From composing stick to memory stick

I can still remember the feeling of confusion and bewilderment I had when I first stood in front of a tray of type for my first attempt at typesetting.

With the composing stick clutched in my left hand and the copy in front, I had to compose a line of type by arranging the characters upside down and back to front in the stick before transferring the line of type into the galley. When all the type had been assembled, it was inked and the image transferred onto paper. If all was well, the type was cleaned and the type was “dissed” back into the trays of type. This was how typesetting had been done since the 1450s. With a nod to the way things used to be, we proudly display letterpress style blocks in the studio today.

Ditto letterpress blocks

Today that is seen as an artisanal pursuit where strange men, and women, wax lyrical about the good old days. Little did I know that the printing industry was about to experience such a huge revolution. I have seen typesetting evolve through hot metal to cold type (phototypesetting), computer setting using vastly expensive Linotronic systems to being one of the first in the country to invest in an Apple Mac computer. We have gone from quads to Quark Xpress and from picas to pixels.

Along the way, I have seen printing become quicker, cheaper and more accessible. Today it is cheaper to print in full colour than in one or two colours. You can have your job printed quicker than the time it took to get the artwork made into printing plates 20 years ago. And the software available today allows you to create designs that were unimaginable all those years ago.

Today we can send our files from Sevenoaks to our printing hub in Manchester over the internet and within minutes that job could be on the press and back with us within 24 hours, printed in full colour in high definition at a price and quality that would knock Gutenberg’s socks off.

There's a fascinating article here about letterpress - and click here to take a look at an article about letterpress and litho printing.