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From Photo Shop to Photoshop

by | Jun 13, 2013 | Design, Photoshop, Tutorials | 9 comments

A Photo Shop?

Being a designer wasn’t always about working on a computer. Actually, if used to be more about crafting and manual skills than anything. Graphic designers rarely touched a computer. Before Photoshop, you had to send your product images into a photo shop to be processed. You couldn’t just import your pictures in from your DSLR. You also couldn’t just hop online and find an image that you needed. Graphic designers didn’t have a library of millions of images at their disposal.

photo shop darkroom

Sending Your Work to a Photo Shop

To get a quality photo of a product, you had to hire a photographer, or you had a photo shop in house. From there, you had to review the negatives and pick out the best shot and the overall process was much longer and more drawn out than it is today. There weren’t pre-shot photographs of every scene imaginable. You had to create these scenes yourself.

Your Hands Were the Photo Shop

Merging images was a whole different process altogether. You had to have an entire dark room set up. You also had to develop the film yourself. Eventually, there were photo shops that sprang up, where they would process film for you, but you were putting your precious model or product shots at someone else’s mercy.

photo shop lettering

Graphic Design Used to Be a Real Craft

Graphic design wasn’t all about sending your work to the photo shop. You also had to do a lot of the work yourself. There wasn’t a way to whip your type out on a computer and adjust it 1000 times on the screen. You had to do all of this by hand. Building your master copy was a long, delicate process.

Honestly, I am a little young for today’s post, but not so young that I wasn’t taught this method by my old school professor along side the computer methods. I learned to use an X-acto knife like a pro. I can still use it with laser precision to this day actually, which I feel is an accomplishment. You wouldn’t believe how accurately to can shave 1/32 of an inch from one side of a page. All you need is an X-acto Knife and a perfectly flat ruler. Now, in Photoshop, we have cut and paste, copy, duplicate layers, and more. This makes the craft of design of the past seem like a lost art form.

Now we can rearrange elements on a page by clicking and dragging. What we used to have to do is use a layout board and align elements to the edges of the lines on it. You would have strips of type cut out and would have to lay it out by hand. This was tough, because it was all about coordination and having a steady hand. You would use rubber cement to hold each piece in place, but it wasn’t a permanent fix. You could remove it, reapply more cement and stick it down in another place. I used this stuff briefly, and it stunk. it smelled really strong and if your hands, materials or anything wasn’t perfectly clean, the dirt would mix in the cement.

An Old School Trick

I also remember another old-school trick for creating a quality mockup of a printed piece. If our design was supposed to be pure black in places, when we cut the paper, the edges would be white, ruining the effect. To this day I remember taking a black Sharpie and running it around the edges to make them black, too. If you ever need to make a mockup of something and you want it to look good, but be inexpensive, remember that trick. Believe it or not I have used it a could of times n recent years.

We Have it Good, Maybe Too Good

The reason I shared this process is simple. It is meant to be a reminder that design isn’t about how fast our computers are, or what Photoshop can do or can’t do. I believe that true design is still a craft, and we shouldn’t take technology for granted. Some of the most classic design work was done by hand with rubber cement and X-acto knives. They were shot with photostatic plates and ran on an old-school printing press. We have come a long way from using photo shops to whipping out our work in Photoshop.


Now, we don’t need a photo shop, or X-acto knives. I don’t know if they even teach that in design school anymore. I think it may be all digital. Now, we can turn around work from start to finish with a day or two. It used to take a week or longer. As designers, we had to work long hours and late nights. We had to be insanely accurate with our eyes and hands.

Do you think that you would be a designer if we still did things like this? Could you imagine cutting everything out by hand and gluing it to a board? I want to hear what you have to say. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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