Although prepress technicians and graphic artists work in the same field and with the same programs, their jobs are different. Graphic artists are responsible for creating designs according to a client's needs, while prepress technicians are responsible for taking graphic artists' designs from digital format to printed material.
What a Prepress Technician Does
The main job of a prepress technician is to check materials as they come into the print shop and prepare them for the printing process. Most printing today is done electronically. A client will, for example, email a file for printing to a print shop. The prepress technician opens the file in a program like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign and checks that the print settings, such as color and paper size, are correct on the file. If needed, the prepress technician makes adjustments. Prepress technicians are also responsible for the care and maintenance of their equipment, which can include printers, scanners, cameras, copy machines and computer servers.
What a Graphic Artist Does
The main job of a graphic artist is to create designs for clients. These designs can include images, photos, logos, layouts and other content and are used for print, web or video productions. Most graphic artists do their design work using a computer and illustration packages, although some may still create graphics using paper and pencil or pen and ink. A graphic artist can work as an in-house employee or contractor designing newsletters, print mailers, email campaigns, brochures and the like, or he can work as a freelancer, independent artist or employee of a design agency working for a number of different companies. Some graphic artists specialize in one area of design, such as logos or web banners, while other designers do a little bit of everything.
Prepress Technician and Graphic Artist Similarities
Prepress technicians and graphic artists work with some of the same design and layout programs and both of these jobs require familiarity with the printing process. In the printing world, there are two main color models named after the colors used during printing: red/green/blue (RGB) and cyan/magenta/yellow/black (CMYK). Most materials designed for printing, such as mailers and newsletters, are done using the CMYK model, while photo editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, use RGB. Although the prepress technician can correct mistakes in the color model before printing, the graphic artist can save time and effort by converting finished files to RBG.
Prepress Technician and Graphic Artist Differences
Prepress technicans are more concerned with the nuts and bolts of the printing process. After ensuring the files are set up in the proper format, they are responsible for running the equipment and making sure the job prints correctly. Graphic artists, on the other hand, create designs from scratch using only their imaginations. Graphic artists are also more likely to work with clients and others involved in the creative process. Another major difference between these two careers is salary. In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median pay for a printing technician was $33,150, while, for that same period, a graphic artist median pay was $43,500.
Someone who has an imaginative mind and a flair for the creative may be best suited to become a graphic artist. Technical-minded people, however, who enjoy working with printers and servers may find the role of prepress technician more fulfilling.
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.