Graphic Design Software You Need to Learn for Graphic Design Employment

Cow Gum and Scalpels

I've been working with graphic design software as a Mac/PC-based designer since 1994. My first job in design was actually in 1987, whilst Macs were still getting a foothold in studios internationally. Then I had (if you can picture the scene) a drawing board, a pot of Cow Gum, a spatula, a metal ruler and a scalpel. These were the tools of my trade as a paste-up artist; no graphic design software in sight!

I'd receive pages of text from the typesetting machines downstairs. These I would slice up with my scalpel and roughly lay out on the page. Any photos or illustrations would need to be resized by the guys in the darkroom and passed to me to add to the layout. If the image was a fraction too large or small, back to the darkroom it would go for re-shooting.

Once the layout was to my satisfaction I'd paste the art board (which had coloured margins resembling today's default InDesign or Quark XPress page) with Cow Gum, which would stick everything in place. An expanding dry lump of the same Cow Gum would be used like an eraser to clean the paste board of glue - thus: “paste-up” artist. By today’s standards it was a tortuous process.

Notice also the “artist” part of the job title. It might not sound very artistic, sticking text and photos to a page, but having an eye for what looks good on a page was as relevant then as it is today.

Apple Mac Graphic Design Software Revolution

The landscape of today’s graphic design industry is unrecognisable in comparison. In just a few years the way the entire industry worked was changed - it was like a mini industrial revolution for graphic designers. Suddenly graphic design software made it possible to print proofs out instead of sticking them together and photocopying them. Deadlines became shorter as clients realised that they could get the same amount of work out of a studio in a quarter of the time.

Today a simple advert that would have taken a paste-up artist three or four hours to assemble can be put together to a press-ready standard in minutes (assuming the design has already been thrashed out). And it can be proofed by e-mail instead of post or fax. And after being signed off it can be e-mailed to a publication - which has freed designers from the large in-house paste-up studios - freed them to set themselves up as freelancers and independent studios.

Of course this is all old news - and there are a tremendous number of young graphic designers out there who did not experience the dubious benefit of learning the business at a drawing board covered in glue!

When the business was transformed by Apple Macintosh in the 1980s it was the beginning of a multitude of software companies. Different technologies fought with each other for market share, and it took a while (as the market grew) for them to talk to each other about common standards. Today we see fewer, much bigger companies, the biggest of which has to be Adobe which dominates the marketplace. The Adobe Creative Cloud (previously Creative Suite) software package is pretty much all you need these days for image, page makeup, web and computer-aided illustration work. The Adobe Opentype Font Library provides all the major font faces, and there's even an Adobe Image Library to fill your royalty free requirements.

My Two Cents

Quark XPress used to be the program of choice (along with Aldus PageMaker; long gone). It still fights a flagging battle. My experience with Quark has been mixed; their software was unsurpassed for years, and they seemed to become complacent. They didn't seem to see InDesign as a credible threat, so they took years to develop any major new features, by which time valuable ground had been lost.

Also, in my experience their customer service has not been exactly tip top. When I upgraded to Quark 6 for my studio shortly after its first release, it took nine months to arrive. That's some slow postage service. By the time it did turn up I was much more open to Quark alternatives; and when InDesign CS came along I became a convert. I still use Quark XPress for many projects, but generally only for archived jobs that require updating. I've given up waiting for them to convince me to trust them again.

Anyway, enough of the history and reviews...

What Graphic Design Software do I Need to Learn For Graphic Design Employment?

On Graphic Design Employment .com I'm going to focus on tutorials for (and essential information about) the typical (most popular) graphic design software for Mac and PC that you would find in a typical graphic design firm (excluding website design and production software for now). I have omitted version numbers. In my studio these are:

Graphic Design Software: Major Layout Programs
Graphic Design Software: Major Graphic Creation Programs
Graphic Design Software: Press Preparation & Utilities

Obviously there are additional programs like MS Word, Text Edit (or Notepad) and other support programs, but they won't find much air time on this website - the subject will just become too broad!

If you're looking for a definitive manual on how to use every application, you won't find it here. I'll just be touching on procedures which are relevant to the job in hand. This is just what I would do with a new design employee; I would start by giving them a project to work on and make sure they know what they need to get the job done. This is more effective than swamping them with information they don’t yet need to know.

I work with Macs. Don’t let this put off any PC users out there; most procedures apply equally to both platforms.

Any explanations or tutorials found here have been created (at the time of publication) using the CS2 version of the Adobe software suite and Quark XPress version 6.5. For the tasks we will be covering, earlier and later versions of the software behave in much the same way though, with one or two exceptions and a number of enhancements.

Where Can I Learn How to Use This Graphic Design Software?

Well, you'll learn a lot from this site! I've made the assumption that most readers of this will already be familiar with at least the basics of essential graphic design software. If not, either because you have no access to installed software or because you are looking for a career change, there are many great graphic design colleges and courses which will provide a thorough grounding in both graphic design theory and software use.

The purpose of this site is (in case you were still wondering) to 'top up' the knowledge of those looking for graphic design employment. This site is filled with the minimum information that a new boss will expect a new graphic design employee to know, first day on the job. Learn everything on this site and you should be able to go into an interview for a print-based graphic design job with confidence in your ability to do the work.

What about Website Design Software?

When I first wrote for this website we didn't cover designing for the internet - however, since there's an ever-pressing need for a designer to diversify, I've written some tutorials on using Dreamweaver as well.

Resources & More Information


by Nick Beresford Davies | © Training, advice, resources, confidence building for graphic designers

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