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Reference Library: Typography

'Typography' (from the Greek words {{Polytonic|τύπος}} type = "to strike" "That by which something is symbolized or figured..." and {{Polytonic|γραφία}} graphia = to write) is the art and technique of setting written subject matter in type using a combination of fonts, font size, line length, leading (line spacing) and individual and *pliances, LCD mobile phone screens, car vehicle instrument panels, hand-held video games, pens and wristwatches.
Generally, though, most typographical images follow the same format using repetition, contrast, proximity, and alignment. These four principles are frequently used in Typography.


Origins of the letter punch

The practice of printing multiple copies of symbols or glyphs with a master type punch made of hard metal developed around 3000 B.C. with the appearance of currency in ancient Sumer. Bars or ingots of precious metal were imprinted with a distinctive stamp; the act of imprinting the ingots certified them as currency by the power of formality embodied by the type image. These metal punches were precursors of letter punches later adapted to printing with moveable metal type.
By 650 B.C. the Greeks were using larger diameter punches to imprint small "page" images onto coins and tokens. cylinder seals were a related form of ancient typography capable of printing small "page" images in cameo on wax or clay—a forerunner of rotogravure printing used by wealthy individuals to seal and certify documents.
The artists who made the first coin punches were in effect the first typographers and type designers. Their designs—including glyphs and words—were stylized with a degree of skill that could not be mistaken for common handy-work—they were specific types (forms), designed to be reproduced ad infinitum. Unlike the first typefaces used to print books in the 15th century, these types were neither combined or printed with ink on paper, but were nonetheless "published" in metal—a more durable medium—and survived in substantial numbers. As the face of ruling authority, coins were a compact form of standardized knowledge issued in large editions, making them an early mass medium that helped civilization spread throughout Mesopotamia.
Combining multiple types in a single punch-like device seems to have first occurred around 1700 B.C. The mysterious Phaistos Disc found in Crete in 1908 may have been an early writing machine. 241 tokens, comprising 45 unique glyphs, are moulded in relief on the face of the 15 centimeter ceramic disc. The true purpose of the Phaistos disc is not known, but comparisons can be made with disc-based writing machines such as the Blickensderfer typewriter, and Dymo labelling machine.

First moveable type printing

Woodblocks, a counterpart to metal type punches, were used by scribes in Ancient Egypt to print common hierolgyphic symbols onto tiles. Block printing with text and illustrations on paper was first recorded in China in the 6th century, and was in use in East Asia. The oldest surviving book printed with wooden blocks is the Diamond Sutra Buddhist scripture from 868. Another movable type printer was invented by Pi Sheng in 1040.
Several kinds of printing press utilizing moveable wooden blocks were developed in China, and an unsuccessful effort using ceramic types; the ceramic pieces were fragile and broke easily. The reason Chinese printing did not succeed was not due to technical limitation, but the 400,000 and 50,000 ideograms making up the Chinese language posing a logistics nightmare.
Letter punches and the moulding techniques for making coins were eventually adapted to the requirements of matrix-based moveable metal type systems. A printing press using movable metal type appeard in Korea during Koryo Dynasty circa 1234 A.D. By the 12th and 13th century Chinese libraries contained tens of thousands of printed books. Letter moulds for the Korean moveable metal type system were made the same way Europeans later made them—by striking a letter punch into a softer metal to produce a negative mould, which was then hardened to withstand repeated castings. The castings served as inexpensive copies of letter type punches. The basic technique had been in widespread use since the early twelfth century by coiners and casters of brass-ware and bronze.
The Korean moveable type system was limited by a Confucian prohibition on the commercialization of printing. The technique was restricted to use by the royal foundry for official state material only. In the early 15th century King Sejong of Korea devised a simplified alphabet of 24 characters for use by common people (Hangul) which may have made large-scale typecasting feasible, "...but did not have the impact it deserved. It may be that the Korean typecasting technique then spread to Europe with the Arab traders. Korean typecasting methods were almost identical to those introduced by Gutenburg, whose father was a member of the Mainz fellowship of coiners."

Gutenberg's hand mould

Johann Gutenberg, of the German city of Mainz, is acknowledged as the first to perfect a metal moveable type printing in Europe. Gutenberg was a goldsmith who knew the same techniques of cutting punches for making coins from moulds as the Koreans adapted to their system. Over a ten year period from approximately 1435 to 1450 he developed hardware and techniques for casting letters from matrices using a device called the hand mould. Gutenburg's key invention, the hand mould, was the first practical means of making cheap copies of letterpunches in the vast quantities needed to print a single book. It was the essential piece of hardware that made the moveable type printing process viable and profitable.

