Tools, tactics and resources for non-graphic designers in print shops and other organizations

Olivia Parker.
Olivia Parker.

Here, Olivia Parker (B.Tech, MPC), Innovation & Support Specialist at the Taylor Printing Group in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and graduate from the Graphic Communications Management Course at Ryerson University in Toronto, reveals some workable strategies for the non-graphic designer.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a graphic artist. Those very talented, ingenious creators are able to take the tools of the trade – Adobe Creative Suite, Corel Draw, Freehand, QuarkXPress and the program fondly called by myself and my co-workers as Punisher (Microsoft Publisher) – and create incredible designs. Knowing how these programs work so that files can be made press-ready is where any prepress operator excels. However, the reality is that small print shops do not necessarily have dedicated graphic designers, causing composition work to fall to prepress staff who have the skills in the software, but not always a flair for design. In addition, graphic design takes time. When a pre-press operator is already responsible for multiple tasks, design can be a frustrating distraction.

The Internet is one solution to this dilemma, of course, but there are other tactics one can use to tackle graphic design challenges. In an ideal world, clients would know exactly what they want, allowing for an easy execution of their vision. However, I think we can all agree that not all customers are that prepared. In most cases, only a few basic details are provided, such as, what the product is, and the instruction to be “creative” – which is about the same as telling a press operator that the red needs to be more inspiring.

First, when I’m first presented with a design project, I begin by searching for any other jobs we have done for that customer. Not only is this a valuable insight into the customer’s style, but any files, typefaces, and logos found could be re-purposed for the project, thus saving time and energy if they have to be searched for later. Speaking directly with the customer also helps. I’ve found that customers are able to provide exact examples to show what they want, or provide valuable details that they have not shared with the salesperson or customer service representative.

designtoolsparker1-inSecond, I refer to the almighty Google for my muse. Search engines and social media are great sources of inspiration for design. By simply searching for images, a plethora of unique designs are presented and cool templates can be found by adding the keyword “free.” However, be leery and attentive to the creative rights on any pieces used from the Internet. Social media websites are also a great way to collect, curate, and organize design ideas. For example, Pinterest lets users “pin” unique ideas within a thematic “board” for future reference.

Design is the third consideration. This is arguably the part that takes the most time. In addition, it’s no longer just about designing for print, but about providing complete, cohesive brand assets. There are numerous online tools that reduce design woes and time. Websites like Simunity and Noun Project have vector icons. User-friendly websites like Canva virtually build standard documents and social media graphics. Canva’s free version features a number of common products in standard sizes, with a variety of free beautiful layouts, the ability to upload custom images, and pay-as-you-use options. It’s a great resource for some quick and striking designs that can be downloaded as high-resolution PDFs with crop marks and bleed. Just be aware that the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies.

designtoolsparker2-inFinally, whenever possible, I use software javascripts. Scripts can take challenging or boring tasks and instantly perform them, allowing the user to focus on their ideas. If it’s a monotonous task, there’s probably a script for it. Many Adobe products already come with scripts built-in – but useful, downloadable scripts can be found via Internet searches or curated libraries like Scriptopedia. For example, there are scripts to create various calendar layouts in InDesign, divide a graphic into puzzle pieces in Illustrator, and convert entire photo folders from one file format into another using Photoshop.

Doing graphic design in pre-press is sometimes necessary in order to keep the customer happy. Regardless of one’s creative capabilities, we all have the skills to execute incredible compositions quickly using the resources available. No matter which methods or techniques an individual uses to expedite his or her design process, what will be produced by prepress will be properly formatted and ready to print.



Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.