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Jodie Hansen working at a drafting table early in her career.

Production – Old Meets New

Date Posted: May 14, 2018Reading time: 5 minutes

Production. What does that word really mean in the world of advertising today? Back in the day when I was in college studying illustration (and that was a long time ago), we were more about creating beautiful pictures and less about how they were reproduced. I remember in my last year of college when computers were beginning to arrive on the scene. Pagemaker was the software of choice and I believe I made a stunning letterhead (or so I thought at the time) with this cutting-edge software. I was pretty proud of myself and thought I was on the cusp of the future.

Upon graduation, I was like most keen newbies to the Advertising industry. I couldn’t wait for that first job so I could put my mark on the world. Back then, the foot-in-the-door job for just about everyone was paste-up. Not a very sexy start, but a necessary one. This was the foundation of the printing process. Needless to say, sending artwork to the printer was quite a different process back then.

Instead of computer desks, we all had drafting tables that could be set on an angle to secure our paste-up boards too. It was similar to putting a bunch of pieces together in a puzzle. Type was given to me in galleys (long strips) from the type-setter and it was up to me to cut it apart where needed, and also to assemble on my board in the ad size required. Proofreading was someone’s full-time job—they would check over the type before it was released. The type strip was fed through a waxer machine that would put a coat of wax on the back so you could stick it on your board. A trusty T-Square and Set Square and a well-trained eye would keep everything straight while positioning. I carefully used a scalpel to cut everything (although, based on my stitches, sometimes I was a bit less than careful). Rule #1 in the studio? Never bleed on the artwork! Also, I’d pray that no punctuation needed to be changed because that meant balancing a tiny period square on the tip of my scalpel and hoping I wouldn’t lose it. Let’s just say I was mostly successful.

Any keylines around photos needed to be drawn by hand with an ink-filled tech pen which was a little nerve-wracking, because any ink blobs on your board meant a start from scratch. Photos weren’t magically digital and ready to pop in and manipulate. I had to calculate the size required based on a transparency of the final photo. It was then passed along to be Photostatted to the correct size on special paper, and then stuck on our boards as another piece of the puzzle.

The next phase was prepping the board for the printer. A tissue overlay would be placed on the board where a bible of instructions would be written out. All the elements on the board were in black and white, so every item had to be marked up with a designated colour, and whether or not photos would be colour or black and white. Only then would film be made.

During this phase of my career, I also graduated to Marker Rendering. This process was used to layout an ad so the client would have a rough idea of what it would look like in colour before moving on to the final process of assembling boards for film. I would have a generic “serif font” and a “sans-serif font” that I would render and I would also need to draw whatever else was needed to sell the concept—a car, shoes or whatever. I remember being high on the fumes from the alcohol-based markers that we used all day, but it was very satisfying to see an idea come to life on paper. To produce a rendering of a single page ad would sometimes take all day to pull together. If I needed a reference image to draw from, it wasn’t like I could just google it and have an image instantly pop up on screen. I had a library of photo reference folders of hundreds of images in a filing cabinet that I would search in to hopefully find the item I was looking for.

Today, most of these steps are now obsolete as we do all of our assembling on screen. But the background knowledge of what happens to your file once it leaves your hands is still very much the same. It is imperative to know if your digital files will separate properly for the printer, just as your instructions on your paste-up boards had to be clear and concise. You can currently look at digital separations on your screen to preview for accuracy just as we used to make film separations as part of the end product. RGB files do not make a happy printer! Neither do 72dpi files. Sending a “clean” file will make them a very happy camper, however. The bottom line: knowing your stuff and your files will save time and money for everyone in the end.

These days, our clients are almost spoiled by the slick comps that we pull together in the beginning of the process. They are pretty much “done” in the first round of approvals. Every once in a while, I love it when we go “old school” and draw linear layouts for client approval. In my opinion, this is still the best way to go at times, preventing the client from getting caught up in unnecessary details like the colour of someone’s sweater or what’s happening in the background in a stock photo. These sketches are just about pure concept.

Technology can be exciting and great, but there is still much to be said for learning about the process of reproducing files and what happens along the way to the final product. After all, a lot goes into making that beautiful bound piece that you just can’t wait to share with your client.