THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS Sample alphabets are used to illustrate the history . To examine an alphabet sample picture more closely, click on it, and an enlargement appears. ... carroll1.cc.edu/~tselle/aindex.html - 3k http://carroll1.cc.edu/~tselle/aindex.html THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS / Index / back / next Marks and Writing One need satisfied by written language is the need to communicate over distances. Another need was the verification of communication, where memory did not have to be trusted. Precise meanings can be conveyed through words used in complicated sentences, which is diffferent than the broad interpretations of pictures. From early times, making marks allowed communication to move from spoken, oral language, and pictures, to a written language capable of sustaining messages through time. Students may be interested in the changes of technology as writing changed from a pen on paper to movable type. Letterforms changed over the years, and students may find the psychology of recognition an avenue to explore. Students may also enjoy the apprpriate uses of certain fonts for certain purposes, and the reasons for font choice. The very first marks in the history of writing don't look like the modern European alphabet. Instead, they look like pictures of simple objects. Simple pictures, called pictographs, were often cut into rocks or painted onto rocks. These are called petroglyphs. Pictographs, sort of a simplified picture, result from common objects that can be named and used in language. The Sumerian, left column, Early Chinese, middle column, and Egyptian, right column, pictographs contain simple pictures that can often be recognized, but are drawn different from culture to culture. Summerian sun is the bottom row, Eguptian sun is the second down. An interesting combination is the cartouche of an Egyptian pharoah, bottom right, which combines marks and pictographs to make the name. This could be inserted whenever needed, like a modern word. In general, though, alll of these were carved in stone. THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS / Index / back / next Writing Script on Paper When a person wants to write in a less formal way, there are natural substitutes to carving words out of stone. Stone inscriptions are formal, so daily writing would need to be more informal. Early writers used pens made of hollow reeds, which made natural strokes that were both thin and thick. Using wet ink, the tendency is to carry one letter into the next letter. In everyday writing, the speed used for purely utilitarian purposes makes the characteristics of natural pen strokes a logical methos of changing the letter forms. So cursive writing developed and changed the way the written alphabet looked. The two main kinds of writing were the records of priests and ecclesiastics, called the hieratic scripts, and the records and transactions of business and market workers, called the demotic scripts. Below are examples of both, hieratic on the top, and demotic underneath. The forms of letters show more flowing and more casual corners in the style of demotic. Lettered on papyrus, writing was a fairly expensive and private endeavor. Not only do the informal writing alphabets become more casual, but hieroglyphics, the formal use of language, becomes more simple in its appearance, in a general way, as it is converted and used by different cultures. Below are examples of 1500 B.C. Hieroglyphics, 300 B.C. hieratic symbols, 400 B.C. demotic, and circa 1400 B.C. Cretan symbolic letters. Abstraction of the Letterforms There is an element of secrecy about writing in ancient times. This can be understood as picture writing became more refined and more abstract. Particular alphabets might be designed and elaborated upon, but the abstract elements might only be legible to the priests. In commerce and trade along the Mediterranean, though, the need to understand and recognize characters developed into a need for similarity of symbols. The great culture of Phoenicia was to use simplified forms, similar to the Cretan alphabet. Greece would follow this lead. Suddenly, many of the familiar pictorial roots have vanished. The formal letters are based on the simple design elemments: the circle, the straight vertical stroke, the diagonals from upper left or from upper right. The similarity in the Phoenician (upper) and the Greek (lower) can be seen. Phoenician reading style is right to left, Greek reading is from left to right. The Greek alphabet included the development of vowel sounds by inventing characters for vowels. Whole words could be constructed of vowels and consonants from sound of words, rather than from the letterforms available. Everyday script in Greek has an abstract, designed appearance. This is not merely an abstract decoration but seems to flow from the letterforms themselves, and how the pen moves as the hand writes letters. this allows for recognition of the more formal letters imbedded in the everyday forms. The Greek alphabet became more adaptive in its recognizability, but also more universal becasue of the abstraction away from picture writing. The Roman Empire Roman letters are quite readable today. Used for foraml inscriptions on stone monuments, we can discover that the basic letters have survived as long as the monuments. The letters were constructed with formal rules. Serifs, looking like little flags at the end of strokes, signify with certainty the end of the stroke. In design terms, serifs enhance baselines of the letters, and the serif itself in a smaller proportion of rational design, has