Remembering a classic: The Wax Machine

When I first started in Graphic Design – computers and desktop publishing software were just introduced to the industry and were about to change the face of design forever. Paste-up was a key element in the design process back then – and was an art form all its own.

The process was this — you would create the layout, and print it out in pieces.  Then you would assemble the pieces into what was called a mechanical. This is the final art that would be sent to pre-production, and thus the printing press, for reproduction.

In order to assemble (compose) the various pieces like a puzzle into your desired layout, you would adhere them to an art board which had a grid showing the columns and margins in a non-repro blue ink.  These grids were either drawn by hand or pre-printed on the boards. Newspapers and print shops often had full production teams who handled this task.  These people were craftsmen, and very proud of their work.

Because mistakes could easily be made, such as laying down pieces crooked or not spacing correctly within the layout, each piece had to be removable.  Rubber cement was a common adhesive, but often bled through to the type and left visible marks and shadows.  The best adhesive was wax.

The old wax machine worked like a feeder on a copier – you would stick in the sheet to be waxed, and it would pop-out the other end coated and ready to go.  Mind you – these machines were bears.  Too much wax and it would bleed through.  Too little wax, and your page would either not stick, or curl.  Too hot wax and the paper would discolor.  Too cool wax would leave chunks.  It was a delicate balance.  Waxers came in several shapes and sizes – even hand-held models – the larger the wax machine, the crazier the stories accompanying it.  If you worked with a waxer – your clothes would often be ruined, and wax was everywhere – from your hair to your hands to every surface you worked on.

Once the pieces were waxed and then applied to the board, a rubber burnisher would be used to roll over the layout – sticking the pieces tightly and securely to the board to ensure permanence.

Part of the fun was cleaning the wax monster.  Paper dust would settle into the machine, and old wax would clump onto the rollers, making the wax unusable if the machine wasn’t regularly cleaned.  It was messy, sticky, oozy and gooey all rolled into one giant ball – literally!  Thinner was a paste-up artist’s best friend, but oh boy did it smell!

As desktop publishing software (then QuarkXPress and PageMaker) became more prevalent, and printers able to handle large sheets of paper (and now digital production), the life of the wax machine quickly came to an end. The last newspaper (The San Francisco Chronicle) bid paste-up and the waxer a final farewell at the close of 2003.

There are times I miss the fun and the challenge of traditional paste-up.  (I don’t miss the mess.)  It gave a new dimension to the design process that many of the new graphic artists today will never experience.  In the end, I am most grateful that I will never again have to clean a wax machine.


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Font Wars: PostScript vs. TrueType vs. OpenType

Ding. Everyone take a corner.  Helvetica.  Arial.  Times Roman.  Garamond.  All of these are commonly used fonts.  Each has a unique look, setting one apart from the next.  Who is the winner?  All four.  The real match is brewing under the hood so to speak, with which type of font is best.

As mentioned above, each font has a unique look which equates to shape.  These letter shapes are called glyphs, which are made up of a series of defining points.  These points create outlines, which are scalable. When a font is processed to an output device, such as a monitor or printer, the glyphs are rasterized (bitmap) into a grid pattern of dots.   It is the method of how the font is processed from outline to output which determines the type of font — PostScript, TrueType or OpenType.

PostScript is the grand-daddy of fonts, developed in 1984, predating TrueType by 5-6 years.  Open Type is the baby born in the mid-1990s – diving into the font mix much later. Today, all three types of fonts are considered standards in the industry, and in the case of TrueType and OpenType, are considered multi-platform, as they can be used on Macs and PCs.

Let’s take a look at the three:

PostScript: Developed in 1984, PostScript fonts are based on the Adobe PostScript language. A high-quality digital format, they are widely used in the professional typesetting and desktop publishing genres. There are different levels of PostScript fonts, which have evolved over time. (ie: Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, etc.), with Type 1 being the most common. PostScript font files consist of two files — a screen font with bitmap information for display purposes on monitors, and a file with outline information for printing the font. Built into the fonts were “hints” to help improve rendering on low-resolution devices.  For commercial printing, both font files must be included with the application file. Due to differences in how the font is built, Mac and Windows PostScript fonts are generally not cross-platform compatible.

TrueType: The TrueType technology was originally developed by Apple in the late 1980s, but was adapted by Microsoft and has become the standard for Windows platforms.  With TrueType fonts, the single font file contains both the screen and outline information, making them easily portable, using the rasterization process built into each operating system.  There are slight differences for the Mac and PC platforms in how they rasterize the TrueType font and in how they read the “hinting” – but overall, the fonts are relatively cross-compatible. The downside of the TrueType font format is that it is limited in its scalability, and will often display differently on different systems.

