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From Lines in Lead to news in print.

For 400 years or so, newspapers were printed on movable hand-set type as developed by Johann Gutenberg. A compositor selected letters from compartments of a case of type and filled spaces on lines that were part of a newspaper-page-sized form. The raised surface of the completely filled rectangular form was coated with ink and pressed against paper.

A nimble printer, the worker who handled the type, or "print," could average perhaps 50 two-inch-wide lines of type per hour. This translates to maybe 15 hours of a printer's time to hand set one page of a broadsheet. In other words, two printers were needed to make ready just one full page per day. A publisher needed 20 printers to output a 10-page paper in one day. A weekly of the same size, with an even copy flow, required four printers, each working five or six shifts a week.

The first commercially successful automated typesetting machines went into operation in the late 1880s (1886 is the date often given for Ottmar Mergenthaler's invention of the Linotype machine.) Stories and body type for advertising copy set by the hot-metal devices suddenly were outputting lines of type 10 times faster than the time-honored pace.

But while handset type was relied on less and less (headline and other off-size type was still placed by hand), until roughly the second half of this century, every newspaper continued to use the same basic letterpress process of a raised surface pressing ink against paper.

Strictly speaking, neither the Linotype nor its improved competitor, the Intertype (brought to market about 1915), was a typesetting machine. Instead of handling individual type, they produce slugs - casts from hot metal injected into brass letter molds (matrices)--of complete lines of raised characters. Within seconds of their creation, these evenly spaced lines of type are cool enough to be placed by hand, one line at a time, onto a form that ultimately is fixed to a press.

The shift from hot metal to "cold type" for lithographic offset printing began for many publications in the 1 950s and for newspapers a decade or two later.

Like the handsetters of old and Linotype operators of the last century, today's film and paste-up artists remain known as printers, not because they operate the presses but because theirs was the craft that handled the type or lines of type.

At the Edinburg, Ill., Herald-Star, editor-printer-publisher Glenn Luttrell continues to rely on an Intertype for casting lines, a Ludlow machine for producing headlines and a web-fed flatbed press. With a rectangular form fixed in place on the bed, ink that is rolled across the raised surfaces is transferred to sheets of newsprint. "I don't use plates," Luttrell says.

The rotary press, invented well before the Linotype, enables faster hotmetal printing (as in inking pages, not setting type) but requires an extra step - the duplication process known as stereotyping.

A piece of papiermache, called a mat, is placed on top of the conventional form and run through a mat roller, much the way wet clothes are passed through the wringer of an old-fashioned washing machine. When pressed against the type, the mat takes on the clear, full impression of the page of type. It becomes a mold that can be read just like a newspaper.

The stereotyper curves the mat against a metal roller, bakes it and pours molten lead into its mold. In a minute or two, a hardened heavy lead plate is extracted and locked into position on the rotary press. It's still letterpress, but it's not flatbed letterpress like that used by Luttrell and a few others. In fact, there very likely are no hot-metal periodicals left that rely on stereotyping.
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Author:Barnes, Keith
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Sep 12, 1998
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