A lot has changed in our industry over the years, so we asked one of our creative stalwarts, John Carrick, to take us down memory lane and give us a glimpse of how studio life was 20 or so years ago.

Visuals were created using layout pads and colour marker pens, which is still the best way to sell an idea today in my opinion! Letterset transfer type and Letterfilm (a self adhesive coloured film) were also used to approximate the look of the finished printed work. Presentations were prepared by mounting the finished visuals onto coloured board; again, this practice hasn’t altered much over the years although we utilise modern technology and subsequent applications to greater effect today.

Finished artwork was prepared by drawing in ink on to a CS10 board which had a smooth coating on the surface specially formatted to produce a very fine line. Acetate overlays were taped over the board to facilitate special colours, type or photographs. Anything that was not to be printed such as guide lines, position markers for shots or instructions to the printer had to be done with a blue pencil or pen as the plate making process was only sensitive to the red side of the colour spectrum.

Work was prepared at a Drawing Desk like an architect’s or draftsman. The art board was fixed by sticky tape and a parallel rule and set square were used to draw horizontal and vertical lines. Solid areas of colour were blocked in using ink, opaque black paint or Rubylith film (a dark red adhesive film that was translucent but which the process camera read as black).

Black and white photographs could be pasted onto the art board in position and the engraver would apply a half-tone dot screen to them during the process stage, but usually the shots were supplied separately. Colour shots were normally supplied as transparencies and therefore could not be pasted on the artwork. The photographs would be marked-up for cropping and/or scaling and cross-referenced for position on the finished page.

Type was bought in from external typesetting agencies (now extinct since the advent of desktop computers). The artist had to mark-up how the copy should look specifying typeface, style and size and the typesetter would process it and send back a proof for corrections. The final pull would then be pasted in place on the artwork.

A common device found in studios at that time was a Grant Projector or Visualiser. This was a very large vertical camera apparatus that was used to scale originals to a size required by the designer or finished artist. They also, with certain additional apparatus, could be used as a camera to enlarge/reduce type and other graphic material. A darkroom with all the necessary chemicals etc. was then essential. Eventually the cumbersome Grant was replaced by the advent of photocopiers with a zoom function that proved a faster and cheaper alternative. Everything had to be exceptionally clean and neat, as the process camera would turn the slightest smudge or fingerprint into an indelible mark. The negative produced by the engraver was often retouched by them or by the artist to remove any unwanted blemishes. All work, as happens today, had to be checked at client level before printing commenced and Cromalin proofs would be produced for that purpose.

Retouching of photographs was highly skilled manual work undertaken by professional specialists, that were contracted in by the studio manager when required. Hand lettering was a skill that most finished artists had mastered and were required to use, as was illustration to a certain level required.

Work was much more labour intensive than today, but the same deadlines had to be met so shortcuts and other methods were employed to get the work completed on time. When computers appeared on the scene they were firstly used to produce an in-house typesetting function. This ended the expensive cost of buying in type and Letraset and was also much quicker to produce.

Computers have completely changed the way we work, the speed at which we work and the volume of work any one artist can produce. However, it has been at the cost of all those key skills. It is no longer necessary to hand letter, illustrate or photo retouch. All of these can be done on a computer now in a fraction of the time they used to take.

In short it takes fewer people less time to do more work today.