12.07.2011 cătălina zlotea

In trying to describe traditional printing methods and typography as clearly as possible, all the while being careful to use the correct Romanian terminology and not to overlook any steps in the technological process, I realise that I perhaps forget to tell you why I'm researching, reading and writing about this subject. Naturally, this is far too long a story to include in an article about manual type setting.

Compartmentalised wooden box used for storing type cases. Similar to a chest drawer.

But what I can tell you about is the first time I printed something for which I set the type manually, positioned the paper I had chosen specifically for what I had in mind, mixed the ink and then manually operated the press for each individual copy. It was only then that I came to understand what is – or, more to the point, is not – the precise role of the computer in the work of a designer. I learned that when you want to do something that is supposed to bear some relation to man, to the real world, you must take account of its limitations, and consequently we should use the freedom computers give us to make our work easier and more efficient, not create artificial things. In terms of working with type and blocks of text, I can’t imagine any better training than manually typesetting and printing it by traditional techniques.

Type case

I had the good fortune to spend a year surrounded by the largest collection of graphic design in the world with old printing presses always at my disposal as well as metal and wooden typefaces of various sizes. This is what sparked my passion for the black art and my interest in reintroducing these concepts to present day. My first letterpress project comprised two lines of text, set in the same font (the same size and typeface) and a print run of 60 copies. It took me a day.

Normally, every font (i.e. any complete set of characters of certain type and given size and weight, e.g. Caslon Bold 10 pt) is stored in a specially compartmentalised type case, in which every different character has its own box. There are many different sorts of these cases and the compartmentalisation varies depending on the language spoken in the country where the printing takes place (similar to the differences between computer keyboards today).

The person who sets the type is called a compositor. It is this person who receives the manuscript and must then choose and position every character, according to the instructions written on the manuscript, within a metal instrument called a composing stick. This has the shape of a long, thin box with three sides which the compositor holds in one hand while adding type with the other. Typesetting requires a high level of dexterity as well as the ability to read and arrange text as a mirror image. The composing stick also acts as a measure of the length of a line of text, which once set, is placed into a metal frame, and so on until the entire page is set.
As to my project (a business card containing two lines of text), the use of a composing stick was not strictly necessary, for I had no need to ensure I had lines of the same length. However, I decided to follow all the necessary steps involved in the letterpress printing process.

Flattening the typographic ink using the roll

I wanted the email address to have spacing so that it would easily read that it was made up of my first name and surname. I wanted these spaces to be (intentionally almost indiscernibly) smaller than those used to separate the word “at”, and so had to create them out of small pieces of paper, as the font I was using did not come equipped with spacers (pieces of metal used for negative spaces) as thin as I wanted.

I separated the lines by inserting strips of lead that were as long as the line of text, slightly lower than the height of the type (so as not to come into contact with the paper and print) and of different widths depending on the desired distance between the lines of text. Today, to add more space between lines of text we simply change the leading variable in InDesign, something we do without thinking about the pieces of lead used in the past to the same end.

Composer stick

In the metal frame, beside the type and lead strips, I also inserted  furniture pieces. These are blocks that do not have a surface that prints Furniture pieces are lower and don’t come into contact with the print medium (i.e. paper, parchment). It should be emphasised that all the elements in the metal frame, both type and furniture, need to be fixed, so they don’t move, if the page is to be printed perfectly.

Once the text is fixed in the frame, I had  to make a number of tests to obtain the optimum position relative to the paper. Handmade paper should be dampened before printing to obtain the best quality print. I chose a brown paper with an unfinished appearance meant to be perfectly in keeping with the inevitable printing mistakes caused by my lack of experience in this craft.

As I mentioned at the start, it took me a day to print 60 business cards. I spent a significant amount of time trying to find all the type I needed in the type case, as these were not sorted into their right compartments – in fact, many were mixed up with other typefaces. I then realised the true importance of the compositor’s final task: the cleaning and sorting of the type in the case after printing. An unsorted font is practically useless when it comes to larger projects. The sorting of the letters, and especially the time needed to do this, is what led, in the second half of the 19tth century, to the intervention of the mechanical typesetting  machines , which I will discuss in depth another time.

