Tag Archives: type

Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized book business just like ebooks are doing now


Johannes Gutenberg was a German inventor who managed to put together multiple pieces of existing technologies in order to create something totally new. His invention was the printing press where he applied paper, ink, type and a human-operated press. He had invented a system that made it possible to copy books quickly and economically.

It happened more than 500 years ago, but considerable improvements to Gutenberg’s invention were made only when new types of printing mechanisms were invented in the 20th century. The introduction of computers and ebooks have revolutionized the business of printing once more. The possibility to use computers to create books with a global network to deliver them to readers across the world has once again made it possible to copy books more quickly and economically than ever before.

How did the original printing press work? Here is a video recorded at the Crandall Historical Printing Museum where an expert demonstrates how the Gutenberg-era printing press works:

The demonstration didn’t show what happened before ink was applied to the plate where the types were set. Wooden or metal types had been carved as mirror images of letters and numbers. Every letter on a page is represented by a type, and every type was set on a plate in reverse order.

For instance, take a look at the plate below that was carved for printing the Popeye cartoon onto a newspaper’s comics page. The plate is a mirror image of what appeared on the newspaper. The plate is made of iron, so someone had to carve the images and texts into the plate. Once the newspaper was printed, the unique plate that had required a lot of handwork could be thrown away.

That’s how we discovered the cartoon plate. Years ago, a printing house was handing out old printing plates to visitors at a book show. It was in Sweden – that’s why the text in the Popeye cartoon is Swedish (if you were wondering).
print plate for popeye cartoon

Fonts develop as reading shifts from paper to screen


Many book readers, or readers of any kind of text, don’t give a second thought to the fonts that represent the visual image for each letter. Times Roman may have been the most popular font on printed matter, but is rarely seen on a computer, tablet or smartphone screen. There is a reason for it: the smaller the font size is, the simpler its design has to be to make it readable. The font can’t be so simple that letters look the same.
fonts on mobile phone, digiday
Typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones recently released a new font titled Mallory specifically designed for small screens. In an interview to Digiday, he explained that the key factor that makes a font easily readable on a screen is to space the letters out, enlarge the interior of each lowercase, and simplify details.

Typographers have been aware of the solution for hundreds of years, so the technique itself is nothing new. What is new is that human kind is moving from reading texts on paper to reading text on screen. The font size is easy to change on the screen, allowing readers themselves to affect how the content looks like. Many ebook reading applications have a feature that let you even change the font of a book on the fly.

Here is a video where Frere-Jones talks about his font design: