by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
i wonder how many people know what this stuff is any more? do you recognize this? this is called “punch tape”. this used to be what digital computing looked like. the very first time i ever physically set my own type on an actual typesetting device (back in the mid 1970′s) i set it on a punch tape machine. it was antique even then.
the way it worked was that you sat at a huge old hunky machine with a teeny little video screen on it and typed in the words you wanted to set. it went onto the screen (i seem to remember a black background and green letters) in a crude ‘computer type’ (just some typeface that the machine used – sort of like whatever your typewriter had). you attempted to rough-out the basic shape of the paragraph structure to fit into you design space you set aside in your design. when you had it all ‘guestimated’ (what you saw was NOT what you got), you flipped the lever and out of this machine came this long long binary punch tape. depending on how much type you were setting, this tape could be hundreds of feet long. that’s a big big spool.
you would attach this roll of punch tape to another big hunky machine and feed it in. you had to select the typeface design you wanted to use (pre-etched into a piece of film) and mount it into the machine as well. then you would turn it on and the big hunky machine would read the punch tapes and then expose (through a photo/exposure process) the selected film strip (with the typeface design on it) against a strip (spool) of photo paper. you had be careful, because that film strip would only have one font on it – that is, a complete set of every letter form and punctuation of that particular type design alphabet – in THAT ONE POINT SIZE!
today, we all use the word font incorrectly. a font is not a typeface, a font is a complete set of one alphabet with punctuation in a specific design and size. it wouldn’t even have italics or different ‘weights’ (densities) either. so, whatever exactly you chose was all you were going to get. the terminology of typesetting used to be very demanding and exact. they had a specific language that you had to learn to ‘spec’ (“specify”) the copy the way you wanted it to be. you had be exceedingly exact and very very specific and complete. if you went to an old type shop in the olden days (say 15-20 years ago) and asked for a ‘font’ book, they would look at you like you were crazy.
but, you weren’t done with this process even yet. next you had to develop that strip of exposed photo paper. the hunky old machine would feed the exposed photo paper strip out and into a light-tight canister (ours was an old cardboard film box taped together with a hole cut into it.) then you took the little box into a darkroom and fed the contents through a developer machine – and then through a fixative. you’d rinse it in water for a specific amount of time, and let it hang and dry. it took hours. when it was all dry, you’d take the ‘photographic strip’ of type (which is what it was) and attempt to glue it into your paste-up/layout to see if you did it correctly. then you proof-read it for typos. if there was any problem at all, you had to do the whole process all over again from scratch. for an amateur, this whole procedure could take days.
as weird as this all sounds to us today, it was actually a big improvement over the old methods. this new photo-typesetting process (the first digital – computer – process) i described was the first “cold type” method of type generation. the older type setting processes were referred to as ‘hot type’. the reason for this was that ‘cold type’ used a photographic process that simply ran at room temperature. you could actually handle it with your hands (thus ‘cold”). this was a revolutionary step forward.
prior to ‘cold type’, was ‘hot type’. this was type set on a hot lead injecting system compositor. there were many brands that were widely used and very popular (each with their own type face designs, too. there was exclusively in the type designs available. – and much pirating, too). names like linotype, monotype and ludlow all had special aspects that made them each unique and very popular. but the one thing they all had in common was they had a big vat of molten lead actually in the machine! when you set the type on these machines, it would literally squirt molten lead into the molds it assembled and then ‘spit’ out the freshly smelted and cast type into a little tray – all set as you typed it in. it would be too hot to actually touch right away. it was literally HOT type. and the worst part was that this vat of molten lead was usually right under your nose. so, not only was this machine going to burn you badly sooner or later, it was going to ‘wuft’ lead fumes up into your face as you worked. typesetters in those days didn’t live very long.
after this ‘punch tape’ system started up, it wasn’t long before the machines was improved and streamlined until you had typesetting machines that didn’t use this stupid punch tape. it would expose the type directly onto photo paper and develop it and spit it out as you worked. this was extremely fast and cheap and versatile in it’s day. it allowed ‘quick print’ high speed cheap lithography to flourish and launched modern graphic design as we know it today.
rse, now with computer technology, you can just use your desktop computer as the world’s fanciest typewriter and never stop to think about how hard it used to be to get this stuff done right and done well. there was a time when typesetting was a profession and an art and a high craft that deserved the utmost respect. a good typesetter was worth his weight in gold. he could make you look like a genius.
AC:just like all the point sizes had specific names (like golf clubs). 12 pt type was called “pica – that’s where that measurement system came from. 8 pt type was called ‘bourgeois” (not pronounced ‘boozshwa”, but ‘bergoyz’ – like it’s spelled.) printers even had their own ways of pronouncing common words. ha!…i never really understood what the hell typography was all about until i had to actually construct my own typography by hand with a ludlow machine and then inject molten lead into it. all of a sudden, i totally undestood was ‘leadind’ was. what an ‘m’ space or an ‘n’ space was. i understood how challenging ‘kearning’ was. try to imagine slicing off little bits of lead from a piece of lead type to get them to fit closer together and look balanced. they try to imagine doing that with a 120 pt. “A/T’ combo….the final models of linotype had more moving parts on them than any machine ever made by man before or since. it was like ‘rube goldberg’ meets ‘chutes and ladders” and went stark raving bonkers….i always realized that spray mount IN your lungs sounds like – well spray mount in your lungs! the problem with rubber cement was that nobody knew how to properly use it any more. you have to thin it way way down with rubber cement thinner (like a liquid) and then coat BOTH the back of the type and the board you are gluing on – and use it WET. as it dried, you could move it around all you want. that was by far easiest, most marvelous way to glue type i ever encountered. but nobody believes me. even makes waxers seems messy and sloppy….