February 18, 2013

Welcome to Letterpress Typesetting

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Letterpress Typesetting

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March 31, 2013

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Typesetting Case


February 18, 2013

Rachel Toy

Well after a really interesting course at St Martin’s College learning how to print using letterpress techniques, I thought I would share with you some of the things I learned.

The best part of the course was being able to work with actual, physical, moveable type. This gave me a much better idea of the physical size of type, spacing and it’s relation to the page. I feel computers, whilst they help speed up the process, take the physical side of things away from us. It does wonders for your creativity no end if you get away from it once in a while and revisit a manual process.


Letterpress printing is a physical process. It starts with the type itself, the size of which and the spacing around it. You can get type (individual letters) in metal or wood blocks, in various sizes. They are measured in points,

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February 18, 2013

History of Printing

The history of printing started around 3000 BC with the duplication of images. The use of round cylinder seals for rolling an impress onto clay tablets goes back to early Mesopotamian civilization before 3000 BC, where they are the most common works of art to survive, and feature complex and beautiful images. In both China and Egypt, the use of small stamps for seals preceded the use of larger blocks. In Europe and India, the printing of cloth certainly preceded the printing of paper or papyrus; this was probably also the case in China. The process is essentially the same – in Europe special presentation impressions of prints were often printed on silk until at least the seventeenth century.

Part of a series on the
History of printing

Block printing

Main article: Woodblock printing

Block printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia both as a method of printing on textiles and later, under the influence of Buddhism, on paper. As a method of printing on cloth, the earliest surviving examples from China date to about 220. Ukiyo-e is the best known type of Japanese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique on paper are covered by the art term woodcut, except for the block-books produced mainly in the fifteenth century.

In China

The earliest woodblock printed fragments are from China. They consist of printed flowers in three colours on silk. They are generally assigned to the Han Dynasty before 220.[1] The technology of printing on cloth in China was adapted to paper under the influence of Buddhism which mandated the circulation of standard translations over a wide area, as well as the production of multiple copies of key texts for religious reasons. The oldest wood-block printed book is the Diamond Sutra. It carries a date on ‘the 13th day of the fourth moon of the ninth year of the Xiantong era’ (i.e. 11 May 868).[2] A number printed dhāraṇī-s, however, predate the Diamond Sūtra by about two hundred years (see Tang Dynasty).

In India

In Buddhism, great merit is thought to accrue from copying and preserving texts, the fourth-century master, listing the copying of scripture as the first of ten essential religious practices. The importance of perpetuating texts is set out with special force in the larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra which not only urges the devout to hear, learn, remember and study the text but to obtain a good copy and to preserve it. This ‘cult of the book’ led to techniques for reproducing texts in great numbers, especially the short prayers or charms known as dhāraṇī-s. Stamps were carved for printing these prayers on clay tablets from at least the seventh century, the date of the oldest surviving examples.[3] Especially popular was the Pratītyasamutpāda Gāthā, a short verse text summing up Nāgārjuna’s philosophy of causal genesis or dependent origination. Nagarjuna lived in the early centuries of the current era and the Buddhist Creed, as the Gāthā is frequently called, was printed on clay tablets in huge numbers from the sixth century. This tradition was transmitted to China and Tibet with Buddhism. Printing text from woodblocks does not, however, seem to have been developed in India.


Yuan Dynasty woodblock edition of a Chinese play

In India

In Buddhism, great merit is thought to accrue from copying and preserving texts, the fourth-century master, listing the copying of scripture as the first of ten essential religious practices. The importance of perpetuating texts is set out with special force in the larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra which not only urges the devout to hear, learn, remember and study the text but to obtain a good copy and to preserve it. This ‘cult of the book’ led to techniques for reproducing texts in great numbers, especially the short prayers or charms known as dhāraṇī-s. Stamps were carved for printing these prayers on clay tablets from at least the seventh century, the date of the oldest surviving examples.[3] Especially popular was the Pratītyasamutpāda Gāthā, a short verse text summing up Nāgārjuna’s philosophy of causal genesis or dependent origination. Nagarjuna lived in the early centuries of the current era and the Buddhist Creed, as the Gāthā is frequently called, was printed on clay tablets in huge numbers from the sixth century. This tradition was transmitted to China and Tibet with Buddhism. Printing text from woodblocks does not, however, seem to have been developed in India.