a curve of a specific radius. These rules provide recognition and elegance. The thickness or thiness of a stroke is generally based on a square cut pen held at a certain angle, which yields various thickness strokes as the pen draw, for instance, a capital "O". In addition, lines would, if drawn with a pen, be built up with multiple strokes for the thick strokes on a letterform. The inference from these designs is that the Roman letters are rationally designed rather than naturally created by the style of the writer's hand. As the Roman Empire extended to different countries, examples of the formal letters would occur in monuments, but also in ink on paper adapted to formal proclamations. Letters would be written on paper or on parchement, and these kinds of messages increased writing. One more casual Roman letter used was the Roman Square Capital letters (below), and another was even more casual, the Roman Rustica (bottom). What this meant was that different countries, the different patterns of speech and the different words used in communicating could be recorded in the ordered, accepted, legible language of the empire. In accepting the Latin language of the empire, the people were also accepting the design methods of rational design, and the system of proportion, and the system of abstraction. Abstract, individual letters, combined in myriad ways, form the words of the Indo-European languages. This is in many ways different than the development of other ancient languages, like Chinese, which still retained the picture sources of the early alphabets. Roman Cursive and the Beginnings of Uncials As letters changed, the older Roman cursive writing (above, 50 B.C.) gave way to a more fluid appearance (below, 350 A.D.). Cursive forms of Roman are made in single strokes instead of built-up, and can be related to the writer's hand position in the slant of letters, and are related to the writer's speed in the touching of letterforms. All these design changes suggest that the geometric design might start to give way to some taller and some shorter letters, and this can be seen as some letters have ascenders. Ascending strokes and curved forms begin to appear in uncials. Uncials mean inch, and the naming means that size and width were considered as possible improvements in the rules of letter-making. Instead of drawing a line above and a line below for guides, uncials and half-uncials require four guidelines. They also predict a coming improvement to legibility, the development of lowercase letters. Uncials Used for Church Purposes The peculiar variation of curved letters whose design comes from cursive is the uncial letters, the other influence that the Roman empire had on lettering. This is a design quite independent of the formal look of the official alphabet, and yet more decorative than common cursive. Used in documents associated with the Christian Church, uncials show more changes leading to the development of lower case letters. Ascenders and descenders are obvious in the uncials below. Half uncials, one step closer to a true lower case, show various changes. Clearly, the baseline and top line have a line added in between. While thin and thick strokes are present, some of the thick strokes are made by pushing the pen. The technique of doing this pen=pushing instead of pen stroking is not a built up letter, but it results in more thickness than a single stroke, and it is more dramatic, and more artistic than the usual cursive. Note that the t is not a cross. Note also that the enlarged capital could be decorated with gold or a color other than black, and that the partial serifs are decorative. The most peculiar letter is the s, which would be seen only in old manuscripts, and has a tall, thin shape reaching the ascender line. This s would survisve for a while in Germany. Non-Roman Lettering during the Empire In some countries, a sort of official lettering was developed that did not change with Roman writing. Lasting as long as the 1300's, some Scandinavian alphabets were more ancient. The shape of these runes, or runic hands, is created by simplified strokes. A few straight and diagonal lines in combinations form most of the letters. They really are not letters of an abstract alphabet, but instead are like picture-writing in their compositions. They are signs, sued like magical symbols, which is an extreme hieratic form. An example of a country near the Roman Empire but separate would be Ireland, where, after Christianity, a kind of modern uncial was developed. In it can be seen more evidence that separateness could occur in a nation that might not follow the empire style. The Irish Church developed uncials that rmind us of the runic style of the Scandinavians in the straightness of the letters and the too-much-importance of the serifs. They, however, have an extreme decoration and variation in the enlarged captial letters, which twist and are dotted with a pen that is pointed, all separate from the smooth flow of an angled pen used in cursive, but like the form of cursive letters in the eveness of the stroke of the general text. This style is seen in a sample from around 800 A.D. Irish, French and German Writing Variation son writing in Irish uncials influenced the English. The look of the Anglo- Saxons lettering includes some use of runes, like in the letter w, and it has a peculiar combination of tall, thin letters, pointed serif-like extensions, and almost always a mildly italic slant. In the sample below, notic the severity of the m and n. Word spacing is more controlled, but the letters have lost the Roman rules of elegance. Ligatures, ties from