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What does a Layout Artist do?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A layout artist is responsible for the overall visual look of a publication. He or she arranges text and images to create a pleasing layout for readers. These artists may work in advertising agencies, newspapers, or magazines, and they may work on different projects, such as brochures, articles, reports, posters, and ad copy.

While layout artists once used tape or glue to piece together pages of copy and images by hand, most modern graphics professionals lay out their work digitally using computer graphics software. Learning graphics software is a key accomplishment in a professional's education and training. Working with images and text on a screen using visual editing software tools is a daily task for most artists, although there may be some smaller publications or small businesses that still use manual paste up layout techniques.

These professionals must select colors that fit with each publication or project to convey the desired mood or tone of the material. The format of the page layouts must be easy to read, and the font and lettering size must be clear. Layout artists must make many daily decisions about all of the details of their work in order to produce successful projects.

Working for a publication such as a newspaper or magazine requires an artist to be cohesive in his or her designs. Creating fresh-looking pages while maintaining the magazine or newspaper's unique style is an important goal to achieve. Layout artists are considered creative production staff. The number of page layouts expected daily by these artists varies greatly depending on the type of business or publication.

Newspaper layout professionals are usually under pressure to produce pages on an extremely strict deadline, if the publication is a daily one. He or she arranges photographs and text to create easily readable pages, and chooses different font sizes for story headlines. Similar duties are performed by magazine layout artists, but the deadline pressure may be less intense if the publication is produced monthly rather than weekly or daily. Both create ad pages for advertisers.

The distinction between the duties of this artist and a graphic designer is often a slight one. Their tasks of producing finished page layouts from images and text tend to overlap. In general though, layout artists' work usually focuses on page arrangement rather than drawing. A graphic artist may add more of his or her original drawings and artwork to production projects.

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Discussion Comments

By anon240402 — On Jan 13, 2012

@ anon238279 and manykitties2: It is true that collecting these things helps us to become more creative and expose to different kinds of design. Even I also collect magazines, brochures, catalogs, flyers, etc.

By anon238279 — On Jan 03, 2012

@manykitties2: You're right, even I collected lots of magazines, brochures, and product catalogs. It really helps me to become more creative and expose to different design styles.

By manykitties2 — On Aug 01, 2011

Working as a layout artist requires not only a huge investment of time but a lot of resources. If you ever have the chance to visit the office or home of a layout artist you'll more than likely see dozens of design magazines and color guides scattered about.

Design magazines and other books on graphic design are very expensive and it isn't uncommon to pay more than $50 for a single top quality magazine. The books are vital for a layout artists work as they show what colors really look like once they are printed. This is always important when you consider how much colors change from monitor to monitor.

By letshearit — On Jul 31, 2011

For those who are interested in doing some work as a layout artist there are plenty of free programs available online that you can try out. Desktop publishing is a big industry and most of the professional software for layout such as QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign are very expensive.

A good thing to do if you are practicing to be a layout artist is to follow some of the free video courses online. Copying work you like is a good way to learn techniques.

A lot of layout design is very technical and programs can be intricate. Taking your time to practice what you enjoy can be very rewarding.

By alianor — On Jul 31, 2011

@yseult - Your argument is valid, but I would say that some of those layout artist jobs are also going to those who are less skillful. The advent of igital art software programs have opened up the pool of candidates tremendously and it's a shame that some artists with true talent are being ousted by amateurs who label themselves professionals on a superficial level.

By yseult — On Jul 30, 2011

@chivebasil - Remember the phrase, "A bad carpenter blames his tools"? In this case perhaps it's the bosses or critics blaming the carpenter's tools, but ultimately don't you think it all boils down to the designer's innate talent and skills?

I'd go so far as to say that's the main thing that separates the good designers from the mediocre. Sure, we can go crazy with all the billions of possibilities that Photoshop offers, but the graphic design jobs are going to those with the sense to restrain themselves when designing.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 29, 2011

I always thought that working as a layout artist for a magazine would be the coolest thing. I love flipping through the pages and seeing how different ideas get different treatments. I’ve often thought that I would be good at deciding how images and text should be displayed on a page. I’m also great with choosing colors that work well together.

