Type founding and manufacture
The manufacturing of type in metal and wood for letterpress printing.
|Historic area of significance||Fleet Street, London|
|Area currently practised|
|Origin in the UK||15th Century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||Hand casting: 0
Machine casting: 6-10
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
||Machine casting: 6-10
Hand casting for education or research purposes: 1-5
Part time wood type makers: 1-5
Wood type: 1
|Current no. of trainees||2|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
Letterpress printing was the normal form of printing text from its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century until the 19th century and remained in wide use for books and other uses until the second half of the 20th century. Letterpress printing remained the primary way to print and distribute information until the 20th century, when offset printing was developed, which largely supplanted its role in printing books and newspapers, but letterpress has survived thanks to small presses and artisan printers.
A significant barrier to the continuation of letterpress printing is the increasing scarcity of new type and the breaking up of sets of old type.
When it was an industrial process, ‘typefounding’ referred specifically to the actual casting of the type; in the present day, it tends to encompass a number of different related disciplines (eg engraving matrices). In a letterpress context, ‘typefounding’ still means the casting of metal type, with the manufacturing of wood type being a separate practice.
Metal printing type can be made in a number of ways:
- Metal type cast on a Monotype Composition Caster (maximum of 24pt)
- Metal type cast on a Monotype Super Caster (maximum of 72pt)
- Metal type cast on a pivotal caster (not currently possible outside museums)
- Metal type cast in a hand mould (not currently possible outside museums, with one possible exception)
Monotype machines are still being used in some private presses and foundries in the UK. Other typesetting machines, such as Linotype, Intertype and Ludlow machines, cast slugs (single lines of type, rather than single letters), These are used for ‘typesetting’, not ‘typefounding’, as they can’t cast individual pieces of type that other printers can use in their cases.
Associated skills include:
- Punch cutting – transferring letters from design to physical punch
- Matrix making – striking the hardened punch into a bronze or copper blank, and fitting the strike to become a matrix.
- Direct engraving of matrices using an engraving pantograph
Hand processes – These include the hand processes of making type from punch cutting to type casting. They are practised by very few people in the UK (as a small part of their typefounding work), but are still practised in France by only a couple of people.
Machine processes – This includes type produced by machine using Monotype equipment. There are a large number of Monotype machines in the UK but many not in use – they are heavy, take up a lot of space and require a long period of training to be used correctly. As with all industrial machinery, they are potentially hazardous when poorly maintained or used incorrectly.
Wood type (larger sized display type) – at present this is:
- Made by hand (carved)
- Made with a pantograph router following a guide
- Manufactured using CNC routing technology with hand finishing
- Manufactured using laser cutting (from single blocks)
- Manufactured using laser cutting from composite (Perspex) then bonded to a base
- Manufactured using 3D printer
hot metal typesetting
- Wood type manufacture
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
It is difficult to make a viable living from letterpress or from type founding as the market is mostly limited to small runs of artisan publications.
- Typefounding is a very energy-intensive operation, and it’s currently almost prohibitively expensive to cast type.
Entry routes are limited and there is little training available.
Many letterpress printers are now using photopolymer plates for printing, which replaces the need for metal type.
Availability of equipment and keeping the materials, presses and type together and in working order.
Monotype Hot Metal (housed at the Type Archive) is no longer operational, following the Science Museum’s decision to close the premises. This means that no new matrices can be made or sold, limiting the typefaces available to printers
Oxford Guild of Printers
The Fine Press Book Association
St Bride Printing Library
The Anchor Press Museum Project
The Type Archive (formerly The Type Museum)
Craftspeople currently known
- Stan Lane, Gloucester Typesetting – casts type
- Katie Beard, Rooksmoor Press, typesetting and casting type
- Nomad PressCarpathian Press – casts type and borders for sale
- Hellbox Letter Foundry – casts type & borders
- Matt McKenzie, Taniwha Type Foundry
- Nick Gill, Effra Press & Typefoundry
No longer practised commercially but there are some people who are practising for educational or research purposes. These include:
- Nick Gill, Effra Press& Typefoundry
- Alan May
Stan Nelson is a US-based practitioner.
It is no longer being practised commercially in the UK but is taught by practitioners such as Nelly Gable at the Imprimerie Nationale in France.
International woodtype makers include Ryan Molloy, Dafi Knhune, Guillaume Bétemps, Marko Drpić, Virgin Wood Type and Wood Type Customs.
The Type Archive (London) used to hold all the necessary machinery to create type using Monotype casters. It is now being moved to the Science Museum Group’s facility in Wroughton, and no new matrices or typefaces will be made. Russell Maret recently created Hungry Dutch (a new face inspired by the Fell types) with the Archive’s assistance.
There are accessible overseas resources (note, US type height is the same as the UK). There are active foundries (two or three) there along with individuals. In Europe, Patrick Goosens in Antwerp preserves typefounding. He has acquired the remnants of type foundries from the US and India and is actively restoring them to working states. He is keen to preserve the arts of punchcutting, both hand and with engraving machines.
- Archer-Parré, Caroline, and Mussell, James, eds. (due 2021) Letterpress Printing: past, present, future (Peter Lang Ltd)
- British Letterpress – Type Founders
- The Type Archive – Collections
- Ryder, John, Printing for Pleasure (Bodley Head/Private Library Association)
- Lindley and Maggs, Basic Printing – Letterpress for the Beginner (British Printing Society)
- Simon, Oliver, Introduction to Typography (Faber & Faber/Penguin)
- Atelier Press making type on YouTube
- Fry’s Metal Foundries Ltd (1956) Printing Metals (London: Fry’s Metal Foundries Ltd)
- Huss, Richard E, (1973) The Development of Printers’ Mechanical Typesetting Methods 1822-1925 (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia)
- Legros, Lucien Alphonse, and Cameron Grant, John, (1916) Typographical Printing-Surfaces The Technology and Mechanism of their Production (London: Longmans, Green, and Co)
- Southall, Richard, (2005) Printer’s type in the twentieth century: Manufacturing and design methods (London/Newcastle: The British Library/Oak Knoll Press)
- United in Isolation Festival