letter to letter, have become an important design element. While this is a tendency in all cursive, here it looks like more care is given to the connecting of letters than to the relative proportion between letters. The lower sample shows Merovingian lettering. In Merovingian writing the ligatures become as thick as the letter strokes, and cause distortion of the letters themselves, as do the extremely long ascender strokes. In the sense of legibility, this was a degeneration. Beginning with Clovis in 700 A.D., the leader, and his Merwig dynasty, and lasting until Charlemagne, France continued to use this peculiar writing. Developing in Germany, and eventually replacing Merovingian, the letters become thicker in the East Frankish alphabet. One reason is the looped ascender in l, h, and d. Another is the pointed and gradually thickening top of ascenders as in the k. The broad strokes and broad letters make it necesssary to draw in word separations, which is a natural choice because of the wider and wider letters, taking more and more space. If normal word spaces were left, the lettering would fill too much horizontal distance too quickly. Yet the influence on the Carlovingian lettering is clear. As Charlemagne was credited with improving many things in literacy and books and writing, something would develop that makes Carlovingian important in the alphabet, and that is the miniscule, or small letters. Carlovingian Uniformity In 789 A.D. Carl ordered that all important documents and all recopied documents be rewritten in one font and style. This was the Carlovingian hand, and it established order in writing ovedr a large geographic area. Writers in the past had been scholars, but in order for writing to develop, more people has to read and also write. The ethnography needed to be ordered, as well, through the development of language types, and that is clear. The upper sample is from the first German book. This sort of development helped miscellaneous Germanic peoples form a unified country. The technology changed from a braod ree pen to a quill pen, making possible the smaller lettering. Looking at the thin and thick stroke combinations, weight of the hand and pressure on the pen is maore important thatn slant of the chisel-edge of a reed pen. Notice the lower sample as it shows great consistency in a line of letters. This sample from Tours in the 800's shows uniform ascenders, a uniform x height for the small letters, and enlarged capitals at the beginning of a line. Uniformity like this is one reason the letters are thought of as a miniscule hand. The miniscule is of great importance to legibillity, and in reading large groups of text, it makes the reader move quickly from looking at lettering as magical art to the ideas encoded in the writing. Gothic The period from 1200 to1500 can be called Gothic. Gothic writing was mostly a writing style developed from Carlovingian. With the rise of the Italian Renaissance, Italian classicists woould be stylistically inspired by ancient Greek and Roman sources, and therefore would not openly accepts the Gothic, but would seek to move away from Gothic. As in architecture, where the rounded arch based on a circle gave way to the pointed arch, lettering designed changes in individual letters. Look for the oval shape ending in a point on the top. Look for the letter O, once rounded, to be constructed of angled, straight strokes which seem to break the smooth curve. Letters that have ascenders, in order to keep the letter square, have shorter ascenders. Similarly, the full space in the center of some letters is compressed so that the letters in a word, and in a page, move toward "black-face". In a revival of calligraphy and book-making, and printing by hand from wood blocks, William Morris and others in the late 1800's would look back with nostalgia to Gothic lettering and try to emulate its aesthetics. From a different point of view, the modern technology of the gothic included the use of miniscules and majescules with the already established decorative initials. Early Gothic Initials from 1200 to Durer The first example shows initials from 1100 A.D. In these, the general body of the capital letter shows a form similar to uncials, but the space inside and around is decorated with many inventions. The second sample has elaboration in the ends of the strokes that is quite fanciful and inventive. These decorations establish the majescule initials as a chance to invent designs. In the three samples below, from the 1300's, 1400's and 1500's, the evolution can be seen. The whole curves above, change into broken curves, middle, until, lower, the curves are confined and the letter is made dense by repetion of the vertical strokes, and the almost angular "broken" curves. This last type sample, designed by Albrecht Durer, show that the consmopolitan travels of this German artist were influenced by his contact with the Italian Renaissance and its rules. Even if Durer was not about to design a Greek or Roman copy, he too could rely on rules of proportions based on numbers. All five examples on this page show the use of an initial, or large fancy letter, to get a reader's attention. The miniscules that followed and led to lower case legibility were much more patterned and ordered. The texture of a page was seen as dark and staccato, interrupted at the lead lettter of a selection. This is clearly a counterpart to bulleted paragraphs used in organizational writing by business in the 20th century. Initials were clearly seen as decorative, and they could be drawn in colors or gold-leaf, they could be carefully drawn with a pointed pen and built