All typographic decisions - the choice of the type, the choice of size and leading, the calculation of margins and the ...

by Robert Bringhurst
Date: 2006
Posted in News

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All typographic decisions - the choice of the type, the choice of size and leading, the calculation of margins and the shaping of the page - involve assumptions about the printing. It is well to find out in advance whether these assumptions stand any chance of being fulfilled. Good printers have much else to teach their clients, and the best typographer can always find something to learn. But the path from the editor's desk to the press-room floor remains a journey often fraught with danger and surprise. The reason is that it is frequently a journey between economic realms. On the one side, a singular thing, a manuscript, moves slowly through the hands of individual human beings - author, editor, typographer - who make judgements and decisions one by one, and who are free (for a time at least) to change their minds. On the other side, an immensely expensive commodity (blank paper) passes at great speed and irreversibly through and immensely expensive machine.

Digital methods have helped to bring editing, typography and type design back, in some respects, to the close relationship they enjoyed in the golden age of letterpress. But everything the writer, type designer, editor and typographer do is still contingent on the skills and methods of the printer - and while typography, for many, has returned to cottage scale, printing has enlarged to the dimensions of heavy industry. The freedom afforded by cheap and standardized typesetting hardware and software also comes at a price. That price is the danger of weary sameness and thinness in all the work the typographer does. The use of standard industrial papers, inks, presses and binding machinery can easily erase whatever remains of the typographer's personal touch. Yet printing is what typography is usually thought to be for.

If only by default, it falls to the typographer more than to anyone else to bridge this gap between a world focused on the perfect final proof and the world of industrial replication. No one else works as close to the frontier as the typographer and no one has a greater need to understand what happens on both sides. The margins of books cannot be calculated correctly until the binding method is chosen, and they cannot be right in the end unless the chosen method is followed. The type cannot be chosen without coming to some decision about the kind of paper it will be printed on, and cannot look right in the end if that decision is later betrayed. A change of one eight inch in the folding patteror trim size will ruin a precisely measured page.

Yet another way to undercut the type is to print it with wrong ink. Color control is important whether or not color is used, for there are many hues of black, some veering towards red, some veering towards blue. If the paper is closer to gray or white, the black of the ink should move closer to blue. But it will be process black by default - and the density of the type will be at the mercy of the press foreman's final color adjustments - if the text and process color illustrations are printed in one go.

Ink gloss is rarely a problem on uncoated paper. On coated stock, the sheen of the ink is frequently out of control. For the sake of legibility in artificial light, inks that are used for printing text on a coated sheet should have less reflectivity than the paper, rather than more.


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