Phototypesetting is a method of photographically producing top-quality text and display typography on paper or film bases to be used in the preparation of camera copy for artwork, display matter, and text matter in the method generally known as “cold-type” procedure. This effort is designated as a function of the Offset Division in the Government Printing Office, since this division performs a very large portion of the production tasks related to camera copy.

“Cold type” was originally a term applied to a typewritten manuscript which was used as direct camera copy and run offset to differentiate that kind of printing material from composition produced on “hot-metal” typecasting machines. Originally carrying a stigma of poor quality because of the wide variation in typing results, it has been expanded by many improvements to include some of the finest composed material, though still retaining some poor-quality material.

Phototypesetting is not new. The first patents for phototypesetting machines were issued more than a hundred years ago. But any wide-based success for phototypesetting depended more upon the general state of the graphic arts, photographic materials, and platemaking procedures than on the machine to set type. It is only in the last few years that materials and processes have made sufficient improvement to make phototypesetting commercially practical.

In 1946, the Government Printing Office established production development trials on Fotosetter machine number 1, the first successful keyboard phototypesetting machine. The first published work which was completely phototypeset on this machine was “Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona,” printed for the Interior Department.

The Fotosetter machine is a circulating-matrix machine with magazine, assembler, and distribution system very similar to hot-metal slug-casting machines. The matrix, with the same brass silhouette as on the slug machine, does not carry a letter mold on the edge but carries a negative image inserted into the matrix body.

The matrices flow from the magazine in response to pressure on a keyboard letter to an assembly rack in identical fashion to the metal typecasting machine until an entire line of text matter is composed. The operator activates the movement of the line to the camera unit after the manner of slug casting. The camera unit automatically moves each separate matrix into correct position to be photographed into a line of characters. After it is photographed, the matrix is moved into the distributor system and back to the magazine.

This machine inspired intense interest in the phototypesetting field but developments were slow. Six years later, in 1953, at a Chicago exhibition of printing machinery, the Fotosetter was the only successful keyboard phototypesetting machine on demonstration. But this was not a true indication of the level of interest. Several manufacturers displayed models and sketches of projected phototypesetting machines in development stages. This was an expression of serious effort in the field. Five years later a printing-machinery exhibition in New York showed four successfully operating keyboard phototype-setting machines. They were ATF Typesetter, Fotosetter, Linofilm, and Photon machines. A fifth operating machine was in existence but not shown.

In the fall of 1963 a printing trade publication listed ten different kinds of manually controlled headletter and display machines, and six keyboard-direct or keyboard-to-tape-input phototypesetting machines.

Many diversified fields have been related and drawn into photo-typesetting and camera-copy techniques. Electronic circuits, magnetic tape-feeds, translating and justifying punch tapes, computer controls, automation in keyboarding, and multiple-matrix grid turrets automatically presented to multiple-unit lens systems for a wealth of size changes, superfast and stroboscopic light exposures, all are beginning to influence the whole field of composition for printing. With so many techniques involved, the typesetting machines show wide differences in keyboarding, functional components, and operational controls.

At the present time, all images are produced by photographing through negatives of selected letters or symbols. Though some work has been done on images produced electronically on a cathode-ray tube, no such machine has yet been made functional.

Machine arrangements for storing negative images of letters, activating selected ones, and photographing lines of composition vary greatly.

The Fotosetter machine uses individual, negative-image, circulating matrices of the shape used for the hot-metal slug-casting machines, keyboard operated from a magazine. One model may be tape operated.

Mono photo uses a square shifting mat case, very similar to its hot-metal casting, except that small letter negatives are in the mat case which are selectively positioned by the familiar monotype punched tape and photographed on film instead of cast in metal.


The Lino film uses a square grid negative of 88 characters photo-graphed by a selective shutter system, activated from a punched tape. A turret in the reproducer (photographic unit) will hold 18 of the font grids, any one of which is available immediately and automatically in response to a code punch in the tape.

Photon uses a circular matrix disk continuously in motion with a stroboscopic light photographing images on command directly from a keyboard or from a punched tape.

ATF uses a similar circular disk which stops in selected position for photographing the letters. The reproducer is operated from a punch tape produced in a separate keyboard unit.

The tapes for the various machines are not compatible in most in-stances, that is, they may not be used interchangeably. Most machines operate only on their own “language” codes. Dissimilar tapes may be made compatible with any reproducer by converting to a new tape by means of a translator which accepts the old tapes and translates them into the proper form of punch “language” for the reproducer on which it is to be used. Many other accommodations may be made through the translator, such as introducing codes for line lengths, hyphenation, and justification, to the new tape from a tape style which may be innocent of these niceties.

Display type can be set on all the typesetting machines, though some have lens systems which closely restrict the sizes produced. Those so restricted are not flexible enough to be generally used for display.

There are a dozen machines in use for production of display lines and headings. These machines are much simpler, mechanically, than the text machines. They are manually operated, not keyboarded, each letter being brought individually into photographing position and exposed before the operator brings the next letter into the next position. Though relatively very slow, some very striking typographic effects can be attained, the fonts usually are relatively inexpensive, and a wide selection of styles and sizes are available. The letter images are sup-plied in different ways: disks, film strips, and individual letter slides.

The Morisawa machine uses 13 different prefocused lenses for size changes, with extra lenses available for special effects. The Photo Typositor changes the focus of a lens to 175 different settings. In addition special slant, condensing, and expanding lens attachments are available. Others use a single fixed position lens and use fonts of different size letters or are designed for close contact of the image to the film or paper. In these systems there can be no size change flexibility in the reproduction of the images. Different sizes must be obtained only by changing to a different image master.

The future of phototypesetting will lie in the extent to which the speed of films and electronic controls are utilized. The time element of hot-metal casting is fixed by the time required for the molten cast and hardening cycle which is far greater than the speed of film. Additional mechanical operations are required to contain the metal and control the matrix and mold actions. Phototypesetting machines which perform in the cycles of the hot-metal machines cannot take advantage of the speed of light which is available for fast production.

As research and development proceeds, many ways for exploiting the speed of light and the expanding field of electronics are being found. The elimination of mechanical motions to the maximum degree is an essential factor in high-speed character generation.

For those persons who wish to attach themselves to a fixed and static technique, the field of phototypesetting will not provide an effort of satisfaction because the changes and developments in the field will be numerous and possibly quite rapid. For those persons looking for a challenge and who prefer to be a part of a developing and dynamic field, phototypesetting will present all the interest that could attach to any career.