The Evolution of Typographic Technology

The invention of typography has been called the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It is the earliest mechanization of a handicraft: the handlettering of books. Typographic design has been closely bound to the evolution of technology, for the capabilities and limitations of typesetting systems have imposed constraints upon the design process. At the same time, typesetting has offered creative challenges as designers have sought to explore the limitations of the available systems and to define their aesthetic and communicative potential.

From hand composition to digital typography, it is important for designers to comprehend the nature and capabilities of typographic technologies, as this understanding provides a basis for a thoughtful blending of design and production.


1450s to 1880s


7-1 Composing stick.

The traditional method of setting foundry type by hand is similar to the method used by Gutenberg when he invented movable type in 1450. For centuries, hand composition was accomplished by assembling individual pieces of type into lines. A typographer would hold a composing stick (Fig. 7-1) in one hand while the other hand placed type selected from a type case (Fig. 7-2) into the stick. Type was set letter by letter, line by line, until the desired setting was achieved. When it was necessary to justify a line, ...

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