Short Essay on the Modern Typography



There is a "typography" revolution going on in this second half of the twentieth century.

Letterform was refined, designed by type engravers in clear and consistent styles that allowed readability in small sizes so that more lines would fit on a page. As part of the designing, letters were formed for themselves, without the erratic qualities of handwriting.

A profusion of letter styles has been cut as type, from the flowery styles of the Romantic period to the hard-working heavy styles for industrial advertising. The latter were so black on the page they were called "Gothic" after the appearance of the German "Black-letter" of Gutenberg's time. We have counted over 4,000 typestyles, mostly planned for novelty, few universally readable.

Trade typographers and printing companies have catalogues of their typestyles. The standard reading-text sizes fit broadly into two categories, "Roman" and "sans serif" ("sans serif" being the name of a simple line letterform based on Roman styling before the readability designing of "Grotesque").

So, in searching through the maze of typestyle selection, if you want the look of old-line companies, choose Roman, and if you prefer the up-to-date look, go Grotesque. But be consistent. In any one publication, stay with one type family; Roman, Bodoni, Bookface, Square Serif, Clarendon, Sans Serif, or Grotesque. Mixing families is a delicate operation. Since each family was developed in its own period of history, a generation gap always seems to show up.

Display type:

(Larger type for headlines) can be photo- composed from master negatives on photographic print paper with a freedom not to be found in metal type. All the typestyles are now on film, and lettering designers are at work creating hundreds of new ones.

A cost-cutting part of the typographic revolution is the intro­duction of sophisticated typewriters such as the IBM Selectric Composer. Typing from hand-cast strike letters through delicate carboned-plastic ribbons, they produce acceptable letters ready for lithographer's camera. They can automatically add space between words to bring lines of typing to common column widths-"justifying".

The product is almost good enough to be called typography but the mechanics tend to produce inconsistent letters, letters pacing cannot be properly controlled, and justifying sometimes is patchy. The method cuts the cost of setting to about one-third, however, and is finding increasing use for utility work.