Photo Typeface?

Hi All!! So happy to have just joined! Hopeing to pick some brains on my journey.. first question for you - does anyone here know what a ' Photo Typeface' is - I 've seen it mentioned on fontsinuse.com when researching font histories - and I can't find a definition on google or anywhere for that matter. I've also seen the term Photo-lettering - and I'm just clueless - please help??

Comments

  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 591
    edited November 17
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phototypesetting
    Photo lettering is a generic term but was also the name of a large firm in NYC.
  • Ahh! Thanks  George! Clearly I have a load to learn on type origins!
  • Photo Lettering was a company, and I would not use it as a generic term. Phototype is a generic term one can find in dictionaries. This is like the difference between the original Linotype and hot metal type. One is a brand and specific make of machinery, and a subset of the other.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,767
    Not all photo-composition was from glyph images on film fonts.
    The first wave of digital fonts in the 1970s (CRTronic, Digitek, etc.) used various methods to burn glyph shapes onto light-sensitive paper, such as arrays of miniature LEDs or beams of light directed by rapidly-moving mirrors.
    For those of you who want to go deep into this, and I mean a mind-boggling bottomless abyss, there is Frank Romano’s History of the Phototypesetting Era.
  • It's fascinating how often phototype is omitted from design history education (at least in the US). So many are taught that we went straight from metal/wood to digital, ignoring the 1960s–1990s when a good percentage of printed material was produced with phototype. (And also transfer type, AKA Letraset.)

    One reason, I suppose, is that it is a complicated history. As Mark and Nick allude, there were hundreds of phototype machines produced over this short stretch, most of which required their own font formats. But this transition was super important, both in terms of typesetting (size agnostic, spacing flexibility, effects, etc.) and type design (there was an explosion of new typefaces, many of which never made it to digital).
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,380
    edited November 18
    I started out as a designer right in the middle of the phototype* era. At the time, it was just the way things were. Looking back, it was really just a brief transition period between metal and digital. We've already been using standardized, interoperable digital fonts (PostScript/TrueType/OpenType) for longer than any format from the phototype era. I could be wrong, but I don't see anything replacing OpenType the way digital fonts replaced analog phototype for the foreseeable future.

    * Phototype is so forgotten that spellcheck doesn't even recognize it as a word, suggesting "prototype" instead. 
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,176
    It's fascinating how often phototype is omitted from design history education (at least in the US). So many are taught that we went straight from metal/wood to digital, ignoring the 1960s–1990s when a good percentage of printed material was produced with phototype. (And also transfer type, AKA Letraset.)

    One reason, I suppose, is that it is a complicated history. As Mark and Nick allude, there were hundreds of phototype machines produced over this short stretch, most of which required their own font formats. But this transition was super important, both in terms of typesetting (size agnostic, spacing flexibility, effects, etc.) and type design (there was an explosion of new typefaces, many of which never made it to digital).
    Another reason, I'd guess, is that in the digital era the letterpress infrastructure has stuck around in a way the phototype machinery hasn't (e.g. in printing shops, university design dept. basements, etc.). Metal/wood type is still more physically present today than phototype, surely in part because it doesn't break down as easily, and maybe even also because it's easier to put a Filmotype setter out on the curb than a Heidelberg press! And people are more interested in the history of what they see around them.
  • ... it's easier to put a Filmotype setter out on the curb...
    Some days I do wonder what happened to all the Linofilm's, Alphatype's, Compugraphics, etc. Where did they all go?

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,380
    edited November 18
    Part of the problem with phototypesetting machines is that you can no longer get the consumables (paper, film, developer chemicals, etc.). Theoretically, they could be resurrected, à la Impossible film for Polaroid cameras, but the market would be much smaller. With letterpress, you just need readily available things like ink, paper, and machine oil.
  • For those of you who want to go deep into this, and I mean a mind-boggling bottomless abyss, there is Frank Romano’s History of the Phototypesetting Era.

    I see that this book is not only out of print, but used copies appear not to be easy to find. There is material online to at least give glimpses into some of this history, though.
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