What is an artworker?

Artwork artworkers dtp mac revolution

Many people have asked me this question and, in the absence of a Wikipedia entry, here’s my definition.

The term pre-dates desktop publishing when “artwork” or “mechanical art” meant the material (photography, bromide, film, tranparency) or completed, camera-ready pages that could be photographed with a stat camera to make a same-size film that would be used to create a printed product.

Now, an artworker is someone who produces a print-ready product.

Artworkers get a concept from a designer (either in drawing or digital form) and use the appropriate software to create it.

An artworker would understand the basics of printing (cmyk, line screens, spot colours, etc.) as well as design, typesetting, formatting and colour correction. It would be rare to find an artworker with no eye for design.

They should be highly proficient in a number of basic graphics applications, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Freehand, QuarkXpress and InDesign as well as having a basic grasp of how to sort large amounts of information in Excel and Word. Knowledge of JavaScript and XML is also handy in creating automated work flows and negating the need for repetitive tasks.

A “traditional artworker” means someone who – maybe a compositor in the past – has the necessary craft skills to cut, fold and glue paper in order to mock up packaging or other design visuals.

A “creative artworker” is someone who is perhaps half way between a designer and an artworker. They would be required to design print-ready artwork on the fly or be called upon to apply a certain design style across a range of printed material.

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. Tiago says

    Actually, at least in the advertising business, a ‘designer’ is what you define as ‘artworker’, and what you define as a ‘designer’ is in fact an ‘art director’.

    I have found this duality of interpretations to have had a massive negative impact on my career as a designer. Try to guess which way. :)

  2. says

    Very interesting, Tiago, I guess these industry definitions have grown organically, mean different things to different people and there’s now some confusion over where to draw the dividing lines. It’s actually an incredibly important subject with regards to this website as Google searches are now contributing so much towards my new business. But what is my business; design, artwork, graphic design, art direction, creative or marketing? I can’t get to the first page of Google for all those keywords. Or can I? :)

    It would be interesting to hear about how this has effected your career, Tiago. I’m guessing you’re feeling push away from creativity towards production?

  3. says

    That’s terrific as a description. We’re funny beasts really and truly misunderstood. We get local ads for Graphic Designers (loads of money) that specify the kind of stuff a artworker can do except we don’t have the required bits of paper to prove we can do it and, on the other hand, we get ads for Artworkers that want the design skills & qualifications of a designer (paid in peanuts, get monkeys!).

    That’s why I set up my own business because people look at my CV and I don’t even get an interview!

    Would you mind very much if I quote your definition on my website? Please have a look at it and see if you’d feel happy about me using it. Thanks.

    • Rob Cubbon says

      Hello, Linda, artworking is a funny old business and artworkers are funny old people! Your description of the dynamic between graphic designer and artworkers, or creative artworkers – to add a another definition to the mix, is very familiar to me. Like you, I thought to hell with it all and set up my own business. But what I found very quickly was that the general public really don’t know what artwork is (they, understandably, think it’s something done by artists) and that I would get much more work as a graphic designer. This means I can offer a graphic design business that produces a printed product or a working website from scratch.

      And all those people you sent you CV to that didn’t give you an interview – well, some of them don’t even have jobs today, I’m afraid.

      There’s really no need to ask if you can quote my definition on your website. It would be great. I’d much rather you put me as a graphic designer in the anchor text, though!

  4. says

    Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t understand the differences between an artworker and a designer at first. What do you mean by “Print-Ready”. Sorry I’m new to the term 😀 I’m more of a designer than an artworker.

    Awesome blog btw, can’t wait for new stuff to come out!

    • says

      “Print-ready” refers to artwork (usually a PDF) that can be used by a printer to output a job without changing anything. This usually means it’s the correct size, high resolution, with bleed and has the correct colors (CMYK not RGB, for example). Otherwise, a normal PDF would print out badly for a variety of reasons. I hope this helps, John.

  5. Maxine says

    Brilliant description. I am a creative artworker for a printing firm and proud! People ask what my job description means constantly so I now point them to this link :)

    All the best fellow print-ready producers!

  6. cristi says

    Thanks for this article. I will copy some lines (quoting the source, of course).

    I’m looking for a job, I have 10 years of experience as an Artworker (I have a job, I just want to change the city I live in) and today I had to explain that I AM NOT a “graphic designer”. My words were:

    “My main task here is to assure that the files are sent perfectly to the printing houses. Artists have more freedom to create – thinking that I am behind them to assure their jobs to be delivered technical correctly.
    I also continue projects who have “the approved stamp” from Creative Directors.
    For example, now I’m working on some leaflets – one Art Director made one sample and I have to adapt this sample to five of the products the client have.
    Last week, as we were a creative team in an election campaign, I made newspapers ads (40+) based on three designs came from an Art Director – adaptations with the newspapers guidelines.
    A month ago a client wanted to create a 2012 catalog based on their 2011 model. This job was given directly to me as the primary design was done already.
    The same with other catalog for other client; the same with some simple invitations…
    This is my job in this agency. Even some stuff are passed directly to me, I cannot call myself “creative” – at least not 100%. I cannot say “I did that design”, I cannot put it in some “sample portfolio”.

    Pure design were when I acted as a freelancer…

    • says

      Hello Cristi, thanks for your comment. Of course, feel free to copy some lines. I appreciate you quoting the source.

