Typesetting Work

Learn the real work involved in typesetting and the machines that make it all possible.

| May/June 1971

If you still think that all typesetting is dirty, noisy, hard work done on a cumbersome, clacking, linecasting monster like the one down at the weekly newspaper's office. . . you only know half (the outdated half) of the story.

There are two kinds of typesetting, you see: hot and cold. The old, traditional method of hot casting lead into type that is locked into a frame, mounted on a press and otherwise physically manhandled is dirty, noisy and hard work. For all the years that letterpress ruled the printing industry, however, it was almost the only game in town. Now, though, a faster and easier and simpler method of printing— offset —has changed the picture.

An offset press prints—not from heavy metal type—but from a thin, featherweight, photographically-exposed plate. And that plate can be exposed from cold type. . . which is nothing more than regular black images on a sheet of white paper.

It stands to reason, then, that an offset plate can be made by photographing copy produced on a regular typewriter . . . and it can. But for most jobs, that's not good enough because almost all typewriters have only one type face, cram the fat letters together while leaving large gaps between the skinny ones, index each line the same monotonous amount and have absolutely no provisions for justifying (making the ends of the lines come out even) a column of type.

Even the IBM Selectric typewriter (the one that uses interchangeable type balls) is not the answer. True, by changing the ball, you can alter the appearance of a Selectric's copy from light to bold to italic in a number of faces . . . but those faces are all approximately the same size, the big letters are still packed in closer than the skinny ones, the vertical line indexing is always the same, there's no provision for justification and . . . well, the finished copy still looks like it came off a typewriter, dang it.

What you need is a super-sophisticated typing machine: one that will space proportionally (leave a big gap for fat letters and a narrow gap for skinny ones); one that accepts a number of type faces of different sizes; one that will index a little or a lot between lines; one that can be set so that every line comes out exactly even with the ones above and below.

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