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Typefaces for letterpress

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  • Kim Vanderheiden
    Regarding the question of which typefaces are good for letterpress. . . Can I go out on a limb and ask something that may be incredibly naive? In my
    Message 1 of 3 , Mar 22, 2004
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      Regarding the question of which typefaces are good for letterpress. . .
      Can I go out on a limb and ask something that may be incredibly naive?
      In my experience, I would say most typefaces work fine for letterpress.
      Those that I would say don't work for letterpress fail because they are
      poorly designed to begin with, and wouldn't work well for any kind of
      publishing. I'm curious to know if anyone can give a more general sense
      of what characteristics (rather than specific fonts) work well or
      poorly. Is their performance really specific to letterpress, or is it a
      more general design quality? If it is specific to letterpress, what
      part of the printing process reacts poorly with what characteristic of
      the type?

      Thanks!

      Kim Vanderheiden
    • Ed Inman
      ... A traditionalist might argue that older faces common in metal type (Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni, Futura, etc.) are best for letterpress. They
      Message 2 of 3 , Mar 22, 2004
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        > [Original Message]
        > From: Kim Vanderheiden <paintedtongue@...>
        > I'm curious to know if anyone can give a more general sense
        > of what characteristics (rather than specific fonts) work well or
        > poorly. Is their performance really specific to letterpress, or is it a
        > more general design quality? If it is specific to letterpress, what
        > part of the printing process reacts poorly with what characteristic of
        > the type?

        A traditionalist might argue that older faces common in metal type
        (Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni, Futura, etc.) are best for
        letterpress. They may be correct to a point, although in the heyday of
        typecasting many of the display foundry faces rivaled today's most garish
        digital faces for their ornamentation.

        It might also be argued that some of today's newer faces like Meta scream
        "digital" just by looking at them--at least if you are a typographer or
        graphic designer. So you may want to avoid some of these if traditional is
        the look you want.

        Aside from those general conclusions, I can't really think of any reason
        one typeface would look better printed by one process versus another. I
        think it all just comes down to selecting the right typeface for the job.

        Interesting question, though...

        Ed
      • Gerald Lange
        Kim I think a book could be written to adequately answer your question. And, I m working on it!!! But here is a short response. If you look at typeface design
        Message 3 of 3 , Mar 22, 2004
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          Kim

          I think a book could be written to adequately answer your question.
          And, I'm working on it!!! But here is a short response. If you look at
          typeface design as being technologically based, what works for one
          technique doesn't work well for another.

          What we call letterpress (mechanical writing) would initially have
          been an attempt to capture the organic nature of the handwritten word.
          Recent discoveries regarding the way punches and casting may have been
          used by the early printers would seem to lend legitimacy to this.
          Eventually, with the need no longer there, mechanical letter design
          would begin to follow a more standardized approach better suited to
          the technology of its actual production. While it could be said that
          punchcutters did not consciously design a face for letterpress they
          were obviously aware of what would work and what would not.

          Offset lithography required a different method for design and a
          different need with the printing method. Devices like thorns are often
          seen in photo-offset where they were not used in letterpress. Ink
          traps, which did show up in later metal faces, were as well not
          uncommonly used in photo-offset faces. The optical variances in
          generating photofilm and the differing printing application required a
          different technical approach to typeface design.

          In printing history, the term "type designer" shows up quite late.
          Typeface design aesthetic is actually a relatively new phenomenon in
          the sense that it could be seen as divorced from technical needs. But
          it is not and I think the digital realm has created its own history
          and is a bit misleading. But, essentially, a face that is designed to
          perform well digitally is not the same as one that was designed for
          letterpress or for photo-offset.

          Specifically, letterpress presents two important technical differences
          from other printing. Impression and accumulating ink gain. Digital
          typefaces don't have to deal with this and most recreations of metal
          faces have been altered for the digital environment. Those that
          haven't, such as the Lanston faces, don't really work that well in
          many digital applications, as they are too structurally weak and
          spindly. They generally convert well to letterpress for this very reason.

          So, the search for the ideal digital typeface has less to do with its
          design than certain technical attributes to that design that will
          allow it to perform well on the letterpress printed page.

          Have I shed any light in this furtive response or just mucked up the
          waters even more?

          Gerald Lange



          > Regarding the question of which typefaces are good for letterpress. . .
          > Can I go out on a limb and ask something that may be incredibly naive?
          > In my experience, I would say most typefaces work fine for letterpress.
          > Those that I would say don't work for letterpress fail because they are
          > poorly designed to begin with, and wouldn't work well for any kind of
          > publishing. I'm curious to know if anyone can give a more general sense
          > of what characteristics (rather than specific fonts) work well or
          > poorly. Is their performance really specific to letterpress, or is it a
          > more general design quality? If it is specific to letterpress, what
          > part of the printing process reacts poorly with what characteristic of
          > the type?
          >
          > Thanks!
          >
          > Kim Vanderheiden
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