The era of computers makes it easy to regulate brand consistency - you can e-mail anyone your branding guidelines in a PDF and it will have all the information they need. However, I still sometimes struggle to acquire the files I need from clients (no, please do not fax me your logo).

I can't imagine how difficult my job would be without e-mail. How was it done? For example, if I wanted some stationery with my company's logo printed on it, what was the process like without computers? How did brand logos remain consistent without digital assistance?


4 Answers 4


Logos would be done with paste-up: text might be created using a linotype or phototypesetting machine. I personally used a machine that had fonts on wheels approx 12" in diameter which you rotated and selected individual characters using a footswitch. This exposed the type on a strip of photopaper and at the end, you'd had a line of text which you would paste up onto a board.

You would use various tools to work up the logo, single color usually, then photograph the result: often 2-3x the desired final size. You could then expose a negative (or positive) multiple times to arrive at a high-quality master sheet of various logo sizes from .25x to 5x etc. You would then provide a high-quality positive (or a dupe negative so they could make their own consumable positives) for use by designers.

They would then cut out or dupe the size they wanted for use on a paste-up board for a design usually 1.5-2x desired size and the printer would do color separations with halftone screens and CMYK color filters on a B&W camera. the films would be exposed to plates, the plates inked and printed.

Also, they had a thing called "the postal service" and turn-around times could be measured in weeks if you didn't have a huge budget for driving things across town or out of state.


A storage room full of vertical files.

Vertical files full of photomechanical transfers, paste up boards, sizes and sizes of photostats, type sheets. These took up rooms, often warehouses to store if the agency was a bigger agency.

Then Pantone chip definitions and swatches. This is were Pantone was born and blew up. A color system which was consistent simply by speaking a number over the telephone. Or writing a number down on a mechanical board. It was honestly revolutionary at the time (before my time, but I still appreciate it).

If something was to be printed, you sent, via postal mail (when it was still reliable) or FedEx, photomechanical negatives and specifications detailing trim size plates, Pantone colors, or processes breakout percentages. You actually sent a black and white photomechanical negative and had to specify 20C 10M 40Y 30K for a logo.

Before the digital revolution everything was done by hand on paste up boards, then shot with a copy camera and the negatives stripped into plates. It's was very common to store the paste up boards and the negatives for each and every projects. Sometimes plates would be stored but often they were unnecessary if you had the negatives.

For even the simplest print projects you would have a minimum of 3 to 4 physical pieces to store.

Clients generally had either a printed piece or a photostat. Things were actually a bit easier at times because the client was aware "these files are for printing". Therefore they treated them with extra care and passed them along when asking for new projects. Clients understood you could not just find an advertisement and rip off the logo part and give that to the designer.

Markets were also very, very, local. Clients didn't hop and jump from designer to designer because of all the assets the current designer had. It was a major undertaking in some cases to collect all print-related mechanicals and deliver them to a client. There were also often substantial costs involved, which was better understood by clients. There were actual physical objects so charging for delivery of production files was understood. Clients had a tendency to stay put. Unlike today where clients just see a digital file as any digital file and don't associate a value with any of them because they assume they are the same as the digital files they themselves can create on their computer.

There was far more of an art to print design. You had to have craftsman skills to create mechanicals properly. If you couldn't draw a straight line with a ruling pen, you were weeded out fairly quickly. Competition was much, much, less prevalent than it is now. Since the market was so local, there often weren't a great deal of choices unless you were working in a large metropolitan city.

Brand consistency was maintained by sticking with the same agency/designer. Which is still true today. The problem today is that there are so many more people in the field and access to the tools has become easy. There's little way to differentiate those who understand what they are doing from those that simply own the tools until you work with them on a couple projects. Clients can get sidetracked by cut-rate pricing and misguided proliferation of the idea that anyone with a computer and Photoshop can do what needs to be done.


As you still see. About 20 years back we had what was called a drives and either people would deliver artwork on the a drive or fax over the design and you would have to scan the artwork and spend a full day cleaning it up in a vector program. After this process it would be plotted out, masked and the artwork applied to the medium requested.

If you want earlier they would typically only offer maybe a selection of fonts and people usually spent more time on typography and hand painting signage or do it by letterpress. For window artwork it was typically drawn with a grease pencil, measured, adjusted and then painted directly to the window with special inks. This process is still done to this day but mostly found in seasonal window painting and not typically done as a permanent solution unless in the country (which IS ok).

Before those times they had rocks and chisels and would send artwork by pigeon or horse back.

  • 2
    What miniaturization tools were used to create a rock carving light enough to be transported by homing pigeon? Commented May 28, 2013 at 15:09
  • Scrimshaw. Or whittling. :) Commented May 28, 2013 at 20:55
  • @DanNeely Babylonian cylinder seals were a cool example of miniaturised brand assets carved in stone. I guess if you wanted to upscale a design you could cut out the depressed bits of the pressed clay, and shine light through it, creating a stencil silhouette of any size? Commented May 29, 2013 at 13:01

It was done in person, or by mail, of course. Designs were reproduced and resized photographically on a line camera. The original cut & paste was with an exact-o knife and a waxer. You'd cut out the logo or art needed from a sheet, run it through the waxer, which would coat the back of the paper with hot wax, and you'd "paste" it onto your board. Wax, unlike actual paste, allowed you to move, or reuse, the art. After your layout was shot, the art could go back in the file. If you didn't have the right size, instead of dragging a corner, you sent it down to the camera guy to resize on the line camera, develop, stop, and fix. Resizing art wasn't trivial. I had a little wheel to convert sizes to percentage, and I'd say, "I need this at 132%", or whatever. You kept a master on hand (several sheets, different sizes) in a file, and used it to shoot copies from.

The typesetting department would type up the copy on a lino machine, which was also photographic in nature, and you'd cut & paste that up, lining it up with a t-square and triangle. You had to physically have the typeface you wanted to use on hand, and the cartridge that contained the typeface was called a font because it contained every style of that typeface, e.g., italic, bold, etc. You'd be lucky to have a dozen typefaces to choose from in most shops. Since the computer era, we use the word font to refer to the typeface because that's what Apple called it.

Then the camera guy would shoot your layout, and someone would touch up the negs on a light table, blocking any dust spots or lines caused by the shadows of the edges of the pasted art. These negs were then used to burn the plates.

You can see why the advent of the Mac caused what they called the Desktop Publishing Revolution. Now one person, with one relatively inexpensive machine, could do all of this themselves.


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