Open Type: The OpenType digital font format was developed jointly by Apple and Microsoft to put an end to the PostScript/TrueType war.  Like TrueType, a single file contains all the outline and bitmap data for an OpenType font, but it also contains either PostScript data or additional TrueType data within the font, which in the PostScript case, makes the font truly scalable and exacting.  OpenType fonts are cross-platform compatible – rendering the same on either a Mac or PC.  One of the benefits of OpenType is that it offers extended character sets and more advanced typographic controls.

So which is better?

Well… that depends.  In a professional graphic environment, PostScript and OpenType are King and Queen.  PostScript fonts give you consistent control over text and layouts every time. What you see as the layout on your screen will be the same no matter the output device.  OpenType, depending on the flavor, can also give the user a high level of control. Font makers like Adobe, Linotype and ITC are now pushing the OpenType (PS flavor) format, so it is likely that true PostScript Type 1 fonts will become a rare commodity.

For the average user who doesn’t need an exacting end product, TrueType will satisfy all their needs.

But if I had to choose, I would call OpenType the victor in this match.


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Remembering a classic – Border Tape

Border Tape - a dinosaur from the past.

Border tape was one of two main ways a graphics person laid down a box in a layout.  The second was using a rapidograph pen and hand-drawing the box.  That’s a topic for another day.

Border tape came in a variety of thicknesses and patterns.  The thicker tape was easier to work with than the thinner tape. It was self-adhesive, and had a rubbery, stretchy quality, similar to electrical tape, which was often a detriment to laying a straight line.

The process – select the type and size of border for your layout, then choose the proper roll of border tape.  Using a non-repro pencil and a steel ruler, measure and draw a box on your layout to use as a guide to lay the tape.  This allowed for accurate placement.  The pencil was light blue in color so that the eyes of the camera could not see it, but the human eyes could. Next, hold the roll steady and lay a line of tape, straight, from end to end. (Not as easy as you would think – especially on large boxes.)  Pray the border tape didn’t accidentally stick to the paper in the wrong place, or stretch, as you would then have to remove it and start over. Repeat for all sides.

Next step was to cut the corners. This was called mitering. Cutting the corner at a 45 degree angle with your trusty Exacto knife gave the most accurate corner – but was the most difficult cut to achieve without leaving a whole or hairline.  Sometimes it was easier to just overlap and pray a shadow didn’t show in the final print.

Today, border tape is a tough commodity to find.  It is still used on occasion in crafts, particularly scrapbooking, but rarely if ever in the graphics industry.  But the border tape today is not like the old-time newspaper and print quality border tape of the past.  Arts and crafts stores, and online, are the sole places to find it – and even that is difficult at best.

The graphics industry has evolved over the years, and embraced technology.  I do not regret having been taught how to work a paste-up composite before the age of computer-aided design, but I sure do not want to reverse the clock.


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Proper White Space is a lesson in balance

An example of proper white space in print design

One of the first things that true graphic and fine artists learn is that “White Space” is a positive, and will be properly utilized in every successful design.  This is also the main element that many casual or home designers tend to overlook, or even totally disregard.

What is “White Space” and is it always white?  “White Space,” often called “negative space,” is the space between elements in a design, layout or composition. Technically, there are two types of “White Space” – macro and micro.  The space between major elements in a composition is called “macro white space.” Micro white space is the space between smaller elements: such as between items in a list, a photo caption and the picture, or in some cases between words and even letters.

White Space is used to create a well-balanced layout. When a reader/viewer looks at a design, their eyes take a journey from element to element.  This is similar to photography when a photographer positions the subject in such a way to accent the space. When the reader/viewer looks at a piece, and successfully navigates from item to item, and each item in the composition has a base support of negative space, this are called active white space.  When a reader/viewer looks at a piece, and sees the space that is included within the active space, (such as the space between lines, letters and words) this is called passive white space.  In order for a piece to work successfully – the active and passive pieces must come together in a harmonious union.

In web design versus print design, achieving successful white space is not always clear-cut.  Web designers do not always have the tools to achieve the perfect balance.  But if they follow a few simple rules, they can achieve white space success.

• Body Text should be short and to the point. Limit the number of sentences per paragraph.

• Ensure headlines are clear, concise, and large enough to be easy to read.

• Adjust line spacing so it has room to breathe; better open than cramped.

• Use light-colored backgrounds behind large blocks of text, which should be in a contracting color.

