I'm a printing/graphic design fraud.
June 9, 2009 7:29 AM   Subscribe

HELP! I've been bluffing for years about my graphic design abilities, technical knowledge, and general printing skills. Please recommend some books so I can actually understand what I am doing.

I really need to learn the words so I can communicate properly with others. SVG, PDF, vector, rip, 4/0, CMYK, outlined fonts, flatten files are terms I don't really understand, and there are dozens I don't even know I should know. I'd like to find a book to get started on my education.

I'm not looking to become an instant graphic design professional, I need to be able to talk to them and not be completely out of my depth every time I open my mouth.

There may be classes in my future, I'd like to be able to pick the right ones.
posted by Classic Diner to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
HELP! I've been bluffing for years about my graphic design abilities.

Believe me, so have they. Including the professors and 'professionals.' Hell, especially them.

Not to be all obvious, but Wikipedia has great articles that explain almost every example you mention. SVG, for example, or CMYK.

Really, they're great. Now keep bluffing until you're great.
posted by rokusan at 7:36 AM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you've been faking your way around InDesign, you might want to try the InDesigner Podcast, which started out audio-only and switched somewhere along the line to (incredible) videos. You'll learn how to use grids and ratios mathematically to improve balance in your designs, smart stylesheets that cut your layout time, typographic features like H&Js and how space lines appropriately...all the stuff that elevates you from somebody who is just dumping text on a page into someone with a thoughtful workflow.

Also, one canonical design book that's recently back in print is Josef Muller-Brockmann's Grid Systems; you might find it a bit technical but it's a terrific book.
posted by bcwinters at 7:57 AM on June 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

Here's a hint: Next time someone says something you don't understand, tell them you're a noob and have no idea what are they talking about. I find gurus are more than happy to help me out. You will be karmically required to teach unto others as you yourself have learned once you reach guru stage.

Two (or more, depending) books I personally recommend are:

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, a very readable discussion of how text works and what all the terms mean.

The $AdobeProgram Bible books (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc) are thick and complicated if you try and read them straight through, but their index is a great way to delve some of the deeper mysteries of these programs. If I hear a term I haven't heard before, like transparency flattening, for instance, I can look it up quickly in the index and suddenly be that much smarter.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:57 AM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
I second and third that. this book is great if you want to learn about style.

what you seek however is production knowledge. you're not looking to find out why a serif is better for long bodies of text than a sans, you're trying to find out why that designer says your files need to be prepared in CMYK and not RGB. you want the result to work, not be specifically elegant.

wikipedia is a great starting point for that but I strongly encourage you to attend a class or two at your local community college teaching (in that order) photoshop, indesign or flash. just a starter course. it will give you a great idea of what a certain piece of software can do and it will teach you the buzzwords. or try lynda.com - there are coupons on retailmenot.com

do your learning after work and on weekends. you'll have the knowledge you desire within a couple of weeks or a month at worst and you'll be fine.

(you did the right thing in asking btw. too many of your contemporaries never do.)
posted by krautland at 8:30 AM on June 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Read up on color systems, Pantone, spot / process / LAB colors, color management and profiling, raster / vector graphics, layered files (versus flat), basic typography like serif / sans-serif, font hinting, basic principles of layout... the more specific theories and current trends/whims/flights of fancy aren't nearly as important.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:42 AM on June 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Awww, management is trying to learn something. Good on you!

Try these:
Getting it Printed.
Graphic Design Dictionary.

You could also try Googling those individual terms and reading the articles about the terms and then connecting the dots when they're related.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:17 AM on June 9, 2009

Great answers here -- I want to throw out there that it's very important to know how to admit a deficiency and get the answers you need to solve the problem. I am a very-occasional graphic designer these days and my skills are pretty rusty. But, the last time I had to send something to press (scary!), I recognized that those press people are trained professionals whose goal is to get your product produced on time and looking great. They have dealt with a million terrible files and they know everything that you don't know. If this is the situation you find yourself in then when they say "could you deliver the files in X?" You can say, "oh, I don't think I've done that before, can you explain what you're looking for?" 9 times out of 10, they will explain it to you in a very understandable way. Keep communication open, admit when you're wrong and be ready to go the distance and the person on the other end will be happy to help you. Next time, it'll be easier.

Okay... I'm off to get some of the books mentioned above as I have a feeling I need to brush up on my skills.
posted by amanda at 9:52 AM on June 9, 2009

Hah - don't feel too bad. I work with designers, and have for years, who know none of those things. That's why there is a prepress group; we fix all the issues that the "just make it look good" designers cause. Which is not to say that you shouldn't know these things; the fact that you want to learn will endear you to everyone who handles your files after you. If you do work with prepress folks, ask them for assistance. Just that simple act of caring enough about their job to get their help in doing yours will make you much beloved by them!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:10 PM on June 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everybody, I'm off to buy books. And the repeated tips on coming clean about what I don't understand is something I tell my employees all the time. Thanks for the mirror.
posted by Classic Diner at 4:15 PM on June 9, 2009

amanda's comment reminds me, learn about the most common file types that you're going to be dealing with (that you should be dealing with, anyway): PDF, EPS, PSD (proprietary, sure, but ubiquitous in the industry), and TIFF. If someone hands you something in a JPG, there'd better be a damned good reason. If you do a lot of page layout, PDF (or EPS) will be more important to you. If you do a lot of image manipulation, PSD and TIFF.

I briefly mentioned it before, but really try to learn about color profiles. If you can't guarantee what you're seeing on the screen is going to match what's on the printer, you're wasting your time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:26 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a graphic designer who interned in a print shop right out of school. Did not learn a thing about printing terms in school, so I have no books to recommend - but working in the print shop taught me most of the things you mentioned in your list above.

Some quick help:

This means "4-colors on the front, 0 on the back," which normally means CMYK 4-color process on the front and nothing printed on the back. "#/#" indicates how many colors will be used, and if you'll be printing on the front side only or both. If you're printing a flyer that has two spot colors on the front and one color on the back, you'll say it's "2/1" (two over one).
They're talking about the type of art you create in Adobe Illustrator or similar applications. These are not rasterized images like the photos you'd manipulate in Adobe Photoshop, or say, MS Paint. Usually saved as .eps format when used to prepare for print. Also can be exported to SVG format (which rokusan linked above; SVG format is typically used in websites).
When they say they're going to "rip" the file, they mean they're sending the file to be printed through their software which sends it to the machine that creates the film for the printing plates. Newer printing presses might rip directly to plates now, but that's more than you'll need to know.
Outline Fonts
Because the font you used in your "vector" eps file might not show up or be compatible with the fonts in the computer where it'll be ripped, a request to outline fonts just means to turn the text into a vector image. In Adobe Illustrator, you just select the text, go to the Type menu and select "Create Outlines." Easy peasy. The text won't be editable after you do this, so save a copy of the file sans-outlines just in case.
Flatten Files
This is in regards to rasterized images; we'll use Adobe Photoshop for the example. In AP, when you create an image it's normally built up on multiple layers, and in this format is saved as .psd. To be 100% sure you'll get the same image printed out when it gets ripped you need to turn all the layers into one single layer ("flatten" the layers; Layer > Flatten Image. Save a copy of the unflattened version just in case revisions need to be made). Typically you'll save the flattened version in .tif format.
Hope that helps! Don't worry too much about not knowing the terms, a lot of the graphic designers AND other print shops we worked with didn't know most of the terms either. All I can suggest is finding some work in a print shop (not a copy machine store) and learning the ropes if you're really interested.
posted by wiretap at 4:34 PM on June 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

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