Brief description of the type casting process

A small soft metal bar was struck with a hardened letter punch to make a matrice (negative letter mould); a matrice was made for every letter or glyph; a matrice was slid into the bottom of the hand mould, the device was clamped shut, and molten type metal poured into a cavity from the top. The hand mould was unlocked and a rectangular block approximately 4 centimeters long, called a sort, extracted. Sorts were assembled into words and lines of text and tightly bound together to make up a page image called a forme, with all letter faces exactly the same height to present an even surface of type. The forme was inked and mounted in a press, and an impression made on paper. Gutenberg developed his own oil-based inks and paper, and commissioned local craftsmen to develop a press suited to the requirements of printing.

Medieval roots

Typography per se began with introduction of moveable type in mid-15th century Europe, at the junction of the medieval era and the onset of the Renaissance and ensuing Classical Revival.
Letter forms in the mid-15th century embodied 3000 years of evolved letter design, and were the natural models for letter forms in systematized typography. The strong gothic spirit of blackletter from the hands of German area scribes was the model for the first text types and books printed by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany.
While the classical type of the Renaissance progressed and dominated western typography into the 20th century, blackletters continued on their own unique path, evolving into five distinct, highly disciplined and structurally rich sub-designs.

Classical revival

Printing spread rapidly from Germany to Italy, where the severe textura gothic style was displaced by Venetian or "old style" or antiqua type. 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 & thin strokes, and incised serifs served as the model and ideal for western civilization. The best-known example of Roman inscriptional capitals exists on the base of Trajan's Column circa 113.
In reviving the classical culture of antiquity, Italian humanist scholars of the early 15th century searched for ancient minuscules to match the Roman capitals. Practically all of the available manuscripts of classical writers had been rewritten in Carolingian Renaissance, and with a lapse of three hundred years since the widespread use of this style, the humanist scribes mistook Carolingian 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.
When they realized stylistic mismatch between these two very different letters, the humanist 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 Johanne and Wendelin of Speyer, 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 1475 in Venice, Wendlin of Speyer 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 Lactanius 'a' differed significantly 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 further reading on the evolution of lower case letter forms from Latin capitals, see Latin alphabet.
Individual letters: 'Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz'

Jenson's roman type

Nicolas Jenson began printing in Venice with his original roman font from 1470. Jenson's design is universally acknowledged as the definitive and archetypical roman typeface 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 emulate the appearance of hand-lettering directly. 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.left (resembling a barless "f") used in the middle of words fell out of use centuries later.]] Jenson adapted the structural unity and component-based modular integration of Roman capitals to humanistic minuscule forms by masterful abstract 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.
The name "roman" is customarily applied uncapitalized to distinguish these 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 called "Venetian".

Birth of Modernism

Venetian and Antiqua type weathered the decorative influence of baroque and rococo that permeated succeeding transitional types such as Baskerville. Transitional roman types combined the angled stressing of lettera antiqua with the vertical stressing and higher contrast between thick and thin strokes characteristic of the true modern romans to come. At the end of the 17th century, modernism began to eschew chirographic and organic cultural influences, giving rise to a rationalized, reformed classical model, based on a strict cartesian grid driven by the exacting philosophy of René Descartes and the predictable clockwork universe of Isaac Newton. In true modern romans types vertical stressing replaced angled stressing completely. By the mid-18th century typographic design had become synthetic, personified by the strict symmetric roman designs of Bodoni and Didot.

19th century

The 19th century saw a full-scale decorative revival in which type began to be used increasingly for large-scale display and advertising. Display fonts and graphic art mirrored the explosion of fancy and elaborate designs elsewhere, drawing from all previous eras: Rococo, Baroque, Gothic, Classical & Neo-classical. Using the machine tool the first industrial designers were able to accurately copy any design and reproduce it ad infinitum. For the first time the middle classes and people of moderate means could afford facsimilies of objects previously attainable only by the very wealthy. Visual arts throughout the "century of progress" were characterized by an exuberant romantic sentiment and the general expectation that life would be better tomorrow than it was today, in contrast to the harsh realities of the industrial human condition.

20th century modernism

Calamitous events at the beginning of the 20th century and the pervasive influence of the Bauhaus school of reductive modern design triggered a wave of conservatism that was partly a backlash against the decorative Victorianism and organic Art Nouveau of the late 19th century. The clean, functional, utilitarian modernism characteristic of the 20th century utilized sans serif type and minimal, reductive layouts.

21st century—the digital era

Body matter

The matter prima of type

In traditional typography text is arranged to be readable and visually satisfying. Interest is created with choice of typeface, text layout, modulation of the tone or color of set matter, and the interplay of text with the white space of the page and other graphic elements, all of which combine to give the "feel" or "resonance" appropriate to the subject matter. With printed media typographers may also be concerned with paper selection, ink choice, and printing methods.
Choice of font(s) is a key aspect of text typography. Prose fiction, non-fiction, editorial, educational, religious, scientific, spiritual and commercial writing all have differing characteristics and requirements.
Orthography and linguistics type is modulated by word structures, word frequencies, morphology, phonetic constructs and linguistic syntax. Typography also is subject to specific cultural conventions. For example, in French it is customary to insert a non-breaking space before a colon (:) or semicolon (;) in a sentence, while in English it is not.

