Electronics and Camera Combine in Cold Typesetting

  • Growing field of photographic composition require specialized techniques
  • Machine output and products made high-speed by computer “brains”
  • Determining technicality for individual users requires careful survey

Last month we discussed typesetting by photography, paying primary attention to its broad aspects rather than to specific features of the machine available. The printer is interested in photographic composition should begin by determining first of all whether his own geographic location would be a good market for a photographic product.

Such careful survey may spare the investigator much future grief. Naturally, manufacturers who have spent time and money in the development of composing machine will praise their product highly. The prospective purchaser should therefore listen to the sales presentations only after deciding whether composition by photography would be practical in his own operation.

Three Factors Govern Use

He should consider (1) the market, (2) labor supply, including jurisdiction, and (3) maintenance. He must further take into account such items as space, air conditioning, auxiliary equipment “dark room, temperature controlled sinks, like top tables, film storage cabinets, enlarger, Bruning and Ozalid machines, etc.). Altogether, and imposing list is presented to the man whose knowledge of photography is limited to Sunday snapshots.

This does not mean that the advent of the camera into the composing room need be a discouraging situation. It means only that the blindfold should be left in the drawer when the preliminary planning is underway.

Evidently a good percentage of composition concerns are doing some solid thinking about the camera as a basic tool. At the spring Conference of the International Typographic Composition Association, it was announced that one-sixth of the membership of 400 were offering some kind of photographic service. In May a special ITCA Section devoted to the problems of composition by camera met for its third workshop to acquaint members with the specialized techniques of this growing field.

A look at current developments may aid us in forecasting the future of photographic composition. Most of us understand in principle the present mechanical machines adapted from hot metal to camera lens. But we may soon find electronic equipment out loading our present procedures radically.

We must be ready for the changes that are going to occur. The printing industry has been stagnant for too long. Some present typesetting machines are 60 years old and more. Though basic changes other than refinements have been made in all that time. Technological advancements in the composing room have been resisted. I believe that this condition is about to land. No equipment and procedures that are now being introduced will radically alter production methods.

Naturally this revolution will be accomplished by stages. No one can forecast the immediate or even rapid dissolution of typographic composition as we now know it. But the seeds are sown, and we will roll along with other industries, even though automation may reach the printer last. The effect on the individual printer of all this turmoil will be determined by his attitude toward the electronic typesetting machines now in production and toward those to come.

During the last 10 years, a photographic composing machine has been developed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is now called the Photon, although it has had several names at different stages in its transition to a marketable product.

Developed Over Ten Years

The Photon, produced by Graphic Arts Research Foundation, Incorporated, is the result of the collaboration of two telephone engineers from France, René A. Higgonet and Louis Moyroud. As presently constituted, it has three units, a keyboard (standard typewriter), telephone relay system, and a photographing unit. All of these are built into one machine.

The operation of the machine may be simply described by stating that copies keyboard in the same manner as it would be tight, i.e., by inserting a sheet of paper into the typewriter and “setting” one line at a time. When the line has reached the preset justification range, the operator taps a line-release key. This actuates a memory device which has stored an impulse for each character struck on the keyboard.

The memory device, in company with the computer which automatically adds space between words for justification, feeds the information to the photographing unit which in turn records the line upon film. This is accomplished by “stopping,” via stroboscopic light, the various characters of the line from a constantly revolving matrix disc containing 16 fonts of type, each with 88 characters.

In actual operation, the operator can control justification, letting, type size and font by depressing certainties. He can also Claude, center, multiple justify, and make corrections in the same manner. In fact, the machine seems innocuous to the printer. It is presumably no less amazing to the more practice I of the electronics engineer who no doubt will be properly interested in the “innards” responsible for so many compliments.

The doubts of the present composing room machinist may be allayed by the manufacturer’s comment that any breakdown in the electrical circuits or vacuum tube banks is immediately recorded by a signal light, localizing the failure. This is probably correct, but the printer had better not even look at the maze of tubes and wiring in the machine.

New Series 200 Now Available

The Photon has been under continual development for the past ten years. An early model is in use in a newspaper plant and there is also one in a large commercial plant. There have been many problems to overcome, and apparently most of these have been satisfactorily solved. According to its producers, the second model, titled the Series 200, is now being manufactured.

Linofilm, another electronic typesetting machine of real interest to the trade, was first shown in April, 1954 by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. The present model is entirely different from the one exhibited in Chicago in September, 1950, under the same name. Caller apparently reasoned that the electronic principal was more productive for the future then was the mechanical.

The Linofilm consists of two separate units, the keyboard and the photographic unit. Separation of these operations is probably advisable because and electronic equipment that human factor will undoubtedly slow production. It is quite possible that an electronic photographic device will be able to keep up with the output of a number of operators.

The Linofilm keyboard consists of a standard typewriter which, upon operation, perforated tape similar to that used in Teletype machines. All of the information pertinent to the job, such as measure, type size, style, justification and letting, is plunged into a tape.

Automatic Operation for Speed

Upon completion, the tape was removed from the recording unit and fed into the photographing unit which contains an electro-mechanical reader for decoding the information punched on the tape. In addition to the optical system, the photographic unit contains a character grid of five different “fonts” or perhaps special characters. These grids are photographed by a multi-projection lens system which permits the grid to remain stationary, thereby assuring the maximum in clarity of projection.

The typesetting machine described has been shown to many printers. However, the Mergenthaler company has felt that the prototype was not yet ready for full production. The writer has been notified that the Linofilm, with a number of improvements, will be shown this fall.

During the last year, there has been conjecture about what the well-known Linotype firm is planning in the way of a new or improved Linofilm. Certainly this company has not shown its hand in the race for the production of a photographic composing machine to replace the universally-used slug-casting machine.

Of course, any comparison between Photon and Linofilm we’ll have to wait for a long time to come, when both machines have been in production and use under all the conditions now prevalent in the printing industry. Competition will not be restricted to these two firms, however. It is rumored that Intertype has an electronic machine underdevelopment. American Type Founders has a similar device under wraps, with a “no comment” on progress.

The readers who think that typesetters here are two wildly fantastic for the printing business had better not talk two electronics engineers, as already there are devices which go far beyond the capabilities of Photon or Linofilm. It is probably too early for the industry to probe the possibilities of the RCA cathode-ray tube for facsimile scanning, the Eastman Kodak Datascope and the General Electric Electro-Magnetic Printer.

For example, the RCA tube translates coded signals into letters and figures at some 100,000 words per minute, and the Datascope reproduces 15,000 letters a second. The GE instrument produces 2,500 lines a minute.

Of course, these are the products of mines soaring far beyond the needs of the present-day typesetter. But their very existence as a means of recording the computations of electronic “brains” does have significance in an age when nothing appears to be impossible, indicating the need to be constantly aware of current progress. It is an exciting challenge.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the June 1956 issue of The Inland Printer.


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