In the period between when cast lead type was arranged by hand and today, where a half a million fonts (the actual estimate) are as close to your computer as your PayPal user name and password, there was a golden age for type: the 1970s!
Despite being an exciting time for the designers of letters and characters, the 1970s was a tough time for the end users of letters. A designer with an assignment had three choices when it came to lettering: use a typesetting service, use dry transfer letters, or letter your work by hand.
Maybe it’s my peculiar font-based condition, but those three prospects make my blood run cold. However, if you’re brave enough to continue, let’s look a little more at those options.
The typesetting service was a distinctly 1960s and 70s enterprise. Starting in the late 1950s and accelerating through the 70s, setting type shifted from a hot metal process to a “cold,” photomechanical process.
Newspaper editors and advertising executives who wanted to compose type could now avoid doing so in hot rooms filled with molten lead. Without going into a boring technical discussion, cold typography meant that columns of type were created through optical means, shining light through glass plates containing individual typographic characters. Lower budget operations could use more affordable mechanisms like Leroy lettering.
Once exposed and photographically processed, the resulting strips of paper covered with text were often waxed (literally) and “pasted up.” The wax allowed for the copy to be picked up and moved around. Using actual paste on your paste-up meant that you really couldn’t move it once the glue dried. Think about that next time you move a block of text around in InDesign or Illustrator.
Cold type was a revolutionary step forward, but we know the story doesn’t end there! The advent of the PC and the development of the Adobe Postscript font language in the 1980s unleashed an explosion of type production and dissemination undreamed of.