up, in some cases, since multiple pen strokes were already in use to create the complicated forms. The second to the last example is often seen in church documents, or on diplomas, of the 20th century. Cursive Styles Influencing Early Type These samples are from the early 1400's, the years immediately preceeding Gutenberg and the movable type used for his first Bible. In the three samples of cursive writing, notable similarities to the Carlovingian letters exist, while many of the stylistic changes are derived from the fact that the cursive writing is an everyday writing that had to be written quickly. Writing was done by paid professional writers, of whom speed was demanded. The first sample is French. Notice the long tail on the "h", the long "s", and the sweep on the ascender of the "d". These are Carlovingian, not specifically Gothic. The second sample is German, and, while slanted generally right like all cursive, uses a rather left-slanted exxaggeration as the letters. are connected. Broadly wriotten curves are apparently drawn and give the form its style. The third sample shows a more upright letter, similar to Irish-Saxon writing, with more conservative and more gothic looking letters, largely because the flow from letter to letter is less. These letters are more straight, and are also quickly written. The first movable type was drawn and engraved by artists familiar with cursive writing and Gothic. There waould be no ligatures connecting letters, and few small, thin strokes that characteristically accompany cursive writing. Letters are more upright, and a specific formal space is created on the printed page when all individual letters match all other uses of those same letters on the page. Humanistic Writing The writing of the Renaissance provided cross-fertilization of ideas in Italy that extended back to the Germans and French and English who visited Italy. In copying of the Greek and Roman manuscripts, the scribes took delight in the forms of the ancient Roman letters. The modifications in cursivve writing were made to the standards of what the Renaissance writers thought was Roman - the Carlovingian cursive. Althoguh it was from almost 800 A.D., this revival of the old was meant to replace the Gothic. Anything Italian, from the Renaissance to the present, became known as humanist. Characteristics are the long s and the limiting of ligatures to the c and t, a general loss of adornment and decoration, and a precise writing. Used in manuscripts commisioned by the wealthy princes of Italy, humanist books were a prpearation for the look of printed books that were to dominate in a few hundred years. The below sample shows a writing style with italic slant that has longer ligatures. Current cursive writing like this was the other style surviving from the Renaissance. Used as a current kind of cursive, it was written more quickly, and it was a survivor even after the invention and use of movable type. Movable type looked to the more solid cursive, the absence of decoration, and the removal of ligatures, while humanistic hands of writers used compact lettering. The need for writers even after movable type can be understood as a function of the time that it took to set type. While a book was a large production, and the amount of time justified the many copies, some writing did not need to be editioned in large quantities, and although lengthy in its text, would not justify the time needed for setting type. Legal and business uses demaned a type like the sample below. And one other profession benefitted from the practice of constantly drawing letters - the typographer, or type designer. Spanish Writing Masters The masters of writing were those who prepared important documents, like the official maps or royal documents. These are often seen by history students or the curious students of the voyages of discovery. In Spain, the direct influence on type design can be seen in Antiqua type, a Roman-style alphabet, and in the lower sample, the 1577 Griffo type designed by Francesco Lucas. Notice the swash captials of the type below. When set, the swashes alone make a variation on the regular italic slant of the alphabet. Resultingly, the type look grandiose, which would be suitable for the Spanish sense of bravado during the age of discovery and conquest. French Masters and Writing Like the Spanish writing masters, the French styles contributed their idea of grandeur in the flourishes with which capitals are constructed. The lettering is the kind used for formal script today on wedding announcements, and it was in fact used for documents and financial records in France in the era of the musketeers. Soon after the samples shown, the pointed pen would come into wide replacement use for the traditional square-cut pen The pointed pen would be a good tool with which to draw circular scripts, and in that case, the diffiulcty would be to get adequate thickness, but it could be done by returning to built-up letters. Some did, and some did not, using pen presure alone with the steel pen to create varied thickness. The result of this was an engraving-like grace in tapering thickness letters, which would in turn, and much later, lead to "pen-manship", the peculiar and almost universally taught methods of writing using a fountain pen with wet ink that was practised in the United States in the 1850-1940 era. Around 1638, the style of Ronde had developed into what is seen below. Notice upward rotation of the c and s. More immediately, French lettering would be an influence on hand-set type styles, since the pen-lettering was copied by engravers. an the engravers would ultimately