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Become a graphic-arts ACE

Training abounds for Adobe professionals with an eye for advancement. Training Advisor hed: Become a graphic-arts ACE dek: Training abounds for Adobe professionals with an eye for advancement. dek: Lots of good training is available through industry trade associations.

Not every IT certification involves heavy-duty technical matters–which is good, because many people who enjoy using computers aren’t really interested in what happens inside them. They like knowing how to get work done using them rather than worrying about how to connect them or fix them.

If you are one of these people and you have even the smallest artistic bent, let me tell you how to become a graphic arts ACE (Adobe Certified Expert). Much of the work that was once done with pencils, traditional cameras, and sheets of acetate is now done with computers–which means today’s graphic artists need to know how to make the most of the tools at their disposal.

Once you’ve gotten your wings, you can soar above other, non-ACE designers and prepress professionals. As an employee, you can potentially edge them out when it comes to finding a better job. If you are an independent contractor, you might be able to find more interesting projects and increase your billing rate after becoming an ACE.

Adobe Systems, one of the leading graphic-arts software companies, created the ACE program to promote professional levels of expertise among product users. The company makes some of the most widely used applications for design and production for Web and print projects. Photoshop, its flagship product, is such a well-known image editing product that few people can rattle off the names of competing products.

PageMaker, one of the original page layout programs, still holds its own against Quark Xpress; and InDesign–the company’s newer page-layout program–is expected to seriously challenge Quark in the next couple of years. Adobe Illustrator is a popular program for illustrators for print and Web designs.

In the last few years, the company has broadened its line of products to include tools for portable documents–such as Adobe Acrobat. The company also has created a line of editing products for Web elements that includes LiveMotion and GoLive. Rounding out the company’s product offerings are a few consumer-level editing products, including Elements, a new image-editing product based on Photoshop.

I like the flexibility of the ACE program; it is highly customizable because you only test for the products you use on a regular basis. If you only use Photoshop for print design projects, for example, you take only the Photoshop ACE test. If you specialize in Web design, you might want an Illustrator ACE certification or a LiveMotion one to go along with a Photoshop ACE certification.

I also like the program because it is affordable; most of what you need to learn you can accomplish on your own. You can spend your time and money taking classes on the applications, but you don’t have to. If you have a year or so experience with the application for which you want to become an ACE, you have probably already learned a lot of what is covered on the exam. You can learn the rest by taking a class or working your way through a book on the application. You can also find online courses for the applications. Adobe offers online training, as do the major online training suppliers.

To obtain an ACE certification, you need only pass the Product Proficiency Exam for the product. You can take any of the exams at a Sylvan Prometric Authorized Testing Center. Each test costs $150 and contains 60 to 90 multiple-choice questions. You will need at least an hour to complete an exam. If you do not pass, you can take the exam again as many times as you need in order to pass, and you do not have to wait a specific length of time before you can try again. Once you get your certification, to keep it current, you need to take a new exam within six months of Adobe releasing the new exam–something it does after it releases a major revision of the program.

Adobe also has a certification program for training providers, something you might look into if you operate or want to start a graphic-arts program at your training center. You have to apply to Adobe for acceptance into the program, and everyone who teaches Adobe application classes has to be Adobe Certified Experts in the software they teach about. If your organization is accepted into the program, Adobe will list it on its Web site as an authorized training provider. You can get the application form on the Adobe Web site.

Other options

Adobe is not the only source of solid career documentation. Graphic-arts institutes and art and design schools are good sources of certification and degree programs in design. You can find these schools in just about every major metropolitan area.

Some four-year undergraduate colleges such as the Rochester Institute of Technology School of Printing Management and Sciences offer majors in graphic arts and its close cousin, printing. As you can imagine, a four-year degree program gives you a lot of in-depth knowledge and training in many areas of graphic-arts design and production. Plus, such schools often have job placement programs for graduates.

Some graphic-arts industry vendors other than Adobe have set up training programs. Heidelberg, one of the largest printing-press manufacturers and prepress system vendors in the world, recently started a training program at its United States headquarters in Atlanta. The Print Media Academy offers product-specific and general-knowledge courses. Heidelberg has also partnered with a local college to develop a printing-related MBA program.

Other software vendors that make software for the graphic-arts industry offer training programs and certification exams for their software. Macromedia, which makes several Web-related design software programs–notably Flash and Dreamweaver–and Freehand, a well-known illustration application, offers online training for its products. If you want to find a local training source on the company’s products, look for an approved training partner in your area by visiting the company’s Web site.

You can also find good training programs at some of the industry trade associations, although I haven’t located one that is specifically geared towards prepress or graphic-arts certification. You can take the courses, but there is no certification program associated with the training. However, the training courses might help you with material covered on a certification exam. The Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, now affiliated with the Printing Industries of America, offers in-depth courses on color management and other graphic-arts-related aspects of the printing process.

ACE Plus

Nothing beats a four-year degree in the graphic arts, but few people have the time or money to go back to school full-time. Fewer still know they want to make graphic arts a career when they are in their late teens. Most gravitate toward it after they have finished a two- or four-year degree in something else.

If you are now a graphic-arts professional and don’t have a full-fledged degree in graphic arts or printing, an ACE certification in one or more of Adobe’s programs is a good way to prove that you know your stuff. Potential employers and clients will recognize the company name.

If you already have an ACE certification, you can add to your career knowledge by taking advantage of one or more of the other training programs available. Doing so will make you an ACE Plus and give you even more of a competitive edge than you have just being an ACE.

Contributing Editor Molly Joss also writes several other regular columns and features for ComputerUser, including AskMolly, a daily career advice column on

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