustration of a mountain lion. I started out by collecting various digital images for reference. I printed them out to analog form, then sketched the animal with a pencil. I needed to refine it, so I scanned my analog sketch then digitally reworked it in Photoshop. I printed it out on a laser printer. Using tracing paper and a black Sharpie, I drew a largely final analog rendering of the animal. At that point, I scanned in the print and digitally redrew it in Illustrator. The final illustration will be used both online digitally and on printed on analog caution signs.

Simply put, computers are digital. Everything else is analog. The processes involved in creating something can be one or the other or combinations of both, which is also true of the final product.

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