By Barry Magennis

What Is An Artworker?

By Barry Magennis

The distinct roles of graphic designers, web designers, and illustrators are fairly obvious. The titles themselves serve as clear, succinct definitions of their respective duties. But, the role of an “artworker” is a mystery to many, even those who work within the design and print industries. This is most likely because artworkers have a wide and varied role that can’t be described as concisely as “illustrator” or “graphic designer.” But, despite the somewhat nebulous nature of their job, artworkers have an important, technical, detail-oriented role.

Making Files Print Ready

While graphic designers are the creative force behind any design, it is the artworker who ensures that the design maintains its integrity and reaches its full potential by correcting colors, placement, fonts, and inconsistencies. In layman’s terms, an artworker “tidies up” a design before it is sent to print. This can involve typography tuning techniques (like kerning and ligature), as well as color-related work to assure that the designer’s careful color decisions aren’t affected as the design makes its way through the approval, printing and publishing processes.

If you have created a graphic design on your home computer and then printed it, you may have found that designs do not always print exactly the way you had intended. The printed colors may not precisely match those on your screen, the typography may look blurry, and the images may seem distorted, not to mention the possibility that part of your design is missing because most desktop printers do not print edge-to-edge.

In the professional design world, an artworker will correct all of those issues before the design is ever sent to print. This is particularly important when sending a large run of several thousand units to print, as any color, typography, or image mistakes that compromise the design will cost a lot of money and cause a lot of frustration. Visually proofing a design “on-screen” is not always a reliable means of ensuring it will print correctly; passing the design to an artworker is a far better way to make sure your design comes out problem-free.

Creating Design Visuals and Mock-Ups

Occasionally, an artworker may be asked to design visuals or mock-ups to show how a finished design could look. Their input from the very beginning of a project can be invaluable; they can save time and money by correcting issues early and preventing endless revisions. Professional artworkers have the ability to see problems with designs that are intended for a variety of media, and their expertise often ensures that a job runs on schedule and under budget.

Working with Different Forms of Media

Traditionally, artworker jobs were focused around printed media. While that still forms the bulk of their work, many artworkers are now required for other forms of media, particularly web designs and digital graphics. Working with digital media is now a must-have skill for anyone looking to enter the design industry as an artworker or any other profession, because many industries are actively looking to reduce the amount of printed media they use in favor of digital equivalents.

Is It For You?

A good artworker will have an exceptional eye for detail, extensive Mac skills, and experience across all forms of media. While artworkers generally have little or no creative input, their skills are vital when it comes to making a designer’s vision a reality, especially for commercial printing. If you are looking to get into the design industry, artworker jobs are a good way to complement your design skills with specialized technical proficiencies. A designer with artworker skills would be a truly valuable asset to any group, possessing the ability to independently propel a design project from the first sketch to the final sheet from the printing press.

Do you collaborate with an artworker? Are you often asked to work on color correction, kerning or ligature? Do artworkers have distinct roles, or do organizations expect all of the needed skills in one multi-talented designer?

  • Artworkers are, in some ways, the unsung heroes of a project. Lord knows they’ve kept me in check and made some dreams a reality.

  • Webjohn01

    It is really surprising to learn these new things, especially for an unknown profession. Thanks for sharing, and I would like to suggest that you write about a layout artist next.

  • illufox

    Never heard of an “artworker” but it sounds to me it’s everything I as a “Multimedia Designer” do.

  • Kathleen

    Interesting article. In my 30+ years as a graphic designer and art director…the title was pre-press or production artist. Granted we are in 2012 and encompassing the age of web design which I still think those titles hold true. Artworker sounds condescending to me. But like the medical profession, our society seems to have a need for labeling.

    • We have parallel careers timelines. I was a production artist for years and I still think it’s the best description of what those people do. I guess the new lingo is trying to scoop the “artists” within that group. I worked with many techs who could color correct and even composite heaps of Illustrator and Photoshop (Scitex) files but never considered themselves to be creative artists or Illustrators. I am not sure how I feel about “Artworker”.

  • Robin

    LOL.. sometimes I think “jack of all trades” fits what we do as webmasters/designers/artists/graphics/you-name-its that we are…
    maybe even “magicians”…for the extent of knowledge we need to have to do our jobs well..

    Artworker is just another label and a poor one at best IMHO.

  • Thanks for sharing, Barry. Here in Mexico there is no title as “artworker”, the graphic designer do all kinds of tasks. Perhaps, we are so far from it, because, as in the last sentence: “organizations expect all of the needed skills in one multi-​​talented designer”. Regards.

  • I’ve worked as a pre-press technician & an artworker – I sometimes feel pretentious calling myself a designer… but I design stuff, so that’s what I am! The knowledge gained from my artworking past affects the way I design things – as I know what will or will not work when printed.

  • Scott Daris

    Artworker: bad name. I’ve worked my way through almost 20 years of the ranks from a Production Artist to a Graphic Designer to an Art Director, but I’ve always been an artist to my core. I received my BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston where I did everything from photography to painting to performance art. About 90% of the production artists I’ve known over the years have not been artists but instead were production professionals that simply produced the materials. They are integral to every creative industry out there – they’ve saved many an Art Director’s ass too many times to mention. However, even the term Production Artist is a misnomer. Art is a sensitive word, just as misused as the word Love.

  • I am a retired Graphic Artist who worked in Advertising, Print and Publishing. In small islands in the Caribbean, and I suspect all small countries we have no choice but to be a Jack of all trades, including copywriter at small ad agencies.

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