Watch: how magazines were produced before desktop publishing

Originally published at:


Really makes you see where graphic designers’ reputation for anal-retentive micromanaging and relentless pedantry came from.

Pretty sure in more recent generations it’s mostly an affectation.

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I remember those days, when cut-and-paste was literally cutting and pasting! Glad I don’t have to do that anymore.


My first years in journalism saw the transition between graph paper in this color…

…to this when it was still Aldus


I loved non-photo blue! I could make the messiest sketches, then ink in some lines, photocopy it and voila! Perfect drawing.

Kids these days, with their “layers”…


Now imagine having to lay out all the pages by hand and backwards!


I used to do paste-ups back in the day. I used a heated wax roller like device instead of glue. Easier to re-position.
eta: like this one


I started working with newsletters just before desktop publishing became mainstream. So for several issues I painstakingly created paste-ups just like the one in this film and delivered all the originals to the printers in an oversized envelope.
Until one time when I asked if I could stick around and watch as they photographed the page.
To my dismay it turned out that the printer was in the process of switching to digital. For at least six months, my lovingly arranged paste-ups had not been used as originals for the printed magazine - instead the printers new-fangled digital department had just used them as referential mockups, and instead had been re-creating all my hard work in a PageMaker document, wich then went directly into repro. They even used the same kind of Apple computer that we had in our office.
“I guess we forgot to tell you” the printer said when he saw me turning red.


Me too. Actually I found creating mechanical layouts more fun. Especially cutting complicated amberlith sheets to create color plates. While stoned. Yay for the seventies.


I am using version 1.2 on a Mac Plus for a project I am working on right now.


we must be about the same age. my first year was all learning how it’s shown in this video, and then we came back for our sophomore year and it was all first-gen macintoshes with ALDUS Pagemaker (not Adobe yet, tyvm). i’m happy to have the skills to do it the old-school way, though. FEAR MY X-ACTO SKILLZ

EDIT: also, this video really helps explain why that first macintosh and the DTP software was such a revolution.


Oh yeah, I worked for a weekly newspaper where we put everything together with waxers. I used to be pretty good with an x-acto knife.


Graphic arts was my favourite class in high school. Paste-up was just one step in the production process. First you had to type your text into the Linotronic, then maybe shoot some PMTs on the process camera for scaling artwork, then paste-up, then shoot a negative on the process camera (develop to solid step three, I think?), then strip up the negative (with rubylith, red tape, and opaque pens for fixing dust spots and cut edges, etc.), then expose and develop the plate, and then put it on the press and print. So much fun (not even being facetious)!

Also: she should get some new rubber cement. That stuff looks gloopy as hell. And you don’t really need to put it on both sides. The way she’s done it, it’s just going wet on wet anyway, so one side’s good enough.


When I was first falling in love with my partner, I was quite impressed that they owned both a microprint OED and a Lectro-Stick hand waxer. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

I still coveted the full-page waxers I’d used at several print-production jobs, though.


I wish I could say I’m happy to have those obsolete skills. Taking up brain space, they are.
And since I’m feeling curmudgeonly, I find it very sad that our culture, in general, doesn’t train people how their jobs used to be done. I think they do in some fields (do new car mechanics know how to diagnose problems, or only how to get data out of the car’s computer?)


Or maybe I’m just sad that I must be very old, because younger journalists frequently write articles about look at this cool thing people [me] used to do!
In about 1998 my younger friend introduced me to a bunch of people working at Mozilla. She said in awe, “she used punched cards!” I said, “now they all know that I’m much older than they are. Thanks.”
Or, “why, yes, I did go to school in the days when all female students had to learn to sew” (and it was NOT some cool “maker” skill).


Just missing the smells and the sound of a scalpel sliding down the board to land blade-first into a thigh.

I discovered some old casting-off tables tucked away the other day.


This is what I did for around fifteen years through the late 70’s into the early 90’s.
Not only commercial print and design, but book publishing; I would be given the author’s manuscript and a bunch of photos, and then I’d have to decide on typeface, cast off the type from tables, mark-up, proofread, do the page layouts, size photos, retouch with gouache and an airbrush, paste-up, strip-up the negs and halftones, spot-out the negs and make the printing plates.
Hot wax machines were so much easier to use than Cow Gum or Spraymount!
One of the books I designed and put together is still available online…


well, isn’t that what this video is doing, though? don’t be sad you have skills that aren’t used regularly anymore. they are still skills you have, and others don’t.