Typesetting systems and technology
Typography traces its origins to the first punches and dies used to make seals and currency in ancient times. The uneven spacing of the impressions on brick stamps found in the Mesopotamian cities of Uruk and Larsa, dating from the 2nd millennium BC, may have been evidence of type where the reuse of identical characters were applied to create cuneiform text. Babylonian cylinder seals were used to create an impression on a surface by rolling the seal on wet clay. Typography was also realized in the Phaistos Disc, an enigmatic Minoan print item from Crete, Greece, which dates between 1850 and 1600 BC.
The essential criterion of type identity was met by medieval print artifacts such as the Latin Pruefening Abbey inscription of 1119 that was created by the same technique as the Phaistos disc.The silver altarpiece of patriarch Pellegrinus II (1195−1204) in the cathedral of Cividale was printed with individual letter punches.The same printing technique can apparently be found in 10th to 12th century Byzantine reliquaries. Individual letter tiles where the words are formed by assembling single letter tiles in the desired order were reasonably widespread in medieval Northern Europe.
Typography with movable type was invented in 11th-century China by Bi Sheng (990–1051) during the Song Dynasty. His movable type system was manufactured from ceramic materials, and clay type printing continued to be practiced in China until the Qing Dynasty. Wang Zhen was one of the pioneers of wooden movable type. Although the wooden type was more durable under the mechanical rigors of handling, repeated printing wore the character faces down, and the types could only be replaced by carving new pieces. Metal type was first invented in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty around 1230. Hua Sui introduced bronze type printing to China in 1490 AD. The Korean form of metal movable type was described by the French scholar Henri-Jean Martin as “extremely similar to Gutenberg’s”. Eastern metal movable type was spread to Europe between late 14th century and early 15th century.
Modern movable type, along with the mechanical printing press, is most often attributed to the goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg. His type pieces from a lead-based alloy suited printing purposes so well that the alloy is still used today. Gutenberg developed specialized techniques for casting and combining cheap copies of letterpunches in the vast quantities required to print multiple copies of texts. This technical breakthrough was instrumental in starting the Printing Revolution and printing the world’s first book (with movable type) the Gutenberg Bible.
Johannes Gutenberg employed the scribe Peter Schöffer to help design and cut the letterpunches for the first typeface—the D-K type of 202 characters used to print the first books in Europe. A second typeface of about 300 characters designed for the 42-line Bible c. 1455 was probably cut by the goldsmith Hans Dunne with the help of two others—Götz von Shlettstadt and Hans von Speyer.
Above all the 19th century was innovative regarding technical aspects. Automatic manufacturing processes changed the print as well as the graphical illustrations. The illustration of printed matters could be considerably standardised due to the lithography technique invented by Alois Senefelder. Finally, another invention was photography, whose establishment at the end of the 19th century led to the first halftoning and reproduction procedures. The step-by-step development of a modern mass society provided a growing demand of printed matters. Besides the traditional letterpress beginnings of a newspaper landscape as well as a broad market for publications, advertisements, and posters of all kinds appeared. The challenges had changed: since printing and typography had been a straightforward craft for centuries, it now had to face the challenges of an industry-ruled mass society.
Hot type and phototypesetting in the 20th century
The fabrication and application of typefaces more and more were affected by industrial manufacturing processes. Significant incidents were
- the invention of the hot type machine by Ottmar Mergenthaler (Linotype machine, 1886) and Tolbert Lanston (Monotype machine, 1887)
- a few decades later the emergence of phototypesetting.
The result: Compilation and typographical design of the text could be more and more controlled by keyboards in contrast to manual typesetting.
Computer technology revolutionized typography in the 20th century. Personal computers in the 1980s like the Macintosh allowed type designers to create types digitally using commercial graphic design software. Digital technology also enabled designers to create more experimental typefaces, alongside the practical fonts of traditional typography. Designs for typefaces could be created faster with the new technology, and for more specific functions.The cost for developing typefaces was drastically lowered, becoming widely available to the masses. The change has been called the “democratization of type” and has given new designers more opportunities to enter the field.