In Europe

Block printing was long practised in Christian Europe as a method for printing on cloth, where it was common by 1300. Images printed on cloth for religious purposes could be quite large and elaborate, and when paper became relatively easily available, around 1400, the medium transferred very quickly to small woodcut religious images and playing cards printed on paper. These prints were produced in very large numbers from about 1425 onwards.[4]

Around the mid-century, block-books, woodcut books with both text and images, usually carved in the same block, emerged as a cheaper alternative to manuscripts and books printed with movable type. These were all short heavily illustrated works, the bestsellers of the day, repeated in many different block-book versions: the Ars moriendi and the Biblia pauperum were the most common. There is still some controversy among scholars as to whether their introduction preceded or, the majority view, followed the introduction of movable type, with the range of estimated dates being between about 1440–1460.[5]


Main article: Stencil

Stencils may have been used to color cloth for a very long time; the technique probably reached its peak of sophistication in Katazome and other techniques used on silks for clothes during the Edo period in Japan. In Europe, from about 1450 they were very commonly used to colour old master prints printed in black and white, usually woodcuts. This was especially the case with playing-cards, which continued to be coloured by stencil long after most other subjects for prints were left in black and white. Stenciling back in the 27th century BC was different. They used color from plants and flowers such as indigo (which extracts blue). Stencils were used for mass publications, as the type didn’t have to be hand-written.

Movable type

See also: History of typography in East Asia and History of Western typography

Movable type is the system of printing and typography using movable pieces of metal type, made by casting from matrices struck by letterpunches.

Around 1040, the first known movable type system was created in China by Bi Sheng out of porcelain. Metal movable type was first invented in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty (around 1230). Neither movable type system was widely used, one reason being the enormous Chinese character set.

It is traditionally summarized that Johannes Gutenberg, of the German city of Mainz, developed European movable type printing technology around 1439[7] and in just over a decade, the European age of printing began. However, the details show a more complex evolutionary process spread over multiple locations.[8] Also, Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer experimented with Gutenberg in Mainz.

Compared to woodblock printing, movable type page-setting was quicker and more durable. The metal type pieces were more durable and the lettering was more uniform, leading to typography and fonts. The high quality and relatively low price of the Gutenberg Bible (1455) established the superiority of movable type, and printing presses rapidly spread across Europe, leading up to the Renaissance, and later all around the world. Today, practically all movable type printing ultimately derives from Gutenberg’s movable type printing, which is often regarded as the most important invention of the second millennium.[9]

Gutenberg is also credited with the introduction of an oil-based ink which was more durable than previously used water-based inks. Having worked as a professional goldsmith, Gutenberg made skillful use of the knowledge of metals he had learned as a craftsman. Gutenberg was also the first to make his type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, known as type metal, printer’s lead, or printer’s metal, which was critical for producing durable type that produced high-quality printed books, and proved to be more suitable for printing than the clay, wooden or bronze types used in East Asia. To create these lead types, Gutenberg used what some considered his most ingenious invention, a special matrix wherewith the moulding of new movable types with an unprecedented precision at short notice became feasible. Within a year of printing the Gutenberg Bible, Gutenberg also published the first coloured prints.

The invention of the printing press revolutionized communication and book production leading to the spread of knowledge. Rapidly, printing spread from Germany by emigrating German printers, but also by foreign apprentices returning home. A printing press was built in Venice in 1469, and by 1500 the city had 417 printers. In 1470 Johann Heynlin set up a printing press in Paris. In 1473 Kasper Straube published the Almanach cracoviense ad annum 1474 in Kraków. Dirk Martens set up a printing press in Aalst (Flanders) in 1473. He printed a book about the two lovers of Enea Piccolomini who became pope Pius II.In 1476 a printing press was set up in England by William Caxton. Belarusian Francysk Skaryna printed the first book in Slavic language on August 6, 1517. The Italian Juan Pablos set up an imported press in Mexico City in 1539. The first printing press in Southeast Asia was set up in the Philippines by the Spanish in 1593. The Rev. Jose Glover brought the first printing press to England’s American colonies in 1638, but died on the voyage, so his widow, Elizabeth Harris Glover, established the printing house, which was run by Stephen Day and became The Cambridge Press.[10]

The Gutenberg press was much more efficient than manual copying and still was largely unchanged in the eras of John Baskerville and Giambattista Bodoni, over 300 years later.[11] By 1800, Lord Stanhope had constructed a press completely from cast iron, reducing the force required by 90% while doubling the size of the printed area.[11] While Stanhope’s “mechanical theory” had improved the efficiency of the press, it still was only capable of 250 sheets per hour.[11] German printer Friedrich Koenig would be the first to design a non-manpowered machine—using steam.[11] Having moved to London in 1804, Koenig soon met Thomas Bensley and secured financial support for his project in 1807.[11] Patented in 1810, Koenig had designed a steam press “much like a hand press connected to a steam engine.”[11] The first production trial of this model occurred in April 1811.

Flat-bed printing press

Main articles: Printing press and Spread of the printing press

A printing press is a mechanical device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a medium (such as paper or cloth), thereby transferring an image. The systems involved were first assembled in Germany by the goldsmith Johann Gutenberg in the mid-15th century.[7] Printing methods based on Gutenberg’s printing press spread rapidly throughout first Europe and then the rest of the world, replacing most block printing and making it the sole progenitor of modern movable type printing. As a method of creating reproductions for mass consumption, The printing press has been superseded by the advent of offset printing.

