On Typesetting

Lately I’ve been playing around with the demo version of TypeTool3 from Fontlab. Back in the mid-80’s I lived in NYC and worked for a few years as a typesetter. This was on the cusp of the home computer revolution. Our machines were computerized Linotypes and cost in the 6-figure range. We printed the type out on special photographic paper that ran through a big developer right there in the room. The letters were very, very black with clean, crisp edges. And we paid close attention to kerning, the spacing between individual letter sets. When the paper dried, we took it to the strippers to be cut and pasted into place.

Of course, now, anyone can set type in the comfort of their own home and cut and paste it into place with Quark Xpress or css style sheets. But no one pays attention to kerning. Even in otherwise slick magazine advertisements, I’ll see gaping holes between “W” and ”o” or “A” and “v”. It used to make me feel a little bit ill but now I’m getting used to it.

I never had any formal training in graphic design, but my years as a typesetter instilled a love of type in me that is still there two decades later. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at designing my own typeface, but it seemed like so much work. And now, thanks to TypeTool, I know that it is. I heard about Fontographer several years ago, but it was quite expensive. TypeTool is fairly cheap and quite powerful, but there’s a bit of a learning curve. I don’t know if I have the patience to master it.

Anyway, while thinking about type, I looked up a website that I had bookmarked some time ago. It features one man’s collection of travel brochures from the 1920’s and ’30’s, primarily from Europe. There is some great stuff here and anyone with an interest in design would do well to spend some time checking it out. Just to pique your curiosity, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorites. I particularly like the watercolor illo in the German piece ( which is written for an Italian audience), but the type is nice, too. Futura, I think.

The website is called Travel Brochure Graphics. Spending time there is like walking through a wonderful little museum. Kudos to David Levine for making his collection available to all of us.


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