Evolution of typography
The design of typography has developed alongside the development of typesetting systems. Although typography has evolved significantly from its origins, it is a largely conservative art that tends to cleave closely to tradition. This is because legibility is paramount, and so the types that are the most readable are often retained. In addition, the evolution of typography is inextricably intertwined with lettering by hand and related art forms, especially formal styles, which thrived for centuries preceding typography.
Handwritten letterforms of the mid-15th century embodied 3000 years of evolved letter design, and were the natural models for letterforms in systematized typography.
Blackletter or gothic
In the nascent stages of European printing, the type (blackletter, or Gothic) was designed in imitation of the popular hand-lettering styles of scribes. The scribal letter known as textur or textualis, produced by the strong gothic spirit of blackletter from the hands of German area scribes, served as the model for the first text types. Initially, this type was difficult to read, because each letter was set in place individually and made to fit tightly into the allocated space. The art of manuscript writing, whose origin was in Hellenistic and Roman bookmaking, reached its zenith in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Metal types notably altered the style, making it “crisp and uncompromising”, and also brought about “new standards of composition”.
Cultural tradition ensured that German typography and type design remained true to the gothic/blackletter spirit; but the parallel influence of the humanist and neo-classical typography in Italy catalyzed textur into four additional sub-styles that were distinct, structurally rich and highly disciplined: Bastarda, fraktur, rotunda, and Schwabacher.
The rapid spread of movable type printing across Europe produced additional Gothic, half-Gothic and Gothic-to-roman transitional types. Johann Bämler‘s Schwabacher, Augsburg appeared in 1474. The half-Gothic Rotunda type of Erhard Ratdolt c. 1486 was cut to suit Venetian taste. In 1476 William Caxton printed the first books in England with a so-called Bâtarde type (an early Schwabacher design), but soon abandoned it.
In Italy the heavy gothic styles were soon displaced by Venetian or “old style” Latin types, also called antiqua. The inscriptional capitals on Roman buildings and monuments were structured on a euclidean geometric scheme and the discrete component-based model of classical architecture. Their structurally perfect design, near-perfect execution in stone, balanced angled stressing, contrasting thick and thin strokes, and incised serifs became the typographic ideal for western civilization.
In their enthusiastic revival of classical culture, Italian scribes and humanist scholars of the early 15th century searched for ancient minuscules to match the Roman inscriptional capitals. Practically all of the available manuscripts of classical writers had been rewritten during the Carolingian Renaissance, and with a lapse of three hundred years since the widespread use of this style, the humanist scribes mistook Carolingian minuscule as the authentic writing style of the ancients. Dubbing it lettera antica, they began by copying the minuscule hand almost exactly, combining it with Roman capitals in the same manner as the manuscripts they were copying.>
Upon noticing the stylistic mismatch between these two very different letters, the scribes redesigned the small Carolingian letter, lengthening ascenders and descenders, and adding incised serifs and finishing strokes to integrate them with the Roman capitals. By the time moveable type reached Italy several decades later, the humanistic writing had evolved into a consistent model known as humanistic minuscule, which served as the basis for type style we know today as Venetian.
Transition from humanistic minuscule to roman type
The classically endowed city of Rome attracted the first printers known to have set up shop outside Germany, Arnold Pannartz and Konrad Sweynheim, closely followed by the brothers Johann and Wendelin of Speyer (de Spira), and the Frenchman Nicolas Jenson. The sequence of appearance and production dates for types used by these printers have yet to be established with certainty; all four are known to have printed with types ranging from textur Gothic to fully developed romans inspired by the earlier humanistic writing, and within a few years the center of printing in Italy shifted from Rome to Venice.
Some time before 1472 in Venice, Johann and Wendelin issued material printed with a half-Gothic-half-roman type known as “Gotico-antiqua”. This design paired simplified Gothic capitals with a rationalized humanistic minuscule letter set, itself combining Gothic minuscule forms with elements of Carolingian, in a one step forward, half step back blending of styles.
