Typography is a process for reproducing text, figures, punctuation, characters, ornaments, and borders via a printing press or electronic communication. Typography is distinguished from calligraphy, by which single, handwritten copies are made. Manuscripts set into type may be printed or stored electronically, allowing an infinite number of exact replicas to be distributed widely. Early typeface designs were modeled after calligraphic letter-forms but book typefaces quickly moved away from writing as a model. In a development spurred by the Industrial Revolution, commercialization, and later the growth of digital typography, which made type design easier, hundreds of thousands of formal, informal, and decorative typestyles are in use today.
Typography is technically prefigured in the stamping of seals and signets, a process found in many early civilizations. Starting in the third century ce, the Chinese carved letters into wood blocks for printing. Eventually whole books were carved in relief on wood slabs. The oldest surviving xylographic or woodblock book is the Buddhist Diamond sutra printed in China in 868 ce. In 1045, Pi Sheng of China may have developed the first form of handset or movable type, the name given to processes where multiple copies of individual letters (called characters, sorts, or glyphs) are cast so they can be combined and printed with other characters, taken apart, and stored for reuse. A twelfth-century, nine-volume, Buddhist religious tract titled Propitiousness has spread to everywhere in Kouhebenxu was discovered in a pagoda in 1991, and Chinese scholars believe it was printed with wooden, movable type. Around 1443, the Korean scholar-king Sejong the Great developed a phonetic alphabet called Hangul, which made movable type more practical and expanded book printing in Korea.
In 1454, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in Mainz, Germany. Also called foundry type, its characters are cast in relief out of a lead, antimony, and copper alloy. The characters are stored in cases and the compositor retrieves one character at a time and sets it in a composing stick adjusted to the correct measure (column width). The type is then printed via letterpress, and the characters are redistributed into the case for reuse. Due to the type metal’s weight, large letters were cut in wood. Foundry type is still employed today by arts and crafts typographer-printers of the private press movement, who publish limited editions of carefully crafted books. Gutenberg modeled his type and book design after the conventions of manuscript books. He designed blackletter fonts to fit the decorative, gothic style popular in both writing and architecture throughout Europe.
On the Italian peninsula, however, Renaissance scribes had revived a humanistic letter-form they called Roman. This hand was, in fact, Carolingian (ninth-century), but nevertheless it had quickly become popular. Printers who moved south from Germany when Gutenberg fell into legal and financial difficulties adopted it, as did Roman and Venetian typographers and printers.
Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century typographer-printers like the Venetians Nicolas Jenson and Aldus Manutius and the French Simone de Colines, Robert Estienne, and Claude Garamond refined what is now called “old style” type design. It is characterized by contrasting thick and thin strokes that finish in bracketed serifs (a subtly drawn transition at the end of the letter strokes so they widen into the horizontal serifs). Manutius, with punch-cutter Francesco Griffo, created the first italic typeface, which he used to print the text of his most significant invention, the pocket-sized, portable book. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century type designers created a refined type style called “transitional” with more finely drawn thin strokes. Transitional typefaces showed more contrast and matched the fine lines in etchings, engravings, and baroque and rococo penmanship. In 1692 Philip Grandjean designed the “romain du roi” exclusively for Louis XIV’s printing office. In 1757, English printer John Baskerville cut the model transitional roman and italic, which became popular throughout Europe and America.
Later in the century, Italian Giambattista Bodoni and the French François Ambroise and Firmin Didot moved further still from old style when they created rational, elegant “modern” fonts with even greater contrast between the thick and thin strokes. The finelined strokes were matched in weight with unbracketed serifs, drawn as straight, horizontal lines rather than swelling outward as part of the main strokes.
Typesetting was still done mainly by hand until the nineteenth century, when inventors tried to mechanize the process. First, they invented machines to set the old foundry-type characters. However, in 1886 Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the Linotype machine, which revolutionized typesetting. It was so named because it set and cast a “line of type” simultaneously. The Linotype stores matrices (molds) for the characters in interchangeable font magazines. Compositors set type by striking a keyboard character, causing the correct “mat” to move into the assembly area. When a full line of mats and spaces is set, the type is cast – a marvel of the Industrial Revolution. Linotype operators set type many times faster than handset compositors.
Industrialization Of Typography
The industrialization of typography and printing is synonymous with the growth of consumerism. Businesses needed more powerful typography and illustrations in their posters and advertisements to attract customers. So printers employed larger, bolder headlines and decorative typestyles. Types for reading and advertising became bolder with less contrast, the most extreme called “slab serif” for their heavy, blocky serifs, which could be either bracketed or unbracketed. Another radical style was William Caslon IV’s “sans serif” type. Type “without serifs” appeared early in the nineteenth century but was used sparingly until the twentieth.
