Trends in Phototypesetting Provide New Problems

  • Many printers who adopted “wait-and-see” policy are changing attitudes
  • Typesetting by photography is undeniably growing on ever-increasing scale
  • Progressive printers need to investigate adaptations of hot metal setting

The printer who attempts to keep up with current trends in composing machines will find that he is in danger of pulling away from procedures which he recognizes as part of that comfortable term, “typesetting.”

In 1948, when Intertype’s Fotosetter was introduced, it was not apparent that the technology of composition was in for such a thorough overhauling. Everyone who understood the functions of standard typesetting equipment very quickly appreciated the probable advantages of photographic composition. The simple substitution of a camera for a metal pot was an easy transition. While some diehards expressed vague fears for the future, the industry as a whole was very much in favor of a new approach to composition practices.

However, while favoring the principle, the majority of printers were reluctant to experiment. They settled into a “wait and see” attitude before actually investing in new equipment. Of course, many of them claimed that the new method would have little effect on normal operations.

The operation of the Fotosetter, using as it did the familiar procedures of the slug-casting machines, was comforting to most observers, who could see little change in the basic operation of typesetting with circulating matrices.

Similar to Hot Metal Machines

Naturally, printers immediately wondered what the Mergenthaler Linotype Company and Lanston Monotype Machine Company were planning is photocomposition. They did not have to wait long, and because the Mergenthaler firm exhibited a machine at the Sixth Educational Graphic Arts Exposition in Chicago in September, 1950. Again the fears of something radically different work partially allayed. The new machine, never actually in production, followed the familiar pattern of the ordinary Linotype machine. While its operation was not quite the same as the Fotosetter, it looked to printers like a slug machine.

At the same exhibition, the Hadego machine–developed in Holland and marketed by American Type Founders in the United States—was demonstrated. This device for display composition was patterned on the operation of the Ludlow Typograph, in that matrices were assembled in a composing stick. The mats were then photographed in the camera. With the slug machines converted, interest now centered on what the Monotype company was doing about photo equipment.

English Develop Monophoto

In 1952 the Monotype Corporation, Limited, of England, announced the Monophoto. This machine was demonstrated in 1954 to American trade typesetters in Washington, D.C. The Monophoto was not the first machine in its field: in 1948 the Rotofoto had been developed by George Westover, the English inventor. The Rotofoto utilized Monotype principles, including the standard keyboard.

The cycle now seemed complete. All of the regular hot-metal machines had been adapted to photographic composition—a dream of composing machine engineers since the introduction of the modern machines.

While most of this rapid development was taking place, a great deal of time was expended by printers arguing the relative merits of “cold” typesetting as represented by the typewriters, now invading the sphere of the typesetter.

Ever since 1947, therefore, the situation has been in varying degrees of turmoil. More and more progressive people have become enthusiastic about the exciting possibilities of the new machines have jumped on the merry-go-round.

Before examining current and future trends in photocomposition, let us look at the present picture.

It is been proved beyond much doubt in these United States that the man who takes a chance in business generally has the odds in his favor. I believe this is true of photocomposition. We are probably in a transitional period in this new field, typesetting by photography is undeniably growing, is being purchased, and it is being used on an ever-increasing scale. Of course complete statistics are not yet available, but those printers who have entered photocomposition calmly and quietly, and who have assessed their problems reasonably, agree that the field offers unlimited opportunities.

There have been for years and the disillusionments, but those must be expected in a new venture. The successful operations are still few, but those who have done the spadework are content. Certainly they are in a position to capitalize on every new development as it occurs. The techniques of the new process must be learned by each individual who enters the field. Even the terminology is different. The Fotosetter, at present the most commonly used of the new machines, can be operated by a hot-metal man, but he has to adapt itself to a number of new problems.

The year 1956 is certainly not a year in which to stand still. Ten years of postwar expansion have proved that printing production procedures are constantly changing, in contrast to a 40-year prewar period when very little basic change occurred. For example, the printer who complained of the advances made in lithography is now finding it harder to meet the competition of printers who have added litho to the services they offer their customers.

Key to Present Development

This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of letterpress versus lithography, but I mention the example as an indication of future trends in the more limited area of typesetting equipment. Naturally, there are some relationship between the two subjects, and increased use of lithography and has contributed to the interest in photographic composition. Indeed, it is the key to its present development, although current research into methods of photoengraving may mean that the photo methods will eventually be utilized for letterpress in addition to lithography and gravure.

A few years ago there was a flurry of interest in typewriters as composing machines, with consequent predictions that “this was it,” competitively, for standard typesetting. But the typewriters have not done any appreciable damage, and although their use has crowded some of the smaller printers who have subsisted on what is often called marginal printing—for churches, social organizations and the like.

Consequently, on the established theory of “if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em,” many printing firms have added Varityper or Justowriter services. While some have dropped the idea after a trial period, quite a few are satisfied with the results, particularly since the cheaper methods often attract customers who eventually become users of standard typography.

It is obvious, then, that the progressive printing organization today should investigate the three adaptations of hot-metal typesetting devices–Fotosetter, Monophoto, and perhaps even the Hadego, if only display composition is required, although some of the gadgets have apparently made some inroads upon the field covered by this machine. (See the “Composing Room,” June, 1955.)

There are many things to be considered before making a selection of photographic equipment. Not the least of them is an analytical examination of the ability to sell the product. There are number of geographic areas which can’t produce sufficient business to justify the installation costs of the new machine. Even where the market is adequate, new sources of business will have to be developed. Regular customers would have to be informed of the possibilities of photocomposition for their work.

Costs High for Some Shops

Installation costs are high, particularly for a plant which has no photographic facilities. Naturally, a printer already doing lithography will have equipment which could be used, and more important, personnel with the skills necessary to produce a product which lives up to the standards of the shop.

There also may be jurisdictional problems in the operation of photocomposition, some of which have not been satisfactorily solved.

All of these facts indicate the desirability of thorough examination of all aspects before deciding whether to purchase the equipment. However, competition is a big issue. The printer may feel that with only one machine now in steady production, he does not need to make any change. He may be right, but he must weigh the sure knowledge that his competitor may be acquiring a solid background in the new procedure.

Already in clear sight are several more advanced methods of using photography in the composing room. The experience printer will want to take full advantage of future research and development. Next month I will discuss the machines which operate upon electronic rather than mechanical principles.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the May 1956 issue of The Inland Printer.

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