History of Typography



On the 21. of March the CCC published a conversation with Thomas Maier on the history of typography at a glance. Starting with the early evolving of script and the application of copper engraving Thomas Maier exemplifies the invention of book-printing and Gutenberg’s printing technique. Moreover he talks about technical specifications and about some related topics like copyright and standard paper formats. He later describes the transition from using Line-setting systems to the usage of punched tape, telegraphic systems and typewriters and further the offset print and Phototypesetting. Finally he comes to the chapter of digitalized fonts.

From 1900 on it was just when the variety of type-designs grew with the replacement of the lead and not before 1965 the script became digital while Photocomposition was the latest font-setting technique. Through photo-scans fonts could be fragmented into multiple points. One of the first systems for that was Rudolf Hell’s ‘Digiset’. In 1975 Fonts got described through digital data with the help of the Ikarus-system. Originally this system was used to cut letters with a cutting machine to achieve stencil-like films for Phototypesetting.

Here letters could be described through Bezier curves by defining the position and kind of each point on the letter-shape and this input data was then stored on punched tape. This technique enabled the calculation of bitmaps from vector images which could be directly applied to the Photocomposition. From this approach later in the 80ies PostScript evolved.

Nevertheless Thomas Maier sees the decisive turning point for the development towards digital font in automated punch-cutting via a pantograph during the industrial revolution. For the first time script was seen as being specified by its contour. Before that a letter was ‘a plane thing’, with punch-cutting the translation of the line that was to mill defined the shape. This view was required to invent Linotype and the digitalizing for the Ikarus system.

In the 80ies a combination of corporate activities result in the development of a series of font formats. Apple introduces the personal computer, Adobe implements the programming language PostScript for the description of site contents such as format, graphics and font. Later Adobe releases PDF, Aldus designs Pagemaker and with its release establish Desktop Publishing. Eventually Linotype supplies a driver for PostScript.

Because of Licensing Apple develops a own font format which technically and mathematically was akin PostScript and that lead to the release of the TrueType format Type 1. Then some more TrueType formats and Opentype were to follow before PostScript finally became open source.
Opentype is unique as it has a two-way method to treat script. For the first time character and glyph, i.e. meaning and form, were seen as independent. This made a range of micro-typographic issues such as ligatures possible.