Book typography

Cerebral, literary, poetic
*'legibility' is a character thing, how clearly rendered are the characters?
*'readability' is how well a text reads. Depends on the quality of bouma and controlled by leading and tracking.

Newspapers & periodicals

Mass medium, disposable, high density

Display Typography

Typography is a potent element in graphic design where there is less concern for readability and more potential for using type in an artistic manner. Type is combined with negative space, graphic elements and pictures, forming relationships and dialog between words and images.
Color & size of type elements is much more prevalent than in text typography. Display typography exploits type at larger sizes, where the details of letter design built up from typographic history are magnified, turning typography into a major component of graphic art.
Display typography encompasses posters; book covers; typographic logos and wordmarks; billboards; packaging; on-product typography; calligraphy; graffitti; inscriptional & architectural lettering; poster design and other large scale lettering signage; business communications & promotional collateral; advertising; wordmarks & typographic logos (logotypes), and kinetic typography in motion pictures and television; vending machine displays; online & computer screen displays.
The wanted poster for the assassins of Abraham Lincoln was printed with lead and woodcut type, and incorporates photography.

Inscriptional & architectural lettering

The history of inscriptional lettering is intimately tied to the history of writing, the evolution of letterforms, and the craft of the hand. The widespread use of the computer and various etching and sandblasting techniques today has made the hand carved monument a rarity, and the number of lettercarvers left in the States continues to dwindle.
Most notable in the United States are John and Nick Benson who continue the work of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI, which was founded in 1705. The Stevens Shop has been responsible for the lettering on many of the highest profile monuments of the past several decades including the Vietnam War Memorial, the John F Kennedy Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and, most recently, the World War II Memorial, yet their primary work is the design and carving of gravestones.
For monumental lettering to be effective it must be considered carefully in its context. Proportions of letters need to be altered as their size and distance from the viewer increases. An expert letterer gains understanding of these nuances through much practice and observation of their craft. Letters drawn by hand and for a specific project have the possibility of being richly specific and profoundly beautiful in the hand of a master. Each can also take up to an hour to carve, so it is no wonder that the automated sandblasting process has become the industry standard.
To create a sandblasted letter, a rubber mat is laser cut from a computer file and glued to the stone. The sand then bites a coarse groove or channel into the exposed surface. Unfortunately, many of the computer applications which create these files and interface with the laser cutter do not have many typefaces available, and often have inferior versions of typefaces that are available. What can now be done in minutes, however, lacks the striking architecture and geometry of the chisel-cut letter which allows light to play across its distinct interior planes.
There are a number of online retailers of gravestones which offer fill-in forms, and a couple dozen clip-art borders and imagery, and some which cater to remembrances of your pet chihuahua, cockatiel, or llama. On the outer edge of gravestone technology there is the Vidstone Serenity Panel, a solar-powered LCD screen inlaid right into the stone which will play “a short personalized video tribute”.
Recently, there has been some rumbling in typographic circles over the proposed 9/11 memorial in New Jersey. Frederic Schwartz, the project architect, has chosen to render the names of the victims, in his words, in “a familiar and easy-to-read typeface”: Times New Roman. This democratic choice (the families of victims were closely involved with the design plan) could perhaps be echoing the controversial Emigre adage “People read best what they read most” in that Times is the default for many applications, but it seems to many that the choice is really a non-choice, or poor choice at best. These letterforms, originally designed for small print in newspaper setting, will be blown up to nearly four inches high.
John Benson, speaking of his work in stone says, “You are making something that will outlast you. And I believe if you invest it with a certain honesty and the focus of your intellect and your sensitivities, those things are in the piece and are capable of being retrieved at a later date. That’s what art is all about, isn’t it?” (quoted in Kathleen Silver’s “Men of Letters”) Inscriptional typography can certainly rise to this level of intellectual and physical quality, as can be seen in the recent choice of Gotham for the World Trade Cornerstone, but too often our culture settles for unconsidered and unthoughtful lettering for even our most important visual memorials.

Editorial design & book covers

On this science fiction book cover, the type outlines of the Roslyn font juxtapose with negative space and pictorial elements. Words are treated as compound objects made up of tightly spaced letters; the pictorial composition is as concerned with modulation of negative space—carving the background into satisfying shapes—as much as positive elements—the typeface outlines.


Typography has long been the bread & butter of promotional ephemera and advertising.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Typography".