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Old 07-24-2008, 05:44 PM   #1
Eric Ladner
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Location: Tacoma, WA
Posts: 139
Default Metal vs digital type (Lonnnnggg)

Actually going back to an old thread (summer of '05):

Kathleen wrote:

"I wonder if you are not seeing a different problem — the weakness of most modern digital types when printed compared to their metal forebears. Most seem kind of wimpy or attenuated.

"Does it say which Baskerville is used? In A Tally of Types, I have a good example of machine-set metal Baskerville, and I compared it to samples in a couple of modern specimen books (not the same, I realize — especially as the latter are printed on coated stock, the former on textured book paper), and found the difference to be striking.

"Not just a matter of apparent boldness, though that was part of it. But the strokes, curves, and serifs were just more definite somehow, perhaps mainly because of the three-dimensionality of letterpress printing.

"This is a common defect in our digital fonts — it isn’t unique to Baskerville."

* * *

I'm currently reading Ursula LeGuin's latest book, Lavinia, about the eponymous Italian princess married by Aeneas.

It's set, according to the colophon, in Centaur MT. I'm not very confident of my ability to determine type size, but it seems to be around 12/18 in a 25.5 pica line on a 6" by 9" page. The page is fairly light, but I think it's rather attractive, and that started me thinking again about printing older faces with modern methods.

I think I remember printer/teacher Allistair Johnston once saying that he thought Centaur was too "sparkly" to be a good text type. That doesn't particularly bother me; I don't notice the sharpness and the diamonds much at text sizes.

Bringhurst, though says of faces such as Bembo and Centaur, "If the final output will be 14 pt text set directly to film at 3000 dpi, then printed by good offset lithography on the best coated paper, every nuance may be crystal clear, but the result will still lack the character and texture of the letterpress medium for which these faces were designed."

I don't think I've ever seen Centaur printed from metal. I have seen it printed letterpress, but from photopolymer plates, which introduces possible variables in the film and platemaking processes. And it was printed on thick, soft paper by a printer who likes heavy impression -- a real "ink in a ditch" look -- so I don't know if I really know what it should look like.

Bringhurst doesn't quite say not to print it offset, just that something is lost.

So, I guess what all this rambling is wondering is how important it is to stick with tradition, if you think non-traditional methods produce attractive, but different, results. It seems to me that it would be a shame to give up faces like Bembo and Centaur just because you can't print them from foundry type, but where do you draw the line? Laser printer output of 8 pt text on plain paper at 300 dpi may "fade into the digital mud," (Bringhurst again), but that is sort of an extreme case.

And what about the paper? Is it really anathema to print Renaissance-inspired faces on bright, coated stock?

Enough for now.

--Eric
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