Johannes Gutenberg’s work in the printing press began in approximately 1436 when he partnered with Andreas Dritzehen—a man he had previously instructed in gem-cutting—and Andreas Heilmann, owner of a paper mill.[7] It was not until a 1439 lawsuit against Gutenberg that official record exists; witnesses testimony discussed type, an inventory of metals (including lead) and his type mold.[7]

Others in Europe were developing movable type at this time, including goldsmith Procopius Waldfoghel of France and Laurens Janszoon Coster of the Netherlands.[7] They are not known to have contributed specific advances to the printing press.[7] While the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition had attributed the invention of the printing press to Coster, the company now states that is incorrect.[12]

Printing houses


Printing press from 1811, photographed in Munich, Germany.

Printing Houses

Early printing houses (near the time of Gutenberg) were run by “master printers.” These printers owned shops, selected and edited manuscripts, determined the sizes of print runs, sold the works they produced, raised capital and organized distribution. Some master printing houses, like that of Aldus Manutius, became the cultural center for literati such as Erasmus.

  • Print shop apprentices: Apprentices, usually between the ages of 15 and 20, worked for master printers. Apprentices were not required to be literate, and literacy rates at the time were very low, in comparison to today. Apprentices prepared ink, dampened sheets of paper, and assisted at the press. An apprentice who wished to learn to become a compositor had to learn Latin and spend time under the supervision of a journeyman.
  • Journeyman printers: After completing their apprenticeships, journeyman printers were free to move employers. This facilitated the spread of printing to areas that were less print-centred.
  • Compositors: Those who set the type for printing.
  • Pressmen: the person who worked the press. This was physically labour intensive.

The earliest-known image of a European, Gutenberg-style print shop is the Dance of Death by Matthias Huss, at Lyon, 1499. This image depicts a compositor standing at a compositor’s case being grabbed by a skeleton. The case is raised to facilitate his work. The image also shows a pressman being grabbed by a skeleton. At the right of the printing house a bookshop is shown.

Financial aspects

Court records from the city of Mainz document that Johannes Fust was, for some time, Gutenberg’s financial backer.

By the sixteenth century jobs associated with printing were becoming increasingly specialized. Structures supporting publishers were more and more complex, leading to this division of labour. In Europe between 1500 and 1700 the role of the Master Printer was dying out and giving way to the bookseller—publisher. Printing during this period had a stronger commercial imperative than previously. Risks associated with the industry however were substantial, although dependent on the nature of the publication.

Bookseller publishers negotiated at trade fairs and at print shops. Jobbing work appeared in which printers did menial tasks in the beginning of their careers to support themselves.

1500–1700: Publishers developed several new methods of funding projects.

  1. Cooperative associations/publication syndicates—a number of individuals shared the risks associated with printing and shared in the profit. This was pioneered by the French.[citation needed]
  2. Subscription publishing—pioneered by the English in the early 17th century.[citation needed] A prospectus for a publication was drawn up by a publisher to raise funding. The prospectus was given to potential buyers who signed up for a copy. If there were not enough subscriptions the publication did not go ahead. Lists of subscribers were included in the books as endorsements. If enough people subscribed a reprint might occur. Some authors used subscription publication to bypass the publisher entirely.
  3. Installment publishing—books were issued in parts until a complete book had been issued. This was not necessarily done with a fixed time period. It was an effective method of spreading cost over a period of time. It also allowed earlier returns on investment to help cover production costs of subsequent installments.

The Mechanick Exercises, by Joseph Moxon, in London, 1683, was said to be the first publication done in installments.[citation needed]

Publishing trade organizations allowed publishers to organize business concerns collectively. Systems of self-regulation occurred in these arrangements. For example, if one publisher did something to irritate other publishers he would be controlled by peer pressure. Such systems are known as cartels, and are in most countries now considered to be in restraint of trade. These arrangements helped deal with labour unrest among journeymen, who faced difficult working conditions. Brotherhoods predated unions, without the formal regulations now associated with unions.

In most cases, publishers bought the copyright in a work from the author, and made some arrangement about the possible profits. This required a substantial amount of capital in addition to the capital for the physical equipment and staff. Alternatively, an author who had sufficient money would sometimes keep the copyright himself, and simply pay the printer for the production of the book.

Rotary printing press

Main article: Rotary printing press

A rotary printing press is a printing press in which the impressions are carved around a cylinder so that the printing can be done on long continuous rolls of paper, cardboard, plastic, or a large number of other substrates. Rotary drum printing was invented by Richard March Hoe in 1847, and then significantly improved by William Bullock in 1863.


