Disque de Lumitype. Musée de l’Imprimerie de Lyon, inv 1618.Disque de Lumitype. Musée de l’Imprimerie de Lyon, inv 1618.


In the aftermath of the Second World War, photographic techniques began to replace lead in the world of typesetting. At first, Linotype and Monotype) were retrofitted by replacing the matrices used for typecasting with photo-matrices that allowed the operator to photograph each letter, while the selection and assembly mechanisms remained the same. The machine was still huge, weighing several tonnes, and the works remained largely mechanical.

A disk weighing less than two kilos replaces a tonne of lead characters!

A second generation of photo-typesetters eliminated lead completely by substituting electronic and high-speed photographic (stroboscopy) techniques. Characters were composed by passing a beam of light through a negative image of the letter (on a font disk), which would then expose a photo-sensitive medium (paper or film).

Following this major technical changeover (a tonne of lead characters were replaced by a disk weighing less than 2 kg!), older fonts, Garamond included, had to be redrawn. The three-style rule introduced by the mechanical punch-cutter became even stricter – in photo-typesetting, only one single design was used regardless of the size of the letter.

Used in connection with offset printing, which eliminated impression, linto the paper, most fonts (Garamond among them) had the tendency to become thinner. Spaces between letters, no longer governed by physical constraints, tended to shrink. Printed texts began to appear somewhat pale and stiff .

Typography was entering the era of dematerialisation.

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