Your Santa Rosa Graphic Design Agency – A History of Production

Abra Marketing has a unique history as a graphic design agency in Santa Rosa. This article provides a glimpse into my early years as a graphic designer and my intensive design production background.

I started the agency in November 1999 with the arrival of a new Mac G3. As a graphic designer I founded the agency with a focus on graphic design and branding. From the beginning there have been a few things that have helped our clients’ design projects be successful. One of these is my extensive production experience.

Santa Rosa Graphic Designer

I still have my printer’s loupe that I got when I was at Scholin Brothers. I wonder how many graphic designers know what this is.

It Looks Good But How Will It Print?

I was fortunate to have amazing graphic design production training and experience at Scholin Brothers Printing, a leading commercial printer in St. Louis for over 50 years. Scholin was one of the classic printing companies, founded by two brothers in the 1940s and built during the thriving age of traditional (aka non-digital) printing. Scholin Brothers served many of St. Louis’ renowned ad agencies and internationally recognized corporations (e.g. Anheuser-Busch, Purina, etc.).

I arrived at Scholin at a great time (in 1995) when digital file preparation was still new. Those were the days when you’d make a change in Photoshop, hit save, and then go get a cup of coffee while the file processed for the next 5-10 minutes. Files usually came in on Syquests and Zip disks. That was also when QuarkXpress was king and before Indesign even existed. I helped start the company’s Preflight department which checked and prepared all files prior to them going to production. Scholin had about 8 presses as I recall, including two 6-color Heidelbergs, and a full bindery. They bought one of the first digital presses while I was there. I also provided quality control, checking projects before they shipped which was perfect since I knew the expectations on the job from the minute the files arrived.

Understanding The Production Process

It helped immensely that I was able to learn every part of the production process: prepress, proofing (they had a proofing room with specially designed lighting for optimal color matching), printing, and bindery.

Santa Rosa Graphic Design

One of our projects in Abra’s first year of business was some branding work for Agilent Technologies. 15 years later, we helped the company with their rebranding to Keysight. Our specialized design team converted thousands of documents to the new branding guidelines in about 6 months.

The benefit of this timeframe was that this was when file preparation was a very demanding, exact process. Files had to meet rigorous qualifications or they would not get through Prepress without issues nor print properly. While file preparation has become a lot more forgiving, having that intensive production experience has helped a lot of our projects be more successful, resulting in a better end product and also helping the production process go more smoothly.

Fully understanding the production process has also helped our clients: we’re better able to determine the optimal way to set up a project for cost and quality. And we know how to prepare the files to achieve the best result as it goes from a concept to prepress to printing and through bindery processing.

Learning From Other Graphic Designers

Another benefit of the job was getting to see the work of some of St. Louis’ best graphic designers. I was able to review amazing graphic design on a daily basis, not just in final printed pieces but seeing exactly how files were set up and what techniques were used. I also had one the area’s best Prepress departments to ask about how to achieve certain effects or get around production challenges. It helped my own graphic design skills improve quickly, both from a design and production standpoint.

Those were really fun days in my early graphic design career. There were numerous occasions when I was at Scholin until 6 am from pulling an all-nighter on a design project, then would drive home, get breakfast, clean up, and be back for work at 8. I am grateful for the experience and all I learned from all the great pros at Scholin.

If you have questions about your next graphic design project, please let us know!

Or you can learn more about our graphic design services.


Kurt Hoffmann is the Creative Director and Agency Principle at Abra Marketing, a Santa Rosa-based digital marketing agency offering a full range of graphic design services to our clients throughout Sonoma County and the Bay Area.