Notes on the Printed Letter

Source: Norm Mayell, "Notes on the Printed Letter and its Graphic Embellishment," EBMUG Newsletter 7 (June 1985), 3-4.
Location: M1007, Apple Computer Inc. Papers, Series 12, Box 19, Folder 13.

When you think about computer power, typesetting has been a key point of extensive technology. Since the time of Gutenberg we have been exploring the techniques of formatting, changing type faces, word processing, editing, proofing and printing.

Today's personal computer is the beginning of a revolution in word processing and printing. An individual can enter data at a terminal, edit and proof, and pick any number of options for print out. As you know, word processing computers excel in these matters but possess limitations in typographic output. That is to say, documents can have variable indents, space between paragraphs, and centered headings but there is no control over different letter sizes, leading (space between the lines), or different type styles on the same page. In fact, the phrase "word processing" has become a generic term in the graphic arts for uniform and boring looking copy. Be that as it may, a dot matrix printer coupled with a fancy font can produce a draft quality output with a small amount of type face variance. Whereas a letter quality printer coupled with a library of daisy wheels can produce even better looking copy. Until recently, personal computers have made a slow and mechanistic attempt at acquiring graphic control over their output .

Enter the Macintosh! Marvels abound here. For the first time, a personal computer has brought together some of the text and graphic abilities that typesetting has utilized for decades. In fact, a manufacturer of typesetting equipment has recently named its latest machine the GTO (Graphic Text Organizer). The graphic program is even mouse driven. Nevertheless, the Macintosh can produce text in variable point size and style. It possesses a wonderful package of graphic modifications that approach the state-of-the-art in electronic layout and design. But it has some limitations: The output is still dot matrix. Even a letter quality printer is not up to par where the resolution of letters is a factor. Photo typesetting has a resolution presently of 3000x3000 dots per square inch as opposed to between 72 to 120 dots from an ImageWriter. Some people do their work with a letter quality printer and have it reduced in camera before it is printed to paper thereby raising the resolution.

Keep in mind that each and every project has different objective. Some material is obviously best suited to a fast and inexpensive method of output. Letters and memos look fine by letter quality. Macintosh user group newsletters are best presented with the ImageWriter look. But when quality is the objective, when the image of your business in an advertisement is on the line, typesetting is the only way to go. Notice that MacWorld uses phototypesetting instead of the LaserWriter.

This brings us to the next step in the evolution graphic control over printed material. Enter the LaserWriter! At last we now have a computer output device that will make use of real world type styles. Lets face it: the type style CHICAGO is only found the Macintosh. The LaserWriter Helvetica looks marvelous. Soon more and more fonts from the patented libraries will make their way to the public, and we will have access to the finely designed ITYPE faces that every worthy type shop now has . The LaserWriter offers more speed than most printers, considering its graphic abilities (about the same number of copies as a medium priced copy machine), and an almost typeset quality look.

Because the resolution is only about 300 dots per square inch, not all fonts will be rendered as well as Helvetica. Times Roman on the LaserWriter looks not unlike Mac's New York but suffers too much from obvious pixellation on the curves and angles of letters. This is going to be a sore point for many wonderful type faces due to their inherent shape serifs (the points on the tops and bottoms of letter. Also the LaserWriter does not produce the typeset look at larger point sizes--or what the industry calls display type.

A quote from MacWorld (Feb. 1985)is useful this point: "Some people think that the need for phototypesetting services will diminish as high-resolution, PostScript- equipped printers are introduced. Others believe that typesetters will become more specialized than they are today. Even the laser printers of tomorrow won't have the high-quality, 2500 to 5000 dots-per-square-inch resolution that phototypesetting machines already (p. 4) have. Likewise, although printers can spew out as many copies as needed, they will never be able to produce as fast as typesetting equipment can."

PostScript is a driver language written by Adobe Systems that effectively interprets a Mac document and produces the equivalent data on the LaserWriter. Besides having the ASCII information, a Mac document contains all the style and formatting descriptions. PostScript makes it possible to download it to a phototypesetting machine. Later this year Mergenthaler will release the software driver program and all the work you put into your Macintosh document can be sent directly to a phototypesetting machine. It remains to be seen if type shops will pay the price to offer this service. Will there be enough market support to warrant it and will other typesetting companies also purchase PostScript from Adobe Systems? How much will it cost? The savings for having entered and designed your own book, newsletter, or manual on your Macintosh is debatable. How much is your time worth?

I admit looking at the various kinds of printer output devices from a professional point of view, I am in the business of phototypesetting. But I do remember when this computer revolution started and everyone was able to afford the products that would let them create their own books, manuals, ad copy and whatever, and simultaneously word processing companies started up by the thousands. The do-it-yourself person did not eliminate this niche in the market. However the do-it-yourself person has the best technology available at this time. The other day I bumped into a man from EBMUG walking out of Krishna Copy. He had just printed his MacWrite document on their LaserWriter for $1.50 and Xeroxed 100 copies for $6.00. This is a fantastic way of reproducing the typeset look inexpensively.

In the final analysis, laser printers are the best thing yet as an alternative to phototypesetting, and I don't mean to belittle them because of resolution capabilities. They have, in fact, brought quality output to the PC as never before and provided for an advanced level of graphic control. My guess is that typesetting businesses will be busier than ever before. The bottom line is that it's a new service to offer, and thought it provides an inexpensive method of achieving a typeset look, it is distinctly the LaserWriter look and will be recognized as such. A talented person on a Mac might be worth twice as much as another person on the most expensive typesetting machine. And if your specialty is sales or product development, or whatever, will you want to spend your time word processing and typesetting? Chances are you will hire a professional that meets your requirements. Feedback from the field is still coming in and the message is not clear.

A business in Berkeley that has a LaserWriter has had to reassess their pricing recently. Some computer stores want too much money to run out copies. And now I see that Krishna Copy has entered the market at the lowest price possible, perhaps to drive the competition crazy. Consider this: a medium-priced phototypesetting machine with a small library of fonts costs about the same as a fully loaded Mac, a library of fonts, and a LaserWriter. Would the people owning the Mac charge less per hour than the people with the phototypesetter?

Now for the good stuff. Since, at this time PostScript is not available for downloading to a phototypesetter, there is another way. It is the way Generic Typography has been doing it for a few years. By creating a text file instead of a document file and using simple typesetting codes found in the desk top called Mac Tracks, you can style copy for output on my phototypesetting machine. If you want to design yourself then create two files-one text and one document. The ASCII file is the one I need because that's all it is, it contains none of the style commands such as point size and type face or how long the line length is. The Macintosh menu-style choices can not be interpreted without PostScript, therefore you must put the equivalent typesetting codes in the proper places to define paragraph beginnings and endings, to define line length and point size and italic, etc. Use ragged right with no hyphenation except for hard hyphens ( hyphens that are grammatical as opposed to the ones used to justify copy). Let my machine make those hyphenation decisions because the Macintosh line breaks will be different when phototypeset. See me at the next meeting if you want a copy of the MacTracks file.

Document created on 18 April 2000;