• Break content into smaller concise and targeted pieces, and utilize multiple pages.

Once a designer grasps how to design to and implement the space in their work – outside, inside, and around the content – they will find they have a more pleasing to the eye and successful finished piece.  And no … it’s not always white.

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Serif or San-Serif – Which fonts do you prefer?

Serif vs. San Serif FontsWhat is a serif font?  Serif fonts have flourishes – often called tails – that protrude from its edges.  Times Roman, Century, Bookman, Goudy, and Garamond are a few common examples of serif fonts.  San-serif fonts lack these flourishes, and have smooth, plain, and often squared or rounded edges.  Examples of common san-serif fonts include Arial, Geneva, Helvetica, Futura, and Impact.

It is thought that serif fonts date back to the Roman alphabet, where stone carvers followed the brush strokes of painters, whose brush marks had flares at the corners, thus creating serifs.

Traditionally, serif fonts are used for large bodies of text, as they are considered easier on the eyes over long periods of time – such as in printed books, magazine and materials.  San-serif fonts are often used in headlines, headings, and shorter blocks of text.

With the computer screen being a different source than the printed piece, and it having a varying degree of resolutions, numerous surveys have found that san-serif fonts are just as easily readable as their serifed cousins.

In the digital age it all comes down to pixels.  In lower resolutions, and smaller font sizing, serif fonts can often look blurry or pixelated, making them hard to read.  This more modern viewpoint tends to predominate – just select 10 random websites and compare.  But is this trend more about looking cool than readability?

Personally, I feel that serif fonts look dated and even “classic” where san-serif fonts have a more edgy and modern connotation.  But, that being said, I feel it all depends on the subject matter, target audience, and overall feel of the design.

The answer is – there is no correct answer – it really all just comes down to personal preference.


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What is it about the color purple?

Mixed Media

Art by Terri Fassio

What is it about the color purple that catches attention and makes the color so widely popular today?  Is it the warming or the cooling properties – or a little of both?  Let’s take a look at how the color we know as purple came to be.

Technically, the color doesn’t exist. Purple is found on the color chart between the reds (warm) and the blues (cool), and occurs in varying shades and hues based on the mixing proportions of the primary colors.  Humans only perceive purple when blue light and red light hit their retinas simultaneously.

Historically, the color purple has been associated with royalty, nobility, richness, power and strength, and the mystical unknown.  This stems back to the classical days when Tyrian Purple (purple dye dating back to 1600 B.C.) was produced from species of shellfish, and was so rare that only those of wealth could afford to purchase it.  Tyrian Purple was also called Imperial Purple.

Through the years, the purple hues often leaned towards more of a blue-ish tinge, thus morphing into the royal blue color often worn in Medieval Europe.  But classic artists had kept true to the original color, and then sampled with the pigments, creating different shades, such as Violet, Plum, Lavender, and Indigo, and more recently, Electric Purple.

It wasn’t until the 1850’s that a purple dye was synthesized and cheaply produced. William Henry Perkins was developing quinine and accidentally produced the first chemical purple pigment.  Perkin’s dye eventually came to be called “mauve.” Other synthetic dyes quickly followed.  In the 1920’s, artificial pigments were very popular and used in everything from fashion to furniture.

In nature, purple has been prevalent in flowers, such as orchids, lavender, lilac, and violets. These flowers, like the color, have both warm and cool properties, and have been known to cultivate transformation through sophistication.

Today, the entire realm of hues is loosely referred to as Purple, although many of the shades referenced are just derivatives of the original color.  It can boost imagination yet spur moodiness. Deep or bright purples suggest richness and strength, while lighter purples are more romantic, simple and delicate.

Most children love the color purple, and the magical, mystical properties of it.  When adults, those favoring the color find their creative energies emerge into a connection with a higher self, often a spirituality, and an increase in their wisdom, imagination and inspiration.  They are visionaries, artists, humanitarians, and inspirational, strong leaders.

Purple is a self-respecting color full of motivation, determination, perseverance, and respect for those creating with it, wearing it, living in it, or just liking it’s striking beauty.

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Welcome to the blog world of Purple Fusion Graphics

Well folks … readers far and wide (or not) … welcome to the Blog Home of Purple Fusion Graphics. Join us on a journey through artistic and creative inspiration – and I hope you find it interesting!

We’ll be discussing some of our favorite things — like Color, Design, Art, Photography, Technology, Marketing / PR, and of course everything purple!

Leave a note and say hi!

Keeping this short — this time! Talk to you soon!

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