Listen to part of a lecture in a modern printing class.
Good evening. Everyone ready? Okay. To night we will discuss some of the details of the modern printing process. I will begin with the changes in the printing process introduced in the 19th century. First of all, does anyone know the first step a 19th-century printer had to do in order to print something?
I haven't a clue.
Well, make sure you take good notes then. Okay, the first step in the 19th-century printing process was to create the typeset. Let me explain. By the 19th century, printers began using what we now call the hot metal typeset. Hot metal typesetting is a method, um, of creating a relief printing surface by injecting a molten metal alloy into a matrix.
Ma'am, I don't want to sound uninformed, but, ah, what's an alloy?
You're kidding? Hmm. An alloy is simply a mixture of metals to create a new metal. Anyways, this alloy was typically an alloy of lead, tin, and a small amount of antimony. The resulting lines of type could range in size from 6 pt. to 24 pt. It was pioneered by the companies Monotype and Linotype in the late 19th century, and their typesetting machines dominated the industry for the next century.
You mean they were using this in the 20th century?
Oh sure. Remember, computers weren't commonplace in the printing industry until the 1980s. Anyways, moving along, the Linotype machine uses a 90-character keyboard to create an entire line of metal type at once. This allows much faster printing than with the Gutenburg style system, um, in which operators placed down one letter at a time. The machine revolutionized newspaper publishing, making it possible for a relatively small number of operators to set type for many pages on a daily basis.
You mean this was the first new printing process since Gutenburg?
Correct. Let me explain how it works. This new process was produced by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1886. His Linotype machine was 2.1 meters tall. First of all, a typesetter would put the letter molds to be used to form a line on a page. Once an entire line of molds was assembled, the machine poured moiten type metal, which is an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, into the stacked-up molds. This produced a complete line of type in reverse, so it would read properly when used to transfer ink onto paper. The lines of type were then assembled by hand into a page. Are we good so far?
You mean this was all done by hand?
Naturally. But the most difficult process was punch cutting.
Well, what's that?
Well, the cutting of letter punches was a highlyskilled craft requiring much patience and practice. The punch-cutter began by, um, transferring the outline of a letter design to one end of a metal bar. Do you understand?
Yeah, it sounds pretty basic.
Good. Okay. Next, the outer shape of the letter punch could be cut directly, but the internal curves of a small punch were particularly difficult, as it was necessary to cut deep enough and straight into the metal. This was almost never done with cutting tools, so they used what is called a counterpunch, which is a type of punch used in the cutting of other punches.
You mean they used a counterpunch to cut into the letter punch? Exactly.Of course, the counterpunch had to be harder than the letter punch itself. This was accomplished by heat tempering the counterpunch and softening the type punch. Once the punches were read, um, a mold could then be created from the punch by using the punch on a softer metal, like copper, to create a matrix. Then, the type metal, that alloy of lead, antimony, and tin, flowed into the matrix to produce a single piece of type, ready for typesetting. One characteristic of type metal that makes it valuable for this use is that it expands as it cools, filling in any gaps present in the thinner portions of letters. I hope I didn't confuse anyone. Does everyone get this? Great!