Both prepress technicians and graphic artists have a heavy hand in the production of a printed piece, but their jobs are not quite the same. The piece is first designed by the graphic artist, who coordinates the design, lays out the graphics and text, and then finalizes the artwork to send to the print shop. From there, the prepress technician handles the preliminary review of the artwork file, checking for color mismatches, font issues or other formatting errors. If the artwork is cleared for production, the prepress technician then sends the file to be printed and produced into hard copies for the client.
Graphic artists -- or graphic designers -- take an idea or concept and use computer graphics software to create a visual product that communicates, advertises and evokes a response from an intended audience. They create a wide variety of printed and digital materials -- logos, brochures and Websites, for example -- in an effort to brand an organization with an identity that is easily recognizable. Many companies require at least a Bachelor's degree, though a majority of a graphic designer's clout comes from experience -- in other words, a well-rounded portfolio that displays a history of creative work. Because most output is digital, a graphic designer's work can be completed from a variety of locations, including remotely.
Prepress technicians work primarily in a print shop environment because their main duty is to prepare the artwork submitted by the graphic designer for printing. The prepress -- or "preflight," according to some graphics software suites -- technicians check the material and use the shop's printing software to format the pages appropriately for the specified paper stock and ink types. In the event there are issues, they work with the graphic artist to make corrections and reformat problematic artwork files. After creating an initial proof and obtaining an approval from the client for production, they might also prepare the press plates for use in the printing machines, which includes making the printing plates and later applying a chemical prepping solution.
While the creative process is mainly in the graphic artist's hands, both the artist and the prepress technician must have a good grasp of graphics software in order to create the appropriate typesetting and page layout. On the other hand, even though a majority of the final print preparation is the responsibility of the prepress technician, it's essential that the graphic designer also have an idea of how to format files appropriately. Both professionals must be aware of paper limitations, deadline restrictions, ink requirements and formatting needs -- for example, how to work with fonts or optimize photographs for printing -- so that all materials are compatible with the printer's requirements.
A basic knowledge of design techniques and aesthetics is helpful, as is a thorough grasp on proper grammar since you'll also be working with text layout in either profession. Graphic art is much more creative, so if you enjoy drawing, painting or producing any kind of conceptual artwork, it might be the better choice of the two. On the other hand, if you happen to like art but have trouble with the initial creative process -- or if you are especially detail-oriented and enjoy reviewing specifications and identifying problems -- then you might be more inclined to serve as a prepress technician.
2016 Salary Information for Graphic Designers
Graphic designers earned a median annual salary of $47,640 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, graphic designers earned a 25th percentile salary of $35,560, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $63,340, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 266,300 people were employed in the U.S. as graphic designers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Graphic Designers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Prepress Technician and Workers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Printing Workers
- Career Overview: Prepress Technician Careers
- ONet Online: Summary Report for Graphic Designers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Graphic Designers
- Career Trend: Graphic Designers
Based in Tampa, Fla., Danielle Fernandez been writing, editing and illustrating all things technology, lifestyle and education since 1999. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Tribune, Working Mother magazine, and a variety of technical publications, including BICSI's "Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual." Fernandez holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of South Florida.