cut new fonts of type to be used with the movable type. In the Lettre italienne bastarde below, the French changed the Italian script upon which this is based. It includes elaborate flourishes that almost go off the page. THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS / Index / back / next Old Style and the Older Style of William Morris Around the 1830's, there wer two kinds of type development. One was based on the Roman inscriptions, and any variation on Roman became known as "Old-style". This was to separate newer types of the time from other Roman fonts that had gradually been developed from Roman and other humanist hands in peculiar combinations. So old style was used to explain a return to the less vertical, well-proportioned letters of th antiquity. The other kind of type that was popular was based on an extremely upright and vertical type that was loosely based on changes in the script and on French and Spanish writing masters, but became known as modern. Both kinds of type, developed by excellent engravers, tried to be part of the post-industrial world by using photographic studies to plan their variations. There was, however, another kind of developemnt that returned the look to gothic in the sense of the texture of the page. In the English Arts and Crafts Movement, Richard Morris is the name closely associated with the revival of all crafts from the medieval period of history. While the industrial and mechanical age had made possible machine production of items like clothing, here was someone advocating a return to hand coloring of cloth and hand weaving of cloth. Hand methods were better, and a better way of life. His uses of type use a heavy serif at the base of letters, and a close spacing that makes a page remind one of blakc-face Gothic from the times of Gutenberg at least. The story of Robin Hood, printed by Morris, takes on a new kind of antique look, as the book illustrators of the time and writers and typesetters all contributed to make works of art that were expensive, inefficient in the means and methods of production, and gave an indication of the return of some literary activities to the business and pleasures of the wealthy. Victorian ideas of special art for the upper class and utility for the rest of the world established that highly mechanized type would become the look for business and for everyone, but that luxury art items were for the wealthy and required a sort of honorary aesthetic nostalgia. THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS / Index / back / next Modern Letters of the Greek and Egyptian Form The upper part of the sample on this page is called fat-face, and it was modern n the sense that it wasn't a text type but a display font. The influence was still present in advertising signs in the 1930's in the United States. It is made nby exaggerating the thin parts of letters by making them thinner, and the thick parts by making them thicker. The middle sample is based on fat-face and also on the development of Egyptian archeology, which eventually would lead to the finding of Tut's tomb and all of its treasures, which would make everyone crazy about emulating an ancient culture. But in the 1800's the Egyptian interest was in architectural heaviness. Egyptian letters do not seem to care about the Roman originals, and distort them, with shapes similar to obilisks or tombs, and heavy serifs. The last face on this sample is a revival of Greek letters, also meant to eliminate the thick and thin in favor of the thick and dense, and at the same time, dropping the serif entirely. As a display font, this made an interesting innovation in the 1800's. But sans serif fonts would become the norm in modern-looking fonts used for text in the 20th century. This, then, becomes the model for modern types. Modern Types for Text Furura is a type of the future since it is such a big change. Perhaps the single most successful type change of the 20th Century was the widespread use of Helvetica for text in advertising, which is to say a sans-serif type used as if it were as legible as a Roman face. The success of Helvetica depends directly ofn developments in the 1920-1940 period when a san-serif was developed that could be used for text amd not just for display. The top sample is Futura, and the bottom sample is an Egyptian font using no tapers or thin and thicks. In both types, there is a clear sense that instead of letters looking different from each other, they look like they all belong to a same class. Design has made each letter as important as every other letter. If you think about it, this makes reading a sort of word-processing that a reader does as they scan a page smoothly. Pens and Calligraphy During early writing experiments, there was a problem with materials. An ink could easily be made of berry juice or the soot from a fire, and for a pen, a stick could be flattened to a chisel edge, but as more writing was done, some other methods were tried. One was to scratch words into wax, or into clay tablets. If not fired in an oven, the clay would wash away. In order to make some forms of writing more permanent, attempts to write on monuments made of stone resulted in the carving of te famous Roman initial letters. If carving letters in stone seems like an interesting idea for a project, prepare for hard work over a long period of time. Most lettering or writing was done on paper, or its predecessor, the drided animal skin. Most pens were cut from reeds, like the tall grasses found by the river bank. Cutting a pen is not difficult. The hollow reed was sliced at about a thirty degree angle. Then the reed was shaped