      Your job description echos that of an artworker perfectly. If I was you I would try to start designing projects from scratch – there’s more money in it and more demand for it. :)

  7. Helen says

    Hi Rob

    Just stumbled across your website. I’ve often found it difficult to describe to people not in the industry what an artworker does without it either sounding over simplified or over complicated. Your description is spot on.

    I am an artworker in packaging. I have to take a new design ranges across hundreds of pack variants for each season. As well as an up-to-date knowledge of print production, you have to know the technical requirements of each component (such as tubes, cartons, PET bottles), and the best print methods for each. Sometimes at an early stage in the design process you can tell where there might be a problem in production and ‘tactfully’ advise the designer.

    I think artworking is definitely a craft, and you need to have the right personality as it can be quite intensive. It’s good if you’ve got a long attention span, slightly picky about things and love a challenge.

    Artworkers should stick together, because sometimes you are a lone voice amongst the creatives.


    • says

      Hello Helen. I used to do packaging artwork – it’s a very difficult job. You’re right to say that artworkers need to know about printing methods as well, which is something I missed in my description. Definitely, artworkers should stick together. :)

  8. says

    Hey Rob,
    You inspired me and I started my own website to present myself. :-)
    I wrote here about you and this article: http://dtpguy.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/what-is-an-artworker/

    I also said: “I will copy the entirely article but you may click and go to his website – where you’ll find a lot of more interesting stuff that I will not write about it – because he already said best. ”

    If you’re not ok that I copied all the article tell me and I will cut stuff.
    Thanks! :-)

    • says

      Hey, cristi, this is great. I saw your article earlier and it’s fantastic. It’s amazing how many artworkers end up here as there isn’t much information about this career online.

  9. Carol says

    Hi Rob, I’d like to ask about finding work as a Creative Artworker. I have been working as an illustrator in London for the past ten years and have built up a great client list. Work has slowed down a bit since the recession and I’m also fed-up working from home on my own so I’ve been thinking about finding a job as an artworker. Whenever I see ads for Artworker positions they usually say something like “please don’t apply if you have no artworker experience”. Is it worth my while trying to get this type of job?
    I feel like with my design experience and knowledge of Illustrator and Photoshop I would be great at the job, although maybe a bit lacking in practical/technical knowledge. Do you think if I teach myself Indesign and approach some of these companies, I might have a chance? Should I try to learn any other programmes?

    • says

      Hello Carol, I can’t give you any advice about the freelance situation for artworkers in London at the moment. It’s been many many years since I’ve done that although I do see adverts around from time to time. Yes I would definitely add Indesign to your box of tricks. Yes I would just approach some of these companies. Be slightly disingenuous about your experience and say that you can do anything that they ask you.

      I would also advise you to start a blog and learn web design.

  10. says

    Hi Rob

    Thank you so much for your article, and thanks for everyone for sharing their experiences, I’m Graphic Designer, Multimedia Designer and Packaging Designer, with all my experience which is over 4 years ago working from agency to agency, and with direct clients from all the globe, I found myself new born facing your article because I never know what’s the real meaning of Artworker as nowadays we do the work of 2, 3 people sometime and we always thought that maybe what the company ask us to do is a part of the position we got!

    My big issue now is ; on my CV, I was using Packaging Artworker rather then Packaging designer as I didn’t know the different before until I found your article , and I got an interview and a Test for 1 hour Tomorrow with a big company for Packaging Artworker Position…!!

    How can I be brilliant for the interview ? The Test? And the Role?


    • says

      Good luck with your interview, Ismail, I’m sure you will be brilliant. Remember to listen carefully to what they are asking for and think of questions to ask them if you think they have left anything unsaid.

      Try to become a designer rather than an artworker as you will earn more money. Or “creative artworker” is somewhere between the two!


    Hi Rob

    Thank you for your reply, and can I ask you please which kind of questions and test they do for packaging Artworker position? As I never been hired in this position before?!!

    Kind Regards

  12. Jaxx Shepherd says

    As a soon to be photography graduate, I’m starting early looking into jobs for when I’m out there in the “real” world. However any job listings seem to be mid-weight to senior, etc. Im wondering as someone young and new to all this, how can i possibly get into this business? even interning or unpaid work experience seems to be impossible to find, at least anywhere in the north (around manchester way).
    Any help or advice from anyone would be greatly appreciated!

    • says

      Hello Jaxx, I haven’t had a job in the real world for over six or seven years so I’m not the best person to answer your questions. However I would definitely advise you to create your own self-hosted WordPress.org site with blog. As you have no experience the best way is to get experience on your own developing your own business and website. There is plenty of information here and elsewhere about how to do this.

  13. says

    Hi Rob,

    I just found your definition of an artworker and it has really helped me understand the role a bit better. I have been applying for creative jobs recently as I have a degree as an illustrator (Graphic Design but specialised in illustration). The only thing that seems to be going around here where you don’t need heaps of experience, is the role of artworker. However the pay seems to be really low and the job descriptions make it sound like some sort of technical office job.

    I have applied for some of these jobs, but I am wondering if it is the right job for me to take. I am looking for something creative, not too technical. I only know the basics of programs like InDesign for example. But if the role of an artworker isn’t for me, how am I supposed to get my foot in the door as a designer? How can I get started in the industry if they don’t take on people without experience? I would start on my own as a freelancer but I think I am too scared of the insecurity of trying to find clients, setting prices, etc.

    Sorry for my little rant, I thought your description was perfect, but it has made me doubt what route I should be taking in my job search. :)