Production Artists: The Unsung Heroes of Graphic Design

by | Mar 14, 2016 | Uncategorized

Great Design Is the Marriage of Creative Inspiration and Technical Expertise

We are Dan Lynch and Gillian Hardy, and we are the production artists of Six Degrees!

What is a production artist, you might wonder. Well, my friends, I’m glad you asked, because that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you.

Production artists are a special breed of designer. I think of us as fastidious little art gnomes toiling silently behind the scenes. We are often overlooked, if we are ever mentioned at all, but the impact we have is not to be ignored. Our responsibilities and areas of strength are a little different from the rest of the creative team, but we contribute to almost every single project that leaves the studio.

We are just as quirky and creative as any other type of designer. (I’m drinking a triple espresso right now with Adobe Illustrator open, and my sweater is strategically engineered to store devices of various sizes. Jealous? I would be.)

Though the exact definition varies from place to place, the best way to define a production artist would be to say that we are designers who specialize in the complex, technical aspects of producing and perfecting finalized artwork. We rarely shine in the sun like the concept art-sketching, mood board-building graphic designer or art director, but here’s the thing about us:

We exude technical expertise like a fine sheen of magnificence.


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That’s the sparkle of success in action.

Consider this list of terms:

• LAB color
• Data merging
• GREP styles
• Defringe and matting
• sRGB vs. PhotoPlus RGB
• Knockout and overprint
• Slug area and live area
• Optical margin alignment

While many designers might know these terms, production artists need to know them. Margins, spacing, kerning, alignment, spot varnish, separations, color profiles, paragraph styles and a whole host of other tiny details get checked, cross-checked, compared with brand guidelines and publication specs, cleaned up, tweaked, colored, retouched and resized until the design is spotless and error-free.

In addition, we fill all sorts of variable roles whenever and however. It’s not uncommon to find us illustrating, filing, archiving, making mock-ups or managing client assets in neat little library folders with tidy naming systems to make everyone’s lives easier.

Starts to sound a little more serious and complicated – am I right? It gets better!

Production artists also face the daunting task of being able to dismantle just about any kind of file, and anyone who has used creative software like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign knows how many ways there are to achieve the same results. Never fear, production artists know how to crack open complex files so they can be edited – up to and including rebuilding them entirely.

We need to go deeper!

This may be the defining quality of a solid production artist. Techniques can vary widely between computer artists and designers, even in the same agency. What this means is that production artists literally have to understand every single function of the software being used.

What flyout menu should you open? What option do you need to toggle on or off? Hidden characters, embedded objects, fills, filters, textures, clipping masks, transparency modes and linked layers … seriously, we take nitpicking to a whole new level of compulsion.

All the while, speed is of the essence! The production team stands at the end of the line, and there’s rarely if ever enough time for artists to walk you through every single step they used to build a 300-megabyte Photoshop illustration. That same illustration might need to be resized five different ways, ripped apart for component pieces and then accurately converted to a Web-safe RGB color mode.

Like a tender loving hug on the way out the door, we make sure things feel perfect, and we do it because we are awesome!

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Gillian Kunis
Integrating high-energy creativity with a concrete foundation of technical skills, Gillian is an avid artist and illustrator with more than 10 years of experience in graphic design and print production. She graduated at the top of her college program in Canada and has honed her multifaceted skills through a diverse project background, including everything from identity development for locally owned startup companies to overseeing the production of provincial government collateral materials and global clients in medical and other industries.

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