Intaglio (pron.: /ɪnˈtæli./) is a family of printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface, known as the matrix or plate. Normally, copper or zinc plates are used as a surface, and the incisions are created by etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint or mezzotint. Collographs may also be printed as intaglio plates. To print an intaglio plate the surface is covered in thick ink and then rubbed with tarlatan cloth to remove most of the excess. The final smooth wipe is usually done by hand, sometimes with the aid of newspaper or old public phone book pages, leaving ink only in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top and the plate and paper are run through a printing press that, through pressure, transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate to the paper.


Intaglio printing. The top line is the paper, to which a slightly raised layer of ink adheres; the matrix is beneath

Lithography (1796)


Main article: Lithography

Invented by Bavarian author Aloys Senefelder in 1796,[13] lithography is a method for printing on a smooth surface. Lithography is a printing process that uses chemical processes to create an image. For instance, the positive part of an image would be a hydrophobic chemical, while the negative image would be water. Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows for a relatively flat print plate which allows for much longer runs than the older physical methods of imaging (e.g., embossing or engraving). High-volume lithography is used today to produce posters, maps, books, newspapers, and packaging — just about any smooth, mass-produced item with print and graphics on it. Most books, indeed all types of high-volume text, are now printed using offset lithography.

In offset lithography, which depends on photographic processes, flexible aluminum, polyester, mylar or paper printing plates are used in place of stone tablets. Modern printing plates have a brushed or roughened texture and are covered with a photosensitive emulsion. A photographic negative of the desired image is placed in contact with the emulsion and the plate is exposed to ultraviolet light. After development, the emulsion shows a reverse of the negative image, which is thus a duplicate of the original (positive) image. The image on the plate emulsion can also be created through direct laser imaging in a CTP (Computer-To-Plate) device called a platesetter. The positive image is the emulsion that remains after imaging. For many years, chemicals have been used to remove the non-image emulsion, but now plates are available that do not require chemical processing.

Colour printing

Main articles: Colour printing and Woodcut

Chromolithography became the most successful of several methods of colour printing developed by the 19th century; other methods were developed by printers such as Jacob Christoph Le Blon, George Baxter and Edmund Evans, and mostly relied on using several woodblocks with the colors. Hand-coloring also remained important; elements of the official British Ordnance Survey maps were colored by hand by boys until 1875. Chromolithography developed from lithography and the term covers various types of lithography that are printed in color.[14] The initial technique involved the use of multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, and was still extremely expensive when done for the best quality results. Depending on the number of colors present, a chromolithograph could take months to produce, by very skilled workers. However much cheaper prints could be produced by simplifying both the number of colors used, and the refinement of the detail in the image. Cheaper images, like the advertisement illustrated, relied heavily on an initial black print (not always a lithograph), on which colors were then overprinted. To make an expensive reproduction print as what was once referred to as a “’chromo’”, a lithographer, with a finished painting in front of him, gradually created and corrected the many stones using proofs to look as much as possible like the painting in front of him, sometimes using dozens of layers.[15]

Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, introduced the subject of colored lithography in his 1818 Vollstaendiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (A Complete Course of Lithography), where he told of his plans to print using color and explained the colors he wished to be able to print someday.[16] Although Senefelder recorded plans for chromolithography, printers in other countries, such as France and England, were also trying to find a new way to print in color. Godefroy Engelmann of Mulhouse in France was awarded a patent on chromolithography in July 1837,[16] but there are disputes over whether chromolithography was already in use before this date, as some sources say, pointing to areas of printing such as the production of playing cards


Calvert Lithographic Company, Detroit, MI. Uncle Sam Supplying the World with Berry Brothers Hard Oil Finish, c. 1880. Noel Wisdom Chromolithograph Collection, Special Collections Department, The University of South Florida Tampa Library.

Offset press (1870s)

Main article: Offset press

Offset printing is a widely used printing technique where the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. When used in combination with the lithographic process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat (planographic) image carrier on which the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non-printing areas ink-free.

February 18, 2013

Sort (typesetting)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Main article: letterpress printing

In typesetting by hand compositing, a sort is a piece of type representing a particular letter or symbol, cast from a matrix mould and assembled with other sorts bearing additional letters into lines of type to make up a forme from which a page is printed.

See also



Nesbitt, Alexander The History and Technique of Lettering (c) 1957, Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-20427-8, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 57-13116. The Dover edition is an abridged and corrected republication of the work originally published in 1950 by Prentice-Hall, Inc. under the title Lettering: The History and Technique of Lettering as Design.

External links


Metal type sorts arranged on a composing stick.



source: http://typophile.com/node/14544

Indices : Terminology : Sort

Within a handset typecase each compartment is considered a sort. The term is also used to describe the contents of such compartment.

Trivia: When a typesetter is missing certain letters needed to finish a job they are “out of sorts.”

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