Around the same time (1468) in Rome, Pannartz and Sweynheim were using another typeface that closely mimicked humanistic minuscule, known as “Lactantius”. Unlike the rigid fractured forms of Speyer’s half-Gothic, the Lactantius is characterized by smoothly rendered letters with a restrained organic finish. The Lactantius a departed from both the Carolingian and Gothic models; a vertical backstem and right-angled top replaced the diagonal Carolingian structure, and a continuous curved stroke replaced the fractured Gothic bowl element.
For details on the evolution of lower case letterforms from Latin capitals, see Latin alphabet.
Roman serif typefaces
The name “roman” is customarily applied uncapitalized to distinguish early Jenson and Aldine-derived types from classical Roman letters of antiquity. Some parts of Europe call roman “antiqua” from its connection with the humanistic “lettera antica”; “medieval” and “old-style” are also employed to indicate roman types dating from the late 15th century, especially those used by Aldus Manutius (Italian: Manuzio). Roman faces based on those of Speyer and Jenson are also called Venetian.
There are two styles of Roman typography:
- old style characterized by its similarly-weighted lines
- modern distinguished by its contrast of light and heavy lines.
These styles are often combined.
The Roman typeface’s development can be traced back to Greek lapidary letters.
Nicolas Jenson began printing in Venice with his original roman font from 1470. Jenson’s design and the very similar roman types cut by Francesco Griffo c. 1499 and Erhard Ratdolt c. 1486 are acknowledged as the definitive and archetypal roman faces that set the pattern for the majority of western text faces that followed.
The Jenson roman was an explicitly typographic letter designed on its own terms that declined to imitate the appearance of hand-lettering. Its effect is one of a unified cohesive whole, a seamless fusion of style with structure, and the successful convergence of the long progression of preceding letter styles. Jenson adapted the structural unity and component-based modular integration of Roman capitals to humanistic minuscule forms by masterfu labstract stylization. The carefully modelled serifs follow an artful logic of asymmetry. The ratio of extender lengths to letter bodies and the distance between lines results in balanced, harmonious body of type. Jenson also mirrors the ideal expressed in renaissance painting of carving up space (typographic “white space”) with figures (letters) to articulate the relationship between the two and make the white space dynamic.
Humanist Italic type
The humanist spirit driving the Renaissance produced its own unique style of formal writing, known as “cursiva humanistica”. This slanted and rapidly written letter evolved from humanistic minuscule and the remaining Gothic current cursive hands in Italy, served as the model for cursive or italic typefaces. As books printed with early roman types forced humanistic minuscule out of use, cursiva humanistica gained favor as a manuscript hand for the purpose of writing. The popularity of cursive writing itself may have created some demand for a type of this style. The more decisive catalyst was probably the printing of pocket editions of Latin classics by Aldus Manutius.
The “Aldino” italic type, commissioned by Manutius and cut by Franceso Griffo in 1499, was a closely spaced condensed type. Griffo’s punches are a delicate translation of the Italian cursive hand, featuring letters of irregular slant angle and uneven height and vertical position, with some connected pairs (ligatures), and unslanted small roman capitals the height of the lower case t. The fame of Aldus Manutius and his editions made the Griffo italic widely copied and influential, although it was not the finest of the pioneer italics. The “Aldino” style quickly became known as “italic” from its Italian origin.
Around 1527 the Vatican chancellery scribe Ludovico Arrighi designed a superior italic type and had the punches cut by Lauticio di Bartolomeo dei Rotelli. The more modular structure of Arrighi’s italic and its few ligatures made it less a copy of the cursive hand than Griffo’s. Its slightly taller roman capitals, a gentler slant angle, taller ascenders and wider separation of lines gave the elegant effect of refined handwriting.
Surviving examples of 16th-century Italian books indicate the bulk of them were printed with italic types. By mid-century the popularity of italic types for sustained text setting began to decline until they were used only for in-line citations, block quotes, preliminary text, emphasis, and abbreviations. Italic types from the 20th century up to the present are much indebted to Arrighi and his influence on French designers.
Swiss art historian Jakob Burckhardt described the classically inspired Renaissance modello of dual case roman and cursive italic types as “The model and ideal for the whole western world”. Venetian pre-eminence in type design was brought to an end by the political and economic turmoil that concluded the Renaissance in Italy with the sack of Rome in 1527.
