How Photocomposition Is Likely to Affect The Design of Tomorrow’s Type Faces

Reproduction of flourishes and degree of slope characterizing many desirable examples of calligraphy has both intrigued and plagued type designers, type founders, and hot-metal composing machine manufacturers for years. Decreased slope and reduction or elimination of kerns due to mechanical restriction left much to be desired.

The advent of photocomposition freed the type designer from those limitations. No longer are characters confined to their set widths as they are for linecasting, or limited by a practical amount of kerning as in the case of single types.

Cursive letters for photocomposition may lean way over, dramatically over-hanging their theoretical type bodies-and may even overprint those that precede or follow. Connected scripts, from those simulating fine steel and copperplate engraving to the spontaneous brush designs so popular in today’s advertising, appear in perfect-joining, free-flowing beauty—without hazard of breakage either in a type case or on the press!

Those intimate with typography appreciate the subtle nuances that great designers imparted to their alphabets in the days when punches were hand-cut in steel. If those personality assets have barely been intimated in many hot-metal types of our times, it was not always because contemporary designers preferred stiff, mechanically precise forms to hand-cut variations. It was because hand-cutting of punches became increasingly impractical as volume demand multiplied.

Therefore, pattern-making and punchcutting machines were developed. These machine age aids, however, permitted interpreters who were essentially mechanics rather than artists to intervene between the designer’s drawing board and the cast type. Even pantographing can be heartless in its mechanical failure to recreate the designer’s original concept.

For Intertype Fotosetter composition, at least, letter forms of appropriate type designs are literally hand-cut. Only the designer’s material—his own palette—has changed. The characters are drawn on paper and directly cut out with greater speed, ease, and accuracy than they could possibly be carved in metal. Consequently, through photographic reduction to master point size, every idiosyncrasy the designer painstakingly puts in his drawing can be carried into the Fotomat without intermediate distortion or neutering by others. And, to top it all off, character images are always easily replaceable with exact duplicates of the original.

Photocomposition contributes a great deal through its ability to restore artistry and craftsmanship of letter design in a form practical for machine-set reproduction speed. It has given the type designer and typographer their greatest freedom for unrestrained expression since the invention of movable type. Gutenberg would be envious of today’s designs.

This article first appeared in the July 1963 issue of The Inland Printer/American Lithographer. Although uncredited, it is most likely written by Alexander S. Lawson.

Leave a Reply