Now that you know I've had four jobs AND I've completed 1875 jobs, let's talk about the tools that I've used to get those jobs done.
In my work-study job in college I worked a stat camera, a machine we called a Lucy that allowed you to enlarge a reflective image to trace it, and a photo-typesetting machine. All of which were in-demand tools for busy students. Communal tools included light boxes, paper cutters and a shrink wrap machine.
At the same time my personal tools included multiple t-squares (one steel edged for cutting, one acrylic edged for paste up), triangles (right angle, 30-60-90, and adjustable), a set of rapidograph pens, X-Acto knives, French curves and one of those nifty angled drafting desks. It was the age of photo-based design. But photocopiers had yet to enter the mainstream. Design comps were generally hand-lettered and hand-illustrated with markers on Bienfang layout paper. A fancy comp might incorporate press type—bought a size at a time for around $10 a sheet. And if we were being really fancy, or had a special presentation, we might spend $100 a sheet and order custom press type of our own designs. But the process could take weeks. The artwork had to be mailed. Then the sheets created (a week to 10 days). Then mailed back. It was a different time.
For production of real jobs, type was specified by marking up typed pages of text with cryptic notes and sending it to a typesetter. The typesetter would follow the mark up and hand input the text. Then they would output photographic galleys. Designers would paste the galleys onto board creating page layout mechanicals. In the case of paying jobs, those mechanicals would be photocopied for clients to proof.
My first few freelance jobs generally involved pasting up mechanicals for other designers. And this meant a lot of hand cutting of type changes. A type change, which forced a line to re-rag, would mean hand cutting single words and moving them around on a page. (i.e. one type change could reflow an entire paragraph. Each line needs to be cut out and shifted individually. Imagine what can happen in a set-solid annual report?!) My X-Acto knife was my best friend.
During this time there were two significant adhesive choices—wax or rubber cement. Waxers were wildly popular and there were nifty little heated units that you passed your type galleys and stats through and a thin layer of wax was applied to the back. I was firmly in the rubber cement camp. I preferred the permanence of the double layer method. A thin coat of dried rubber cement on the piece you were pasting AND a thin layer on the surface to be pasted onto. Being in the rubber cement camp meant that two particular tools were always at my side—a tin of rubber cement thinner and a rubber cement pick up. The pick up was a small eraser-like square that pulled errant globs of the adhesive.
Photos or illustrations were physical reflective artwork (or transparencies). Black and white line art would be photostatted to size and be placed in the mechanical. Full color artwork would be scanned by the printer or separation house and stripped into film. The designer and the printer would never see an image in place. However, once photocopying became commonplace photos could be copied and cut into position on an overlay.
If a design called for a gradation of color you had to hire an air brusher to create the gradation for you—then photostat that and place it onto a layer of your mechanical.
Just to give you an idea of who might be involved in the production of a simple postcard: designer, illustrator or photographer, typesetter, courier, prepress shop to shoot stats, separation house and finally the printer. Today I do most all of that myself.
By the late 80s, and my third job, one local printer had the capability to retouch an image (imagine the simplest cloning from Photoshop, like removing a pimple) at the rate of $500 per hour on their fancy Scitex machine. And fax machines enabled us to receive text from clients and send it off to the typesetter without the expense of a courier.
Around 1989, during my fourth job, computers enter the scene in a significant way. The Mac IIci was the first really popular production computer. Followed quickly by laser printers—which were huge behemoths that cost thousands and thousands of dollars. With the growing prominence of Macs service bureaus began to pop up. A service bureau was a place that could scan images (cutting out the separator) and more importantly print out your digital files onto reproduction quality paper or film for creating a mechanical. As time went on and the page layout software improved AND the imaging technology developed, service bureaus progressed to being able to output film for printing—eliminating the mechanical.
During this time we were using Quark XPress for typesetting and page layout and Illustrator for illustration. Photoshop was crude and not in common use but was capable of creating some really exciting effects—transparency, gradations and retouching. (Again, there were two camps. Some designers were devotees of Aldus Page Maker. I was not.)
I created my first wholly digital file for printing around 1992 on a Mac Classic. The job was a one-color postcard. (Very appropriately sized for the teeny, tiny monitor.) The job was output onto paper and a physical mechanical was still produced for printing from.
My first publication, a 36-page report, was created about six months later. (These were little more than one color mechanicals. I still needed the printer to scan the images and drop them into place.)
I've skipped more than a few developments but you get the idea. Tools change. They always change.
(Cue Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher: change is the only constant in life.)
But I want you to consider something really important. Tools may change but some things do not fade away. In fact, the most important tool you have will never leave you. That tool? Of course, it is you. Your brains. Your heart. And your hands.
But you need to remember you are in this for the long haul. Stay tuned for five simple rules to keep your tools sharp.