to a point from above, and a split was made in the longitudinal center. Then refinements were made to the sides. Since the pen was hollow, it held ink in the tubular center, that, when applied to paper, would flow down the slit. A refinement was to make the edge a short, flat point called a chisel edge, and made normal writing a combination of thin and thick lines. Today's markers or pencils are an improvement because there will be no messy clean-up. But to emulate a scribe with a pen, hold your writing tool at a 45 degree angle off the surface of the paper. Now also angle the tool so that it forms, from above, a 17 degree angle to the side. From above, someone looking down at you would think you were going to write crookedly. But that is the natural position for the hand when writing on paper with a pen. The early attempts at writing Roman capitals with a pen required multiple strokes to make a thick vertical or and even thicker curve. To trace a letter several times to make it thicker means that writing in built-up letters was slow. So cursive styles were soon developed. Cursive styles, like handwriting of today, had ligatures carrying the line from letter to letter. Letters were slanted. But most important, style of lettering became a form of expression. Styles became suited to the culture of the time. As a general principle, strokes were used to make letters, and as the hand moved from left to right across the page, letters were formed from circular strokes, vertical strokes, and diagonals. So-called one-stroke letters are not really made of one stroke. For instance, a lower case C would be made of one curving stroke down and to the right, but the very top is completed by adding a second stroke at the top going down to the right. A lower case S is made by making a patial arc at the top, and arc at the bottom, and then a double curve connecting the upper left to the lower right. On the other hand, a W is made by five distinct strokes none of which were overlapped or built-up. THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS / Index / back / next Typesetting by Hand When setting type by hand could be done with movable type, the influence of the printed page became enormous. What was good before was the elite handwriting of official scribes, working on relatively few documents of high quality. Only the wealthy had books, and other documents of an everyday character were constantly limited in audience and quality. The biggest immediate influence was that hand set type provided superb designs of what seemed to be perfect designs to a great number of people. Movable type would have other ramifications, including its limits. In general terms, instead of writing masters producing the small number of the best designs for a small, local audience, a few printing masters produced a few great designs for a big audience. Focus was not on every king or duke having a writing master, but on every small city having a foundry for type and a press to print upon. The widespread exchange of ideas caused excitement as many literate people could have freedom to read and treasure well-designed books, art and ideas. The method of using had-set type soon became quite standardized. A foundry in Rome would have a master engraver produce a master set of letters, from which a number of copies were cast in lead. These letters were then the raw material. The composer would look at a piece of text, and laboriously begin to take each needed letter out of a box and set down a letter at a time. Soon a word was finished. A space was added, and more letters were composed until another word was finished, and finally a line. A pieces of metal called a lead was placed down horizontally, and then a new line was begun. After the entire text of a page was finished, these letters were locked into place on a press. Ink was applied with a roller, paper was laid on top, and the entire business was pressed in a press. The printer printed all the pages needed, one at a time. When the job was done, the type was cleaned and sorted, and the next page could be printed. This was one of the advantages of movable type, as it could be recycled without any loss of quality, and a sort of factory could be created which was more efficient than even a group of monks working in a monastery to produce books. The foundry in Rome that cast the font would sometimes pass the font on to other cities, and sometimes a printer would get another master's font back in return to use in addition to the Roman foundry's font. As fonts could be engraved from a writing mster's best ideas, design was improved an made more accessible. What became of the writing master? At first and for some time, the writing master's job was safe since some thing were printed and others were hand-written. These masters eventually became the designers of fonts. A great deal of specializatiion came about in the printing idndustry, as the jobs of setting type, composing pages, proofing type before printing, printing type, and binding the pages all were skills in the divided workplace. But eventually the large number of writing scribes was reduced. There were no successful typesetting machines until the 20th Century, and even until 1960, many printing jobs were not computerized. But when jobs were computerized, the setting of type by hand was almost non-existent, composing by hand was almost non-existent, and mechanization was everywhere. THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET, TYPES, AND FONTS Index / back / Type Measurements When the movable type was first used, nothing was standard, and as it continued in use, many skills of