Renaissance Germany and Switzerland
Soon after 1500, roman typefaces began to gain popularity north of the Alps for printing of Latin literature. Johann Froben of Basel, Switzerland set up his press in 1491, and by about 1519 (when he printed Erasmus’s famous edition of the Greek New Testament) he had established a set of standards for humanistic printing which were widely copied throughout the German-speaking world and also in Spain and, to a lesser extent in England. His principal type is wholly roman in the shape of the characters but retains an echo of gothic influence in the angled serifs and the way the thick and thin strokes are organized; it was coupled with mated sets of woodcut initials (often designed by distinguished artists) and with two larger sizes of uppercase letters for use in title pages and headings—Froben was the first to use such ‘display faces’ consistently, breaking away from the Italian tradition in which title pages and headings tended to be set in the same size as the main text. By using these large faces, Froben developed the title page as a fully organized artistic whole. Froben’s italic face is based on that of Aldus but more even and uniform in effect. These Swiss books are the first to have been designed in every detail as printed artifacts rather than as adaptations of manuscript technique.
After about 1550 this Swiss/German tradition was gradually overwhelmed by French influence. Towards the end of the 16th century, the Wechel family of Frankfurt was producing fine books which used French typefaces in conjunction with heavy but resplendent woodcut ornaments to achieve a splendid page effect; but soon after 1600 there was a general, marked decline in the quality of both skill and materials, from which German printing did not recover until the 20th century.
16th century France
Typography was introduced to France by the German printers Martin Crantz, Michael Freyburger and Ulrich Gering, who set up a press in Paris in 1470, where they printed with an inferior copy of the Lactantius type. Gothic types dominated in France until the end of the 15th century, when they were gradually supplanted by roman designs. Jodocus Badius Ascensius (Josse Bade) in partnership with Henri Estienne established a press in Paris in 1503. Printing with undeveloped Roman and half-Gothic types, the French pair were too occupied meeting the demand for Humanistic and classical texts to design any original types of their own. French books nonetheless began to follow the format established by Italian printers, and Lyon and Paris became the new centers of activity.
De Colines, Estienne, and Augereau
After their 1494 invasion of Italy the French were greatly influenced by Renaissance culture, and later set about converting French culture from Gothic to neo-classical. The required phonetic and orthographic changes to French language hindered the evolution of type design in France until the late 1520s. At the end of this period roman types introduced by Robert Estienne, Simon de Colines and Antoine Augereau began a phase of type design with a distinctly French character. Robert Estienne carried on the establishment of his father Henri Estienne, who had died in 1520. Simon de Colines had been the elder Estienne’s assistant, married his widow, and set up his own press.
The de Colines roman of 1531 resembled Griffo’s 1499 roman but did not copy it closely. Narrower forms and tighter letter fit; a with low angled bowl; elevated triangular stem serifs on i, j, m, n and r; flattened baseline serifs, delicately modeled ascender serifs and graceful, fluid lines characterize the French style. Robert Estienne’s roman of 1532 was similar to the de Colines face, which Estienne complemented with a fine italic type based on that of Arrighi. The craftsmen who cut the punches for the romans used by Estienne and de Colines remain unidentified. In 1532 Antoine Augereau cut the punches for a roman type very close to Estienne’s. The lower cases of the Estienne and Augereau types became the basis for post-Renaissance old style typography, and were copied by French typographers for the next 150 years.
Claude Garamond, during the Renaissance period, was partially responsible for the adoption of Roman typeface in France.The svelte French style reached its fullest refinement in the roman types attributed to the best-known figure of French typography—Claude Garamond (also Garamont). In 1541 Robert Estienne, printer to the king, helped Garamond obtain commissions to cut the sequence of Greek fonts for King Francis I of France, known as the “grecs du roi“. A number of roman faces used in Garamond’s publishing activities can be positively attributed to him as punch-cutter. From the dates of their appearance, and their similarity to romans used by Estienne, Christoffel Plantijn and the printer André Wechel, the types known as “Canon de Garamond” and “Petit Canon de Garamond” shown on a specimen sheet issued by the Egenolff-Berner foundry in 1592 are generally accepted as Claude Garamond’s final roman types.