The typesetting systems described in previous postings all have had one thing in common: the image of each character was created by a font striking a black ribbon and imprinting the character on plain white paper. Although this produced sharp type, it was limited in the size and styles of fonts available. The introduction of phototypesetting technology rapidly changed that by offering broader selections of type available in sizes from 6 point to 72 point. There were several companies that perfected phototypesetting technologies in the early to mid 1970s including AM International (formerly Addressograph-Multigraph), Compugraphic Corp., Linotype Corp. and others.
Phototypesetting is a projection system whereby the flash of a strobe light is aimed through a negative image of each character and projected through a lens onto photographic paper. The size of each character is determined by either the distance from the paper to the lens or by the characteristics of each lens used. Some systems employed only one or two lenses and the operator either manually adjusted the distances or, as in later models, the distances were controlled by internal stepping motors. Coding for all characters and commands were embedded onto some type of storage medium. The first systems utilized paper tape with combinations of holes punched into it to drive the selection of each letter. Specialized keyboard devices, such as the device manufactured by Friden Corp. shown above, were used to create the coded paper tape (right). This technology was cumbersome, not easily correctable, and was quickly replaced by the use of magnetic medium, primarily in the form of large floppy discs. As each line of type was set, the machine inserted the exposed photosensitive paper into a light-proof cassette which, in turn was removed from the machine and put onto a chemical developing machine which safely fed the paper through a series of photographic development chemicals. The damp paper was then allowed to dry before it was able to be used.
The quality of the type was excellent, but if exposed to light, had a relatively short useful life. The paper would readily yellow and the characters would quickly fade, and the developing chemicals left an acrid aroma in the room in which they were used. The next generation of photographic paper was introduced which eliminated most of these problems. Called RC (resin coated) paper, type set on it was very clear, the image didn’t fade, and the paper was a bright white rather than the off white to yellowish color of its predecessor.
Whether type was set using a ribbon on paper or a photographic process, the result was the production of long columns of type, called galleys. The final pages were then created by “pasting up” the publication. The galleys were cut into columns, an adhesive applied to the back and the type was positioned into columns, headlines, captions, and the other elements of the printed page. The work was done on a drawing board and a t-square and triangle were used to properly line up the type. In next week’s posting, I will describe some of the tools used to “paste up” finished pages. It still amazes me to remember the time spent in creating pages this way compared to how easily and quickly it is now done in InDesign.
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