Young graphic designers today don’t know what they’re missing: exacto blades, hot wax, and strippers in the pre-press …

– August 23, 2014

As a younger design colleague commented, “kinky!” Well, it was the decadent 80s.

1984 changed everything. As the changes filtered through the industry in the years that followed, the strippers, sadly, were replaced by machines.

Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial was incredibly influential in several ways. We all know what it did for personal computers, but it was also the very first ad specifically created for the Super Bowl audience. It only aired one time nationally (there was a preliminary airing just before midnight New Year's Eve in 10 local markets to qualify it for the 1983 awards), and it lives on today thanks to YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. Much has been written about that ad and about the influence of the Macintosh. I suppose that this post adds to that conversation if only in a back-handed manner.

Before the Mac, before everything went digital, it wasn’t just strippers in the pre-press, there were entire stripping departments. What a party! Although the strippers that I most remember weren't all that much to look at, man were they good. There was this one guy named Bruce…

Whoa, gutter check…

I’m talking about stripping together various film negatives in such a way that the press plates could be imaged and exposed. It was difficult, tedious, and highly specialized work.

What kind of stripper did you think I was talking about?

Before the Adobe creative suite, and the earlier generations of page layout software, there were photostats and type galleys carefully trimmed with exacto blades and pasted to a board with hot wax. I still have the scars to prove it. All of that had to then be photographed on a large format camera, and the negatives were assembled, or stripped together, in the pre-press area.

It took a level of commitment to become a graphic designer when I started. Most people didn’t have personal stat cameras sitting at home, whereas today, the computer and availability of digital imaging software like Adobe Photoshop have created an entire class of part-time and amateur graphic designers vying for freelance design work.

I don’t long for the way things used to be, in fact the memory of the odor from those heated wax roller machines still makes me nauseous. The changes to this industry aren’t necessarily better or worse, just different. Today I can create imagery impossible to even imagine back in 1984. But at the same time, an entire workforce of highly skilled typographers was displaced, shifting that responsibility to far less skilled graphic artists. (That’s a topic for a whole ’nother discussion.)

None-the-less, I can’t imagine not being a graphic designer today. Each morning brings with it a new challenge, my work is exposed to more people than I could ever reach through a gallery exhibition, and I get to work alongside the smartest and most creative people on the planet.

And though the way that I work is different today than it was 30-some years ago, it remains exciting, even without the strippers.