What Photosetting Has Done to Composing Room

Postwar developments in the printing industry happened so many so varied that most printers find it difficult to keep up with the announcements of new equipment. The period from the introduction of typesetting machines up to 1941 was one of quiet but steady progress in the production of the printed word. There were no “revolutionary gadgets,” no fantastic new concepts that labeled obsolete all existing equipment and procedures.

This long period of easy adjustment definitely has pass. Today most printers feel uncomfortable when they contemplate the future. Almost every month, the trade press announces a new machine or a new method, until we find it difficult to remain disinterested in the face of such advancing technology.

As far as the composing room is concerned, host of the changes have occurred in the area of type composition, as foreshadowed for a number of years by the steady increase in the use of lithography and gravure. Because both of these processes reproduce type photographically, there has been an understandable demand for more realistic approach to typesetting to meet the requirements of these specialties.

Two approaches have been made to the problem—one in which the objective is to produce a less expensive job, and another that aims to produce a better job. If we are to understand these objectives, we first must separate. We can then see that there is a place for both.

Paradoxically, the very industry that has so devoted itself to the ideals of human progress remains steadfastly conservative in its acceptance of new ways of producing printing. Many letterpress printers continue to make the mistake of turning any thing but letterpress as shoddy goods, thus closing their eyes to the values of different printing processes. Because the principal product of printers is service, is not indicative of forward thinking to disregard all means I wish service may be improved.

In the composing room, the argument was always less heated than in the press room, because the various processes all needed type composition. However, the method of producing this composition was bound to be subject to change. The manufacturers interested in the so-called cheaper methods invariably chose the typewriter as machine to develop. Postwar research in this field produced machines which ingeniously corrected the standard typewriter’s original failings as a composing machine. The major fault, that of a single set with, was soon supplemented by two, three, and finally five widths in various machines. Second, the ragged right-hand column edge in typewriter composition was justified in several ways, the most effective requiring a second typing, manual or automatic. In all cases, type writing was considerably improved, and with fonts of characters designed to resemble standard type faces, these machines today are performing much of the composition formerly produced on typecasting equipment.

A still further development started with typewriter keyboard and brought about a meeting of this standard and familiar machine with the camera. Its product was a film, an obvious advantage in the graphic or gravure reproduction. Understandably, the equipment is more complicated than existing typesetting machines, because it operates on electronic principles that are presently formed to composing room mechanics. The more complicated the mechanism, the more expensive production becomes, so that the selling point must be that the product is better, not necessarily cheaper. Some manufacturers do imply, however, that their equipment is cheaper to operate.

Most natural, according to printers, is the application of photography to existing typesetting machines. Such development has already taken place with both the single-typecasting and the slug-casting machines. The greatest interest to printers centers here, since they can readily understand a familiar machine.

The most recent additions to composing room tools are the specialized camera for the production of display lines, available in several models, and the distortion camera, which can photograph approve to create unusual display effects.

We are, therefore, in a transitional period. The need for photographic composition is bound to increase rapidly, although possibly the equipment best adapted to the job has not yet reached a final form. Most printers recognize that there is a market for this service as well as for standard typesetting, but they cannot decide which of the many new devices to select when replacing present machinery. Scores of meetings on the subject throughout the country—by trade associations, local clubs of Printing House Craftsmen, and others—a test to the present bewilderment in the face of technological advances which are bound to affect the craft appreciably in coming years. The real task, therefore is to look not just for a gadget that will do a “cheaper” job, but for a well-designed and well-manufactured piece of equipment that will perform in a superior fashion. By utilizing procedures which save steps, it will lower hour costs in the end and thereby open up new markets for all printers.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the January 1955 issue of The Inland Printer.

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