the many people involved arrived at certain standards of measurement. Names for things were also standardized, so the vocabulary of typesetting is one that has, in part, survived. From the days of handset type come many of the terms describing fonts. Even if we use a word-processor on which to type, we use these terms: font, style, size of type, leading, centered, flush left, and so on. Look at old pieces of lead type used in handsetting.. On the back is a little nick or indentation that helped the setter know which side of the type was up. Word-processors do not use nicks, and so that is one term that did not survive. . Even on the top and bottom of old pieces of type, there is a little space above and below a capital letter. This means that even if the type is called 12 point, the capital letter is not actually 12 points from top to bottom On a piece of type, each letter has a little space to the left and right. This is true today so that letters on a word processor do not bump into each other, and it was an actual enlargement of the lead type built into it in a phycsical way. This is what we consider standard letter-spacing today. A typesetter would know easily that the capital letter is wider than a lower case letter, but also that some upper case letters are wider than other upper case letters. But type has a uniformity, within a font, of size and that is in the vertical dimension. Even upper case and lower case of a 12 point type are the same, simply because the lead type pieces have the same vertical measure. When you want to write a new paragraph on a word processor, you indent. When you want a space between words, you simply hit another spacebar and go on. But the hand typesetter did not. They put in a special type high square of lead for an indentation for paragraphs, This was called the EM quad. If they wanted to separate a word, they put in a lead piece with a reelationship to the quad, usually a 1/4 or a 1/3 width of the quad, called respectively, a three em or a four em. Spaces between lines of handset type were called leads because a lead strip was locked in under the type. Today we call this leading also, even if we don't use lead strips. We put in additional leading of three points or four points. To summarize the measurements of type, the width of letters is not uniform for every letter, but lines are set to a certain horizontal measure, called line length. Line length is measured in picas. Vertical measurements are the same for each letter in a font, and are measured in points. Since there are 72 points in an inch, it is roughly true to say that 36 point type is about one half inch high. The X height of a letter is the vertical measure of, for instance, a lower case a, and it goes from the baseline to somewhere near the middle of the vertical height. A capital rests on the baseline and goes up to the ascender line. A lower case y goes down to the descender line. If normal leading is used, nothing special is written, but when an extra space is used, leading is described in terms of the total of the vertical height of the type plus the height of the leading. The description 12/15 means that each line is 15 points in vertical measurements, made up of the 12 point letter and its three addition leading points. 12/15 is read "Twelve on Fifteen." While the measure of vertical height is done in points, it is also referred to as depth in the page. Each line is described as having a depth of, say, 13 points. Lines have horizontal measurements, too. The horizontal measurement is called the length of a line. Line length is always measured in picas. Between the line length and the depth of a line, the vocabulary describes a limit on how many words could possibly exist in a given space. Many people used to calculate how much copy would fit on a page, since it took too long to set up all the type by hand, just to find out how much would fit. You could calculate it for a piece of paper arranged in the landscape style in the method described in the following sentences. Don't dismay if you get lost. If you had a piece of paper that was 8 1/2 by 11 inches, you could actually determine how many words could fit on the page by counting the number of lines that would fit in a vertical way, and the number of characters that would fit in a horizontal way. If line depth is 24 points for each line, becasue the type size is 20 points and four points of leading are used, you can get about 25 lines on a page. If you found that you can get 1 point 2 characters in eaach pica of length, you find that your page with a total lenght of 132 picas has a possibility of fitting 110 characters. If your writing style averages about 14 characters per word, you can get only about 7 and 1/2 words on a line. Multiplying the 7.5 by the 25 lines you get a resulting 187 words on that page. If you want blank margins, you would get even fewer words. Just as in the days when movable type was first used and some handwriting with pen survived, today there are remnants of the old days of handsetting type. There are some artist/artisans who practice handsetting. There are some businesses that use composition machines that set type photographically. And there are some printers that are totally automatic and computerized. Even though handsetting is relatively rare, type terms and measurements have survived and are still in common use. You may also reflect that printing on a screen of a computer is another new way of presenting information to a wide audience. I wonder if there will be pixels in the future? I wonder how many pixels are in an inch?
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