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Re: Letterpress

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Mark Attwood wrote:
> Gerald Lange wrote:
> > A very small percentage of digital type is good.
> > But those that are good, in either case, are very very good.
> Hi Gerald,
> Would you be able to tell us which are some of the good digital typefaces
> you use, and why they are good. For instance, If one use monotype only
> digital fonts would they be as good as the monotype metal fonts?
> Thanks,
> Mark Attwood
> The Artists' Press
> mark@artistspress.co.za
Dear Mark and participants of this thread:

Since the field of question is letterpress any discussion of digital type vs
metal type is best made in that context if there is to be a fruitful
discussion of relative merits or demerits. In that regard there is a
consideration regarding metal type that I believe is misinterpreted here.

First, optical ranging was not a consistent practice in the production of
metal type since the invention of the Pantograph Engraving machine in the late
nineteenth century. The three major systems for generating metal type in the
twentieth century—foundry type, Linotype, Monotype—did NOT keep to the optical
ranging practices of the hand punchcutter (who had to redesign optically per
size as a matter of course). Monotype, in fact, limited its general practice
to only four size patterns that would be applied in steps from 6-pt through
72-pt. Linotype did likewise, though in many cases the size patterns exceeded
those of Monotype. Foundries also used the pantograph and pattern ranges were
developed for foundry type as well.

The step ranges were eliminated with the development of photofilm composition
prior to digital type. Digital type, in turn, continued with the practices of
photofilm. From the beginning of digital type there was considerable concern
regarding optical scaling. Digital foundries, like Adobe Systems, would
eventually lead the way with the development of Multiple Masters typefaces
that could include an optical scale range, as well as width ranges, weight
ranges, etc. MM can be used, in this regard, to configuring digital type for letterpress.

To make a comparative test of metal type vs the similar digital face
reproduced in photopolymer is almost deliberately deceiving. Factors in the
development of the film negative, in exposing and processing the plate, etc
can contribute to alterations in a digital face. Properly designed and
produced digital typefaces are adjusted for gain, as well as conceivably all
the other possible applications they will be subjected to (low resolution
printers, screen resolution, inkjet vs laser, high resolution printers, etc).
But they are not adjusted for that peculiar kind of gain associated with the
relief process: ink spread (a combination of impression and increasing ink
density). And there is no reason why they should be since there is virtually
no market for letterpress applications.

Digital typefaces invariablly have to be configured for letterpress in order
for them to duplicate the similar “qualities” expected of a metal type face
[and my apologies here to Betty for trouncing on her in the first place].
Note: for the record, many metal typefaces, also, do not perform well printed
letterpress (this is self-evident to any seasoned letterpress printer, but
rarely acknowledged in quite this way).

Some digital typefaces, however (to answer Mark's question), that are exacting
replications of their metal brethren work well “straight out of the can.”
Examples this can be found in the Lanston Type output where the original
Lanston Monotype pattern masters were printed on a Vandercook and then
digitally scanned. The last release from Monotype Typography (before they were
acquired, or merged, with Agfa) was Monotype Pastonchi. I had the metal
version of this face and the digital version (beta) was quite exacting in
appearance when printed photopolymer, without alteration. Most Monotype
replications do not work well as they have been adjusted for the complications
of the digital environment. Jonathan Hoefler’s HT Didot works remarkably well,
particularly in the extreme light version (probably because it is almost too
anemic for many digital applications).

There are a number of other ways to alter digital fonts for letterpress, the
most convenient being stem weight reduction in font-editing programs such as
FontLab or Fontographer. I will most often use this technique and create a
number of optical ranges in the process for different size treatments.

A recent development is the release of pattern size ranges by ITC for its ITC
Bodoni and ITC Founders Caslon. Founders Caslon’s designer, Justin Howes, took
it to the next logical step and released the face from his own foundry, W H
Caslon Ltd, is all size ranges, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12-, 14-, 18-, 22-, 24-, 30-,
36-, 42-, 48-, 60-, and 72-pt. This is something that has not been
accomplished since the late nineteenth century. And this is a digital, not a
metal typeface. When I asked him why he went to the trouble, considering the
potential market, he explained that one reason was that the face was made to
be printed letterpress.

As mentioned, the recent page layout program InDesign and the development of
the OpenType font format also hold promise.

The statements made in regard to the quality of letterpress printing today as
opposed to yesterday are an insult to the many fine printers who are extremely
dedicated to the craft and indicative of someone who does not know what is
being done in the field today. The same follows for the mention that digital
type is "a compromise" is similarly brought forth. The twenty year struggle to
develop digital type and the ten years of its birth pangs and troubled
adolescence in the marketplace have behind them the concerns of some of the
best typographers, type designers, and calligraphers of the twentieth century.
To ignore this history, and the accomplishment of these people, and of this
technology, is almost shameful.

Gerald Lange
The Bieler Press

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