artists' books type

hand cast type as it appears after being taken out of the mould similar to the example above (Moxon). The cone-shaped part, created in the process of pouring the hot metal, is broken off in order to complete the process. Next to the metal type is a piece of much larger wooden type.
right: From Diderot's Encyclopedia we are able to glean an insight into the working life of the compositor. On the left of the picture, and in the centre, there are two skilled craftsmen who are "setting" type. They are both standing in front of two cases of type, one above the other. One contains "upper case" or "capital" letters, while the other contains lower case letters. Once the type has been set it is placed in a metal frame or "chase" and made ready for printing. It is important that all the type is level and at the same height, and in order to do this, the man on the right is "planing" the type by a process which involves striking a flat piece of wood with a hammer, which in turn pushes any protruding type into place without damaging it. If any of the type were too low, for example, it would not print, but if it were too high, it might print too dark or damage the paper or even damage the type.
Wood type was used extensively in the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century where large type sizes were required, when printing posters for example.
The Monotype caster
On the left is a stripped down Monotype caster. By using a keyboard, similar to that of a typewriter, the operator was able "set" lines of text consisting of individual pieces of type and, by continuing the process a whole page could be set at a time. Inevitably corrections had to be made and this meant re-casting a corrected line or even removing the offending individual letter with a pair of tweezers and the correct letter pushed in as a replacement.
Linotype casting differed from the Monotype process in that each line was cast as a whole unit called a "slug". Newspapers often favoured these machines.
There is far more detailed information on Martyn Ould's site THE OLD SCHOOL PRESS. For a clear illustrated and personal description of type setting there is no better source of information.
Type casting - the mould
The red and blue "L" shapes represent the two parts of the mould. While the height of the letter remains constant the width is changed by sliding the two parts one against the other. The yellow represents the face of the type where the wider shape would be required for letters such as M and W, and the narrow shape would be used for I or J.
The constant height machine was a removable part of the Monotype caster. Every time the type size was changed the constant height mechanism would also be changed. The example on the left hand photograph is for nine points; if a type size of twelve points was required then the constant height mechanism would need to be changed.
This mechanism is not very different from the kind of mould that Gutenberg may have used. In basic terms the mechanism (left) is certainly a mechanical version of the mould described by Moxon (above). In order that type may print clearly all the small pieces of type must be of the same height (this is the distance from the face to the foot of the shank). However, the width of the letters is variable; the letter I is obviously narrower that the letters M or W. In order to understand the problem in creating such a mechanism, it is probably easier if one considers capital (upper case) letters.
In order to overcome this difficulty a mould was created that consisted, in its simplest terms, of two interlocking L shaped pieces (see above). The molten metal was poured in to the mould and the piece of type was formed by a combination of mould and matrix. The "matrix" on which the letter had been punched was situated at the opposite end (the underside) (lower photograph).

the Aragó Press

type and type setting

This is a brief inroduction to the production of type and should be read in conjunction with the section on the history of printing. Further sources that deal with the subject in great detail can be found in the "books on books" section.


In Europe, until the introduction of moveable type, the only way to print text was to cut each letter as part of a wooden block and print it in the same manner as a woodblock illustration. The examples that have come down to us show how laborious this process would have been. A true technological revolution took place with the introduction of printing using a printing press and metal type.
Gutenberg has been credited with the invention of this process where each letter was recreated in the form of a metal punch made of hard steel that would then have be struck into copper to form a matrix (a kind of negative mould). The matrix, as part of a moulding process, was then used to cast the type in a softer metal such as lead (usually mixed with tin and antimomy). It has been thought for some time that Gutenberg invented this punch and matrix method in conjunction with a mould, similar to the one shown below from the 17th century. However, more recent scientific research suggests that perhaps the type was cast in sand; a far more time consuming process. The consequence of such an argument would suggest a more primitive process of casting from an ephemeral sand matrix that would be destroyed after each time a letter was cast, which in turn meant that the matrix would have to be recreated each time. As a consequence, some authorities think that the development of type casting was slower than had previously been thought. However, either way Gutenberg would still have had to conceive and develop the process of printing using a press, as well as formulate an ink suitable for printing onto paper. And it is the matter that printing utilised paper rather than vellum which is of considerable importance.
The type that Gutenberg designed was based on the traditional "black letter" and it took some time for the design to change to reflect the more open "humanist" hand. This change can be observed in the type design used by Sweynheym and Pannartz for the printing of Cicero's Epistulae ad Familiares of 1467.
Type casting probably did not alter very much until the mechanisation of the process with the introduction of the Monotype and Linotype casting machines at the end of the nineteenth century (see below).
© Arvon Wellen 2006 & 2010 / © the Aragó Press 2006 & 2010
Moxon's Mechanick Exercises [1683]
This illustration Moxon gives us a clear view of how the type caster took the molten lead from a furness and poured it into a mould. The mould would contain a copper "matrix" in which the shape of an individual letter had been punched with a carefully crafted steel punch.
An example of Fell type cast by hand at the Oxford University Press
a single piece of hand cast type showing "type height", it was important that this measurement remained constant.
The Linotype machine was an alternative to the Monotype caster. It was used in printing works and for casting type for newspapers in countries all over the world.
The Monotype machine was used to cast individual pieces of type; individual letters. The Linotype machine set type in whole lines.
page updated: 27 / 09 / 2010