I live in a small town with no magazine offices. If I were willing to move, I would apply to one. I work as a graphic artist already, and I’m sure my skills would give me what I need to succeed at a big publication.

By wavy58 — On Jul 29, 2011

I design brochures at an ad agency. As a layout artist, my job description includes keeping within the theme of a piece. I could not do one page of the brochure as a serious, script-font design and the next in a childish font with loud colors. Even if the client requested it, I am supposed to advise that they stick with what is in their best interest and what would look good for both us and them.

I remember one brochure I did for Green Lake Homes. All the pages had a beautiful photo of Green Lake in the background, and blocks of white text were centered upon black puddles. Inside the brochure, I placed photos of the home in boxes on top of the lake water. These boxes had drop shadows for a dramatic effect. The colors and layout all complemented each other.

By seag47 — On Jul 28, 2011

I am a newspaper layout artist. I have to arrange elements creatively while keeping the signature look of our paper. For example, the logo always goes in the same place, and it stays the same color. Even page numbers go on the left, and odd page numbers go on the right.

I get to choose the fonts for special editorials. Every Friday, we run a new interview piece with a local person, and I have the freedom to get creative with that headline. I even get to choose some artwork for that page, which is one of the few to run in full color.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 27, 2011

As a graphic designer for a newspaper, I often had to do the work of a layout artist for certain publications. Though a regular layout artist took care of the daily pages, whenever we ran special sections or magazines to be inserted into the paper, I had the responsibility of making the pages cohesive and attractive.

One such example was our yearly FYI magazine. It contained many ads that I worked on, but it also had to have the same page number layout, the same look to headlines, and the same flow to the text. I had to arrange the template in such a way that every element complemented the whole.

By BambooForest — On Jul 27, 2011

@chivebasil- That is how I feel about a lot of technology. It gives us so many options, but then we have too many options. I feel sometimes that our world offers us too many choices.

I for one, though, prefer most of the comics and newspapers I read to have a really basic, traditional layout. Anything more complicated and it makes it hard for me to focus. So sure, the occasional out-there layout for an important page is great, but otherwise I want it simple and not excessively photoshopped.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jul 26, 2011

One of my favorite comic artists, Chris Ware, uses a lot of the tools and techniques of old timey graphic design when laying out his extremely complicated graphic novels.

Comics, like most other things with complicated layouts, mostly use computers and image editing programs to get the look that they want. But Chris Ware still uses rulers and scotch tape and an incredibly observant eye to achieve his intended effects. It is kind of hard to describe what they look like if you have never seen one of his books, but there are extremely complicated layout effects and relationships between panels. The effect is breathtaking, especially when you know how much time and care he puts into it.

By summing — On Jul 25, 2011

Layout artistry is a lot harder than it looks. For someone that has never done it you might expect that it is just manipulating a bunch of squares on a page so that they line up in some kind of order that makes sense. There is a lot more to it though. Imagine what it would be like if those squares were not perfectly square but had strange corners and protrusions on them. When you are working for a newspaper of something with a lot of print this is often the case. Getting everything you need on the page it needs to be with the look that it needs to maintain is kind of like trying to park 10 cars in a lot with 9 spaces. You have to get creative and think on your feet.

By chivebasil — On Jul 25, 2011

Photoshop is both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to the layout artist. Let me tell you why from both sides.

It is great because it has tons and tons of features and manages to automate a lot of tasks that in the past were time and labor intensive. Photoshop saves designers hundreds of hours every year just because it allows them to do so much more. It can also lead to some stunning effects that were never possible in the past. Photoshop has allowed up to see things that were previously invisible.

But on the other hand it is a nightmare for designers because there is now the expectation that every piece of work will have a groundbreaking and eye catching look filled with complicated color pallets and manipulated images. It has made things so easy that there is now no excuse for sloppy or underwhelming work. It has also given tools that were frequently only available to trained designers to anyone that wants to buy the program. This means that there is now a ton of competition from amateur designers and layout artists.

In the end I think Photoshop is a good thing but it is complicated. Maybe it is two steps forward and one step back.

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