The History of Typesetting

Typesetting History photo

Typesetting refers to designing a paper publication like a book, newspaper, or magazine. Considered an art, it involves placing and arranging letters to print on a page. Typesetting was initially done by hand, a very tedious process! The physical letters had different fonts which were strategically placed before printing. Over time, machines made manual typesetting quicker. However, people still had to organize the letters manually. Now, digital software has streamlined design, making it faster and a much more creative process.

Back in the day, Green Dragon had a large typesetting machine in our headquarters. Even with a large machine, the process was grueling. We had a full-time employee or compositor responsible for our typesetting. The office had walls lined with filing cabinets of book development paperwork. Looking back on it, we find it amazing because everything can now fit on a thumb drive or external hard drive. Now, we use graphic designers for book design since the process has evolved.

Here is a brief history of typesetting:

Johannes Gutenberg was a German printer and publisher who started the Printing Revolution. He invented wooden typesetting and the mass production process for moveable, mechanical machines. In 1450, he ran a printing press and is said to have first printed a German poem. The press printed 180 Gutenberg Bibles in 1455 using wooden typesetting machines.

In the late 1800s, hot-metal typesetting machines were developed, including linotype and monotype. In 1906, Ludlow Typograph Company began manufacturing lower-priced machines. Many newspapers and publishing houses used these systems during that era. In the early 1960s, photosetting was developed. This newer method made it easier to do typesetting. Older and larger typesetting machines were replaced with photosetting terminals.

In 1868, the first commercial typewriter got a patent and became common. Glidden’s Caligraph was the first to have QWERTY keys, and the Remington had the first shift keys. Having the shift key helped capitalize letters. These early typewriters were extremely heavy, sometimes weighing 30 lbs. Inventors saw an opportunity to make portable ones. Another necessity was electricity, and the first known one was The Cahill in 1900. Portable typewriters were popular from the late 1930’s-early ’60s. In the late 1950s, portable electric typewriters became available. Typewriters then morphed into word processing machines, which had digital features.

Starting in 1961 and through the late ’70s, IBM manufactured digital typesetting machines. These machines were popular and used through the 1980s. Then, minicomputer typesetting software was developed. In 1985, a word processing software program, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), came to the forefront. Apple adopted this concept of desktop publishing (DTP) on their Mac computers. Xerox followed suit with Ventura Publisher, which cost less than the minicomputers. QuarkXPress was also another popular DTP program during the late 20th century.

Then, Microsoft Word was developed and still holds significant relevance today. Other software programs like WordPerfect and Wang were released, as well. By 2000, publishers were able to do the design and typesetting all on computers. Typewriters and word processors were also replaced by desktops and laptops. You can still purchase typewriters today if you want one. For design, the notable software program is Adobe’s InDesign. We have been grateful for modern technology. Publishing books is still complicated but has become less labor and capital intensive over the years.