Saturday, 20 September 2008

What photocomposition meant for type

Here are some images from my presentation ‘Absolutely no type’ at this year’s ATypI conference.

Books produced by early phototypesetting systems publicized the fact that they were produced with ‘absolutely no type’. What letterforms were chosen for these new systems? How did they relate to existing type designs? What opportunities were taken (or missed) in the creation of new founts? How did the new typefaces for new machines affect the designers and typesetters who used them? By looking at the earliest phototypeset books, manufacturers’ and printers’ type specimens, and printers’ archives 1950-1970 we can find out more about the time when the certainties of metal typography began to dissolve into the new world of film.

All phototypesetting devices broke the link that existed in metal type between character width and escapement, that is the horizontal space in which a character sits. The latter could now be varied independently of character width, allowing any amount of under- or over-spacing of letters. This point is seized upon in this specimen for the Bawtree machine of the 1920s.

The Intertype Fotosetter promoted the new freedom of type design. Its hot-metal faces were constrained in two ways: characters could not kern (that is the top stroke of f could not hang over the following character), and character widths for roman and italic had to be equal, to allow for duplex matrices (which carried both fonts). Garamond seems to have been the first typeface adapted for the new machine, and the revised designs show how both constraints have been thrown aside.

Economy and efficiency were always te selling points for the new machines. The weight of the pieces of film used for a job was compared with the weight of the lead type that would previously have been necessary:

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