Monday, June 8, 2009

Typesetting Evolution, Part 2

This is the second in a series of postings I will write about the evolution of typesetting and printing technologies as I have experienced them throughout my career. The main focus of this blog is about, and will continue to be, advertising sales and the unique challenges faced by association publishers. But, as I have previously said, developments in pre-press and printing technologies have had direct and equal impacts on both publishers and advertisers. I am fascinated by how far these technologies have evolved over a relatively short period of time. Looking back is healthy because it allows me to appreciate where we are today and where we may possibly be in the future of the publishing business. Please feel free to post a comment or question about anything on this blog.

IBM entered the typesetting market with the introduction of its Selectric Composer. Utilizing a modified version of the mechanism of its popular Selectric Typewriter, the Composer was able to set type with proportional spacing in justified columns. Like the Varityper before it, in order to justify a column each line of type had to be typed twice, once to determine the amount of additional space needed between each word and then a second time to add the required space to produce a justified line of type.

But, IBM took the technology one step further by connecting the Composer to a magnetic tape driven device which allowed the operator to enter text once on a standard Selectric typewriter, have those keystrokes captured and stored on a magnetic tape cartridge, and then played back as justified columns of type on the Composer, which was connected to the tape reading device. The system, called the MTSC, Magnetic Tape Selectric Composer, was a major advance in cold type technology. It offered a number of type styles and sizes, each molded onto IBM’s “golf ball” element. In order to go from Roman to Italic, for instance, the operator had to simply change the element and type the needed words in Italic, then change the element again to return to Roman. For automated playback, “stop” codes were embedded into the text and recorded on the tape which allowed the operator to change elements at the appropriate place as the document played out. Typos were corrected directly onto the magnetic tape before final playback, as well. This technology was the precursor to what we now call “word processing.”

In order to achieve the look of proportional spacing, each character was assigned a number of “units.” Wide characters, such as the letter “M”, were given more units, and narrow characters, such as the letter “I”, were given fewer. The width of each column was determined in picas and the system came with a chart that converted those picas into “units.” The number of units of each line of an article was entered onto the magnetic tape and the internal computer calculated the amount of additional units required between words in order to produce a justified column of type.

The system produced sharp, clean type, and was faster and more efficient than was the Varityper, but it was also limited to the size and typestyles available. Only a few typestyles were available on the “golf balls” and the type ranged in size between 8 and 12 point. It was because of these limitations that the MTSC system was displaced by the next generation of cold typesetting systems: phototypesetting. Companies including Addressograph-Multigraph (AM) and Compugraphic aggressively entered the market with faster, more flexible systems that offered a wider range of type styles and sizes than were ever offered by their predecessors. More on phototypesetting next week.

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