By the standards of past centuries, the end result of my letterpress project was poor, with its unevenly applied pressure and variations in the thickness of the ink from one print to the next. However, the purpose of it was different. From my perspective, these 60 business cards have powerful three dimensional, tactile features that reflect their hand made characteristics. . For me they tell a story, and have a kind of metaphorical significance (originating from the impossibility of using the @ symbol for my email address) and, in particular, they have sentimental value.

Font used: Isotype Futura 18 pt from the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading collection.
cătălina zloteais a graphic designer specialized in the field of publication design and typography. She has a BA in Graphic Design from the University of Arts in Bucharest and a BA in Advertising from the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Journalism and Communication. In September 2010, she finished the MA Book Design at the University of Reading, Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.
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Bogdan Vornicu

22.08.2011 la 19:58

Mi-a placut mult articolul si mi-a deschis gustul pentru un procedeu tehnic despre care nu stiam mare lucru. Dupa ce l-am citit, am vizitat un muzeu al imprimeriei din Lyon si cu ce citisem in articol am putut sa imi fac o imagine mai completa. Si mai important, articolul mi-a dat o anumita dorinta de a afla mai multe despre procedeul asta, asa ca a trebuit sa petrec vreo 4 ore in muzeu ca sa aflu cat de mult am putut.
Multumesc pentru asta.
As vrea sa va spun ce am mai aflat in plus, din acest muzeu, poate si altii au fost captivati de acest procedeu tehnic al tiparului.
Am aflat ca literele erau disponibile in sertarul din care se luau, in functie de frecventa folosirii - spre exemplu mai multe albituri decat litere A mare. Literele mari erau depozitate in partea de sus a sertarului si cele mici si spatiile in partea de jos de unde avem acum denumirea de "lower case" si "upper case". De asemenea, nu sunt chiar 100 % sigur, dar notiunea de "punere in pagina" deriva de la tipar pentru ca se asezau la propriu, literele, alburile si eventualele xilogravuri cu desene, in cadrul de metal al paginii. Erau cam 4 pagini care se imprimau simultan - sau mai multe.
Un alt lucru e ca din cauza nevoii de a produce multe carti s-a incercat, si s-a reusit realizarea unui numar mare de litere de metal apelandu-se la un procedeu de linie de productie. Erau 3 piese metalice cu ajutorul carora se realiza rapid o litera - un fel de preducea avand in cap forma pozitiva a literei, apoi o bucata prismatica de metal care dupa ce era lovita de preducea, prelua forma negativa a literei (era rectificata dupa lovire pentru ca prisma se deforma dupa). Ultimul element era un fel de caus metalic din doua piese (care se cuplau in jurul prismei cu forma negativa) prin care se turna metalul cald care avea sa devina litera. Procedeul permitea producerea a mii de litere intr-o zi.
Am mai aflat despre admiratia care o aveau primii tipografi pentru manuscrise si marele lor dezavantaj care, ca intotdeauna este inclus in principalul avantaj. Din cauza faptului ca ei faceau serii largi erau fortati sa foloseasca materiale care se gaseau din abundenta - hartie din lemn si cerneala neagra in timp ce manuscrisele foloseau si pergament si coperti din piele si pictura colorata. Avantajul unei serii reduse unde poti folosi materiale mai rare.
Am mai aflat ca la inceput nu marcau deloc foile dar apoi au constatat ca ar fi bine sa aiba semne pe de-o parte sa usureze munca celor care legau si pe de cealalta parte sa usureze cautarile cititorilor in cartea respectiva - asa au aparut coloncifrul, reclama, semnatura, titlul curent si "foliation" care nu stiu cum se traduce in romana.
Si inca un alt lucru interesant: am aflat despre stereotipie si sterografie - procedee care permiteau realizarea unor pagini bloc de litere tiparite care ofereau posibilitatea tiparirii ulterioare a noi exemplare fara sa fii nevoit sa culegi toata cartea din nou.

Oricum multe lucruri interesante de aflat despre procedeul asta. Ce e deosebit iarasi ca la cartile vechi expuse acolo - oglinda paginii era frumoasa. Nu era deloc intamplatoare.

Ma intreb daca nu poate avea aplicatii moderne acest procedeu pe langa faptul ca te ghideaza in lucrul cu pagina si cu litera. Ma gandesc ca acum, in epoca tiparirii in masa, astfel de obiecte in care se investeste timp si unde micile inegalitati de imprimare ofera o mica diferentiere intre exemplare - pot fi foarte atractive pentru un public de graficieni mai ales. Mie personal, mi-ar place sa vad poate mici carti sau caiete tiparite manual.
Oricum fascinant articol si, pentru mine, foarte util.


