Plastic type?

Hi, I’m a student at a university looking to explore some options for our Vandercook SP 13, and the industrial design professors suggested making plastic molds to construct letters. Is this a viable option? I couldn’t find any examples of people going this route, and I am not sure if the ink would hold or if the type would handle the pressure. Does anyone have any idea?

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While you CAN make plastic letters, I don’t think this would be the best option. There is a considerable amount of old wood and metal type on the market, and Photopolymer Plates are easily acquired.

If you want to hand-make type, I’d recommend carving wood or linoleum blocks, either by hand or using a pantograph router. For images or graphics, photopolymer is perhaps the easiest and most widely used.

I don’t know how it was manufactured, but I do have a font of plastic type. It is a 10 or 12 line gothic face that I believe was a substitute for wood type.

Several companies manufactured poster type in plastic, using the same technique as for wooden type. Blocs were cut to size, machined to the correct height and with the aid of the pantograph, letters were made. Stempel foundry in Germany for instance, offered the Helvetica in wood and in plastic,so did Adige in Verona (Italy). Recently I have seen work of an American student, and now living in Utrecht (The Netherlands) who produced plastic poster type.

check this out:

Instead of wood you could use a plastic.

I’ve wondered if a computer program like Fontographer, or whatever is being used now to design digital typefaces, could drive a laser engraving device to produce injection mold matrices suitable for casting single plastic types of the proper composition to fill the mold and withstand the rigors of printing. Any thoughts, anyone?

Brian Donnell

The industry standard today for digital type design is Fontlab Studio. I think most laser cutting setups use CAD. You could take a type sample in Illustrator and convert it to vector outline then save and import it into CAD to laser cut it. I don’t think Fontlab would be much use here.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

I have a slug cast on something which must have been very similar to a Ludlow machine, but cast of some type of plastic material. It was given to me by Ward Schori many years ago, and I believe he indicated that he received it from Robert Middleton who was associated with Ludlow. Perhaps they were testing plastic materials as an option to type metal for casting. The slug I have looks very good, cast with approx 36pt. characters in a very dense black plastic material.

Has anyone else seen such a thing?

I assume a mold could be created which would allow casting of individual characters from Ludlow mats in an injection molding machine.

John G. Henry
Cedar Creek Press

John - I have a piece of the very same material. It was given to be by Ward Schori’s son. It must be the same as the one I have. I was told it was an experiment at Ludlow that never went too far. Years ago I used it to print and found no problems.

Thank you all for your replies! Apparently there is a digital router in the facility, which was my first option, then they came back and suggested making plastic molds. I suppose we’ll have to test it out and see! I hope to test both options, as I’ve seen some sites about using the digital router.

I own several sets of wood type myself, but I cannot afford to buy type in the quantity that I feel the university would need to have a nice variety of styles and sizes for the students.

Thanks, Daniel at The Arm, for your info. Anyone interested in pantographs may want to look at a booklet (48 pp., $5.95) entitled “Precision Lead Screws, Gears, and Pantographs”, Lindsay Publications, ISBN 1-55918-232-6. It contains a reprint of an article by “L.B.” (Lloyd Benton?) from “Machinery Magazine”, 5/22/1924, “Design of Engraving Machines” on pp.16-26.
See the Lindsay website. Several copies are at Powell’s Technical Books, 33 NW Park, Portland, OR 97209. 503-228-4651, ext.4000

Brian, thanks for that reference. I’ve been hunting for some stuff like that. I will have to stop by Powell’s.

L.B. Benton is Linn Boyd Benton, father of Morris Fuller Benton. The duo was the engineering/typography powerhouse behind a lot of what ATF did.

There are some patents on file as well: is an easy way to access the patent database…a search for either Benton, or Henry Barth, or the earlier David Wolfe Bruce yields all sorts of interesting things.

Thanks DBurnette for your correction on Benton’s name. I seem to have melded his first and middle names together in my memory to get “Lloyd”. Are you close to Portland (Oregon) so that
you can actually visit Powell’s? or just the website? It’s an amazing store(s). The printing and typography books are generally in the main store, not the technical annex. The Lindsay website looked pretty interesting too.
Kind regards, Brian

I’m in Portland a couple times a year, so I usually swing by the main store and techbooks. I never seem to escape without spending more than I should…Powell’s and Oak Knoll seem to have fingers in my wallet.

I think the problem with casting plastic is shrinkage. Type metal doesn’t have this problem because the additive antimony prevents this. This would be especially crucial at the face.

When Harold Kyle was working out the logistics of the Boxcar Base I mentioned to him that I had a bunch of old plastic bases that plates of some sort were adhered to (these were used by newspaper printers). He checked it out and his findings were that the shrinkage was too great and, as I recall, unpredictable. Most of the plastic bases that I had also varied quite a bit in their thickness.