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Is one a subset of the other? Do they overlap? Are they industry-specific terms?

Are in fact artworker/Mac operator/production artist not synonymous?

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How common is "Mac operator" in this context? Sounds more of like a secretary of some sort to me. –  koiyu May 17 '11 at 14:15
    
Yep, to be honest I think that's an obsolete term now, as Philip says. –  e100 May 17 '11 at 16:31
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2 Answers 2

A Graphic Designer is one who is working on the conceptual/strategic side of things.

A Production Artist is the one that takes the conceptual/strategic solution and and implements the mechanical files for the solution.

You'll typically find Production Artists in ad agencies where they'd be working under the art directors. In design firms, the graphic designer is quite often also the production artist.

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Production Artists are also often found in prepress operations, where their job is to groom incoming, ah, "less-than-perfect" files from Graphic Designers, to make them ready for the RIP. I've also heard the term "Quark Jockey" used in that context. Sadly, too few design schools teach prepress, or even that file prep matters. The result is a lot of wasted time and far too much rejected work. –  Alan Gilbertson May 18 '11 at 4:34
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There is a lot of overlap, and this is probably better explained with a Venn diagram than anything...

"Graphic Designer" can really be applied to any of those jobs, if only because basic knowledge of graphic design—to create and combine words, symbols, and images to create a visual representation of ideas and messages—is needed to do them, and in casual conversation "graphic designer" is much more self-explanatory than "production artist." The specific titles really apply to specific jobs within the graphic design field, and are in variably synonymous across the industry as a whole.

The one caveat I see is "Mac operator" in that, while I haven't heard it in a very long time, my experience was that it typically applied to someone who took content and art and poured them into templates, and had no concerns about the actual design besides reporting where the design did not meet the needs of the content and elements. "Page Monkey" was always my term of endearment for that job.

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