In Victorian design, multiple typestyles were often employed in single layouts, making them stand out but also garish and cumbersome to read.. However, late in the century the work of William Morris at his Kelmscott Press and other Arts and Crafts movement typographer-printers spawned interest in reviving the fine qualities of traditional typography and printing. Eschewing the Linotype and other industrial processes, the Arts and Crafts craftsmen returned to handicraft production. Morris himself researched the history of typography and designed his own typefaces based on blackletter and Nicolas Jenson’s fifteenth-century Venetian old style type. Industry followed Morris’s scholarly lead in the twentieth century. With the resources to research type history and hire expert type designers, industrial type-founders revived and adapted the classical typefaces of the great type designers, making them available to modern designers for machine production.
In the nineteenth century, photography revolutionized printing plate-making. When stone lithography and zincography evolved into offset lithography, twentieth century artists suddenly had more freedom to manipulate typography in design. Artists associated with modern movements like Futurism, Dadaism, De Stijl, Cubo-Futurism, Constructivism, and the Bauhaus School employed type in radical, asymmetric layouts.
German typography visionary Jan Tschichold proclaimed that sans serif type was the appropriate type for the machine age. The spread of plain, undecorated typefaces like Futura, Twentieth Century, and Univers was the modernists’ critical reaction to the overly decorative Victorian typography. Initially, sans serifs typefaces were monotone, with no variation in their stroke weights. Eventually some contrast was added, often where the bowls (the rounded parts of letters like b and d) attach to the main strokes, as in fonts like Franklin Gothic and Helvetica. Eventually, designers restored classical qualities in “humanistic sans serifs” like Hermann Zapf’s popular Optima by adding contrasting stroke widths.
Although the rise of sans serif typography had a profound effect, it did not supplant other letter-forms. In fact, new typestyles like “script” (whose letters have tails that link) and “cursive” (whose letters look as though they should link but do not) became popular in the 1920s–1940s. In the 1960s and 1970s modernists discouraged their use, but they have been revived by retro designers of the postmodern period.
Photocomposition And Digital Typography
At the start of the twentieth century, a new typographical process called photocomposition was developed. Herman Freud developed the first commercial phototypesetter, called Intertype Fotosetter, in 1946. In photocomposition typefaces are drawn, photographed, and stored as photographic negatives on film strips or disks. To set type, a high-intensity light is flashed through the clear, negative character, exposing it on photographic paper that is then developed like a photographic print. The photocomposed, paper type is not printed directly but pasted with graphics and images onto a keyline layout for photomechanical plate-making. Where metal type was rigid, paper type could be cut and pasted up in any way designers could imagine, opening the door to the experimental, creative typographic layouts of the 1970s and 1980s. Photocomposition blossomed in the 1950s and 1960s when inventors added screens (CRTs) for viewing and editing type and computers to automate hyphenation and set type. The faster, computerized photocomposition quickly replaced the Linotype-style casting machines and made offset lithography the dominant commercial printing process.
Adding computers to photocomposition laid the foundation for digital typography and desktop publishing in the 1980s. The first digital screen and print fonts were bitmapped, ASCII letter-forms that appeared as jagged dots on the screen and in dot-matrix printer output, which did not meet professional typographic standards. In 1984, to improve the appearance of type on the screen and in print, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke of Adobe Systems developed PostScript, which became the standard page description and programming language for desktop and electronic publishing.
The year 1985 was a watershed in the history of typography. Altsys Corporation released Fontographer, the first Bézier-curve-based type-design software. It allowed digital designers to create smooth, digital fonts. Aldus Corporation’s PageMaker, a PostScript page-layout program, was also released, enabling designers to mix type, graphics, and images in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) format. In 1987, QuarkXPress, a superior page-layout program, came on the market. It gave typographers and designers more control over type and its spacing, even permitting characters to be superimposed. It remained the pre-eminent professional page-layout program until challenged by Adobe’s InDesign in 1999.
Page-layout programs had a profound impact on typography and graphic design when Apple produced its LaserWriter in 1985. Its raster image processor (RIP) contained an Adobe PostScript interpreter that combined high-resolution fonts, graphics, and illustrations in page layouts. Laser scanning resulted in higher-resolution output. For professionals, the German firm Mergenthaler developed the Linotronic image-setter, which set digital type at 2540 dots per inch (dpi), effectively killing photocomposition. Software like FontLab Studio and Fontographer put digital type design in the public’s hands, resulting in an explosion of tens of thousands of new, individualistic typefaces associated with postmodern typography. Digital type’s impact has been profound. Where earlier type technologies were expensive and thus unavailable to the public, digital type came free on personal computers. Ironically, typefaces like Zapf’s digital script Zapfino have brought typography almost full circle. Zapfino is literally calligraphic, with over 1,425 character variations (e.g., over 50 variations of the lower case a), which can be substituted depending on how they look with the nearby characters just as calligraphers did their letters as they wrote. This practice was impractical in foundry or photocomposition. But with the computer able to quickly make character substitutions, Zapfino has been released as a standard font with Mac’s System X. Today most typefaces can be found and downloaded from the web, often free of charge, making typography a democratic art.
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