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Learning prepress

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  • Learning prepress

    So I stumbled across this forum this morning and found it darned interesting. Read the PC VS MAC Platforms thread and the Legal issues with designer's files thread. I was encouraged that the PC VS MAC Platforms thread didn't turn into a holy war like it might in a technical writing forum and that many of the responses in the Legal issues with designer's files thread were supportive and understanding about copyright ownership.

    I'm a technical writer. I'm a top-notch technical writer. Been doing it for 22 years. Mostly, I write user manuals for software. My tool of choice for creating a user manual? Microsoft Word. I also sometimes use Adobe FrameMaker. For image manipulation, I pretty much stick to Paint Shop Pro and for the creation of PDFs I use Acrobat Professional. The stuff I do hasn't required color separations or the like so this workflow has been sufficient.

    It's probably a dirty word around here but I've had good luck with I've created cover art with Adobe Illustrator and was very pleased with the results.

    However, I'd like to learn about prepress issues in the event that at some time in the future I get involved in a project where it might be a concern. So my question is, what are my options there? Books? Online courses? Real classroom courses? I'm in southeast Wisconsin, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee but also about 50 miles from Chicago so if there's an institution in either city that might have a suitable offering that could be an option (although I'd probably prefer either books or online courses).

    Thanks for your input.

    Mike Starr WriteStarr Information Services
    Technical Writer - Online Help Developer - Technical Illustrator
    Graphic Designer - Desktop Publisher - MS Office Expert
    (262) 694-1028 - -

  • #2
    Re: Learning prepress

    Hi Mike,
    Start with books, there are plenty of entry-level prepress/DTP books. Most titles will give you historical background regarding presses and follow up to current DTP process. Once you are done with books, you pretty much just need hands-on experience... I do find these books lacking real project/work issues and solutions. Nothing can replace getting down and doing the dirty work.

    Prepress is never taught in classrooms nor do I think anyone can do it correctly either in a classroom or online setting. Prepress is solving real problems to get things complete. A simulated situation in a teaching environment can never replicate the urgency of solving prepress issue nor getting final product complete.


    • #3
      Re: Learning prepress

      Happy Friday,

      I wouldn't say never! I happen to teach a course in prepress at the Fashion Institute of Fashion and Design in Los Angeles. This is a class that is designed to try (and I stress try) to teach design students how to properly create a file so that those of us who have been working in prepress don't have as many issues to deal with. I teach second year students who are supposed to have had a Quark or InDesign class, Photoshop, and Illustrator, along with other design classes. However, when I get them they still don't understand how printing works, what bleed is, what a spot color is or how to use them, or even that they should create their files to the correct size (for first projects I always have a percentage of the students who create business cards floated in the middle of an 8.5 x 11 sheet with no bleed or crop marks). I also go through things like overprint, trapping, why jpegs are evil (this includes a rudimentary discussion of compression in general) and how to look at a proof and what they should expect to see when doing a press check.

      A lot of material and, this quarter I've only got 9 weeks, once a week, 3 hours a session, to do it in (sometimes I have as much as 11 weeks). So I wouldn't say never. But it is darned rare. I applaud FIDM for actually requiring such a course of their graphic design students. I know of other four-year schools who have no such requirement.

      Oh, and Mike, my course has two textbooks. One of them I rarely use. The other is the Printer's Pocket Pal. This book covers everything anyone would want to know about printing, including prepress. I highly recommend it as a starting point.

      Edited by: John Clifford on May 6, 2008 12:23 AM


      • #4
        Re: Learning prepress

        Happy and John, thanks for your thoughtful replies. As a little background, I have a pretty good understanding of the printing process, starting with printing courses in junior and senior high school (where I learned how to set type both one letter at a time with a composing stick and with a Friden (?) Typro and do color separations with a camera) and a post-high school job as a platen press operator. In addition, I've worked with a number of other DTP, WP and graphics applications including Ventura Publisher, Quark, Pagemaker, Illustrator, Paint Shop Pro, Visio, Photoshop, FrameMaker and of course, Word. I'm self-taught with all of them but found that my youthful training in printing helped me understand desktop publishing concepts quite nicely. However, due to the nature of technical writing, I've not had much exposure to projects that involve the 4-color process.

        If there are other books besides Pocket Pal you can recommend, I'd certainly appreciate it. I have a copy of Pocket Pal that I bought but hadn't gotten around to reading so I'll throw it on my stack of in-progress books.

        I have to admit I'm surprised there seems to be little in the way of training/courses in prepress.


        • #5
          Re: Learning prepress

          Hi Mike,
          You may want to visit the Printing Industries of Wisconsin's (PIW) web page at
          They are headquartered at WCTC (Waukesha County Technical College-I believe?) Happy travels!
          Best regards,


          • #6
            Re: Learning prepress

            There are a number of very good publications available from PIA/GATF, which can be gotten from their web site ([|]). The ones that have to do with prepress can be accessed [HERE.|]

            While I haven't read it, you probably can't go wrong with Digital Prepress Primer by Joe Marin. I've met Joe and worked with Julie Schaffer of GATF (I actually met Joe when Julie and I were doing a seminar together at Print05) who is his co-author on the +PDF Print Production Guide+ also not a bad reference.

            I believe that the PIA/GATF in Sewickley, PA (a suburb of Pittsburgh) also has periodic seminars/training on prepress as well. Check out the site.


            • #7
              Re: Learning prepress

              Hi Mike,

              Great ambition.
              Buy a copy of Quark, and find a tutorial book.
              Bar none, the best pagination/typesetting program out there (don't even talk about Pagemaker's reincarnation in the same breath...)

              - Mac


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