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Re: Typefaces for letterpress

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  • 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 1 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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