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The Printer's Devil

I'm doing a lot of work on print materials these days, from posters to books to brochures, and so off I went the last couple weeks for an introduction to InDesign, the Adobe typesetting and layout program. The instructor has been in the business for 20+ years, and had a lot of typesetter's trivia and historical anecdotes to share with the class, so I figured I'd give them a wider audience.

Mind you, some of them sound like typesetter's urban legends to me, but the teacher swears they are All True....
  • Gutenberg's First Million: Johannes Gutenberg didn't make his fortune from selling printed bibles (actually he went bankrupt in that venture). No, he made his fortune selling printed indulgences. Before his movable type made it easier to create printed forms with a blank for the priest to fill in the sinner's name, each indulgence was written out by hand. When they used Gutenberg's version, he got 2% from every indulgence in that bishopric. So yes, Gutenberg invented the printed form. Bureaucrats everywhere rejoiced.
  • Points of a Quill: You may be familiar with "points" of type, as in 10 pt Times Roman or 14 pt Arial or whatever. The unit of measure comes from the early days of printing (and from Gutenberg). A scribe could use a quill pen to make about 72 ink marks per inch, so that's the unit they applied to typefaces. The unit isn't just for ink, either: the 72 pixels per inch of the Web derive from the typesetting measurement.
  • Inches and Thumbs: The inch is derived from the inch bone in your thumb, which is always 1/12th the length of your foot. It's the larger thumb bone, and makes a good approximate ruler if you need one.
  • Reading and Heartbeats: The eye is able to read tiny black marks on paper or pixels on screen because it stays very steady — and yet, the retina also requires that blood flow to it and to the very sensitive muscles that control the eye's movements. So sensitive that the eye can move in widths measured as roughly 1/10 the width of a human hair. When the muscle twitches (even just from the influx of blood in the veins), our vision blurs. So the brain compensates, and we don't read when our eye moves. Instead, those are the built in pauses in our reading.
  • Em-Spaces: These are just as silly as they sound: the width of the largest capital letter in the Roman alphabet, as wide as a capital "M".
Anyway, lots of weirdnessin the typesetting world, but I'm happy to have learned some new skills and old history. Hurray for movable type!


( 8 sutras — Your wisdom )
Jan. 31st, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC)
Em and en are my favorite Scrabble words 'cause no one suspects that they're real words. :)
Jan. 31st, 2007 09:17 pm (UTC)
Your secret is safe with me! :)
Jan. 31st, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
Gutenberg and quills
It is kind of nice to think that one technology carries over to the next one over hundreds of years! That is called tradition.
Jan. 31st, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)

I wonder where the fonts came from. I mean, who decided that ARIAL was a way to read, and not just a trick on a bike? And do ALGERIANs really type that way?

At Boeing, it's all Arial and/or Helvetica, depending on whether you're typing documentation (the meat of the work) or bulletins and pamphlets (which need to look a little stylish). Times New Roman is a sin at this company, apparently.

Feb. 1st, 2007 02:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, all the san serif fonts are excellent for on-screen reading (which is what I assume Boeing is doing). I had a manager for a while who insisted that all email to him be sent as Arial 10 pt. If it was something else, he wouldn't read it. A little extreme.

All the research does show that serif fonts are better for reading printed matter (the serifs lead the eye to recognize entire word-shapes faster), but the serifs don't display cleanly on-screen.
Jan. 31st, 2007 11:31 pm (UTC)
Two more:

"Mind your Ps and Qs" - The letters on movable type are, of course, reversed from how you want them to print. When looking at a lowercase "p", you tend to see a "q". It's easy to mix them if you're not careful.

"Upper and lower case letters" - The large tray in which you store your sorted movable type was a type case. Capitals were usually sorted into the top half of the case and the rest into the bottom half.

Feb. 1st, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
Oh, to have had multiple lessons in InDesign over several weeks! Such luxury! Our company recently switched us from PCs to Macs, which I had not used since I worked at WotC back in '95.

We were given all of four hours of training on all apsects of the use of the Mac versus PC, and all aspects of InDesign as compared to Quark (which I had also learned by being "thrown into middle of the pond" so to speak). That's four hours total, mind, not for each different subject. And of course, our Quark system hadn't been updated since Quark 4... so there's been a bit of a learning curve...
Feb. 1st, 2007 02:09 am (UTC)
Ouch. Yeah, the basics are easy, but the InDesign pen tool is sort of a beast.

And I'm still figuring out the fine points of image double frames: just today I got a nice trick to work on a poster design, but... it took a while.
( 8 sutras — Your wisdom )

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