Cătălina Zlotea

25.08.2011 la 14:15

- reply to Bogdan Vornicu -

Bogdan, ai mers intr-adevar, intr-unul dintre cele mai bune locuri din lume pentru a afla despre tipar si litere. Musée de l'Imprimerie din Lyon (banuiesc ca acolo ai mers) este pe langa gazda unei colectii impresionate de tipografie franceza (si nu numai), un important centru de cercetare in acest domeniu.

Tehnica tiparului inalt este foarte folosita in ziua de azi, in special in SUA si Marea Britanie. Exista inca prese functionale, de dimensiune redusa pe care se pot tiparii obiecte de mici dimensiuni. Deasemena, sunt artisti consacrati (cum ar fi Alan Kitching) pentru lucrarile lor in aceasta tehnica.

Multumim pentru cuvintele frumoase si ma bucur foarte mult ca articolul ti-a fost de folos. Seria articolelor despre tipar si tipografie vor continua la sectiunea 'tehnica', asa ca urmareste site-ul incontinuare.


Bogdan Vornicu

26.08.2011 la 16:57

- reply to Cătălina Zlotea -

Multumesc pentru raspuns. Da, acesta este muzeul pe care l-am vizitat. Mi s-a parut foarte bine organizat ca exponate si informatie, in sensul ca am putut intelege unele lucruri relativ usor. Din pacate partea de tipografie moderna - offset (sau prin expunere la un fascicul foarte mic si intens lumina?) nu am mai avut timp sa o aprofundez.

Nu stiam ca inca se mai foloseste tiparul cu litere mobile - nu am o cunostinte prea multe legate de acest domeniu. Am intrat pe un site cu un workshop de Alan Kitching si mi-a placut foarte mult. Se pot face intr-adevar lucruri frumoase. Multumesc de informatie.

Ar fi frumos intr-o zi sa am acces la o astfel de presa sa experimentez. Pana atunci o sa urmaresc in continuare articolele voastre legate de tipografie.



29.08.2011 la 17:28

Super articol.Mi-a placut fraza "Intrăm zilnic în contact cu tipărituri ce au deobicei un caracter efemer, și încet, încet ne-am obișnuit să le ignorăm forma, devenind parte integrantă a fundalului zilnic. Citim rapid informațiile pe care ni le oferă și nu dăm atenție în mod normal hârtiei sau tipului de literă folosit. Am si eu o tiparnita adusa din Germania "hhttp://letterpress-romania.blogspot.com/2011/06/letterpress-romania.html. Impartasesc aceeasi pasiune pentru arta neagră. Insa cu greu gasesc consumabilele necesare in Romania. Hartia de bumbac 100% folosita in general in Letterpress o gasesc foarte scumpa in Romania.


carmen nistor

02.09.2011 la 21:10

- reply to Cătălina Zlotea -

Realizez ca am trait o viata in lumea asta de care povestesti. Bunicul meu, cel mai in varsta legator de carti si poleitor din tara (asta ca sa dau doar doua dintre specializarile lui), si cel mai priceput adaug eu fara sa gresesc, tipareste si poleieste manual sau la presa manuala de peste 70 de ani (el are acum 88). M-au fascinat intotdeauna ordinea in care isi pastreaza literele si toate instrumentele. tot ce face el pareau lucruri obisnuite pentru mine. le pot vedea zi de zi la masa lui de lucru. dar acum inteleg ca inca practica o meserie pe care altii doresc sa o reinvie. la noi in casa a trait si inca traieste.

Felicitari pentru preocupari!

Recomand si muzeul tiparului Plantin-Moretus din Antwerpen.
l-as fi dus pe tataie acolo, sa vada ca ceea ce el inca mai face, altii doar expun in muzee :) dar i-am povestit cat am putut de frumos despre ce am vazut.



06.09.2011 la 21:16

- reply to carmen nistor -

Eu spun ca ceea ce face bunicul tau merita toata atentia. Intr-o lume in care mestesugurile, breslele, micile ateliere dispar, ce ne spui pare neverosimil.
Faptul ca cineva ramane consecvent pe o indindere asa mare de timp, mi se pare absolut admirabill. Poate imparti cu noi mai in detaliu aceasta experienta a bunicului tau? Multumim


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