Student By Day, Professional By Night


In the early days of my career, I can honestly say I did my best work at night: among other things, I freelanced as a paste-up artist for local agencies that needed rush, overnight or emergency work done. I was lucky: I had a photographic memory, and could retain dozens of instructions without writing anything down. Naturally I'd be met with skepticism at first—until, that is, I turned in the job the next morning.

One agency in particular kept me busy many a night and even some weekends. They were especially pleased with one job because they didn't know the type galleys they supplied didn't match the layout, and so I redesigned the layouts in the wee hours. While the art director changed all of my work, it didn't bother me: he was the art director, so it was his prerogative. And it didn't bother him: he was most impressed and pleased that I didn't return with blank pasteup boards, because if there hadn't been enough time for a quick redesign, the job could still have gone to press. His satisfaction was demonstrated by the fact that he continued to make use of my services for quite some time afterward.


One silly thing I enjoyed doing in later years was relate to a group that I worked my way through college as a stripper. This was of course met with groans, mock disgust, rolled eyes and disbelief. I would insist it was totally true, and in fact it was totally true. The catch: no one ever knew what I really meant. You see, for me "stripping" was the process of assembling negatives together on flats, which were then used to burn printing plates.

Stripping was considered quite a skill, because it required both precision and speed, and good strippers were paid well, especially those who worked off-hours. I spent many a night hunched over a large lightbox fusing negatives to amber paper flats and opening windows for the image areas of the negatives with a sharp knife. For multi-color jobs, a separate flat was required for each color, all precisely registered, unless it was a simple job with no traps, seps or overlays, in which case a single flat was created with openable windows for each color.


Since I was doing all of this whilst attending college classes to (presumably) learn these skills, I was often asked by other students what these jobs were like in the real world, since most profs hadn't worked in the industry for many years. Consequently, some of my profs weren't especially happy with me, because our respective views did not align.

Example: they portrayed the process of working up the ladder of a big Manhattan ad agency, starting at the bottom as a comp artist—someone who renders sketches of proposed artwork—then moving up to an actual artist who renders the final art, then up to a designer, then a director, and so on. In real life, one was much more likely to start out at a little local agency (as opposed to heading straight for the big city) where one is expected to be able to do pretty much everything, including typography, cleaning the chemical tanks, and taking out the trash. Worlds apart.


If you're from the same generation as I am—that is, prior to desktop publishing or digital prepress or anything computer-based—and were involved in the graphic arts, typography and/or printing industries, then some of these random terms might stir some ancient memories...

  • 1/2/3/4/etc.-color
  • 2/3/4/etc.-fold
  • (amber/ruby)lith
  • Bestine
  • blanket wash
  • blue(line)
  • burnish
  • brayer
  • Chartpak
  • CMYK
  • (color) proof
  • (color) reg(istration)
  • (color) sep(aration)
  • (color) trap(ping)
  • comp(rehensive)
  • crash printing
  • crop marks
  • dot gain
  • drop cap
  • dry transfer
  • embossing
  • flat
  • (flat) windows
  • flood varnish
  • flush left/right
  • (full) bleed
  • gutter
  • halftone
  • hot type
  • indicia
  • Itek Quadratec
  • justified
  • kerning
  • knock-out
  • leading
  • Letraset
  • ligature
  • lightbox
  • litho (neg(ative))
  • lithography
  • overlay
  • page creep
  • paper plate
  • pasteup
  • perf(ing)
  • (photo)stat/PMT
  • PMS (color/number/match)
  • Prestype
  • process color
  • proofing
  • rag(ged) left/right
  • reg(istration) marks/pins
  • reverse (out)
  • rivers and lakes
  • signature
  • split fountain
  • spot color/varnish
  • stat cam(era)
  • stripper/stripping
  • thermo(graphy/type)
  • tip-in
  • (type) galley
  • typesetter/typesetting
  • waxer
  • widows and orphans
  • X-Acto

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