Linotype versus photopolymer

We are looking into doing a small book via our heidelberg platen press/windmill. I have never worked with linotype so I am hoping to find out two things:

First, what are the general costs (per sq in, maybe?) of linotype compared to photopolymer?

The second part is finding people who sell linotype. Any good websites or good google target phrases. Maybe an old fashioned recommendation. We are in Chicagoland so local is better but we would rather work with quality craftsmen regardless of location.

Log in to reply   21 replies so far

SeaWolf, Sir, as you are posing the question which medium to go with? I pose the questions for you to consider over and above the basics of cost, as you imply *A small Book* on your H/berg Platen how many pages in total? how many up per forme, 2, 4, 8, pages a time?
Will it be costed, estimated and planned for the total no of pages etc but more to the point, In P.P how many pages will have to be Planned, processed mounted/dismounted etc etc. and if you are using full-out mounting base, Boxcar or Magnetic, would you loose the ability to incorporate, running headings, chapter headings, folios etc in conventional type, which must possibly be an *X* factor initially??
I offer this seemingly irrelevant point, but with Linotype origination type in mind, it would appear that with LINOTYPE, you would have complete control of makeup, spacing, total number of complete pages with all the relevant considerations, with factored in *running headings, folios, etc* will this be available in P.P?
With Linotype at your finger tips, page depth, which must surely be an “X” factor will be completely within your control
(Just as A hypothetical example) or will you be committed to remaking/rejigging P.P. at every turn.??
Unless continuous reprints are envisaged!! initial outlay may prove expensive, compared (possibly) to setting in Linotype at competitive rate, surcharged for the metal and REFUNDED on completion?
Silly suggestions but surely worth a little consideration/examination before commitment??

Want to make this point up front. I am fairly new at using a Linotype in a production environment or printing in general.

That being said I have a model 5 Linotype that is 100% operational due to the previous owners wonderful care. Thanks Mike!!!!!

The building it is in is not finished yet, no electricity and/or heat and with winter setting in it probably won’t be done till spring.

What fonts are you wanting to use. I have about 10 different fonts in magazines.

What is size of the book?

What is the timetable for this project?

I live just west of Des Moines, Iowa and if I can be of any help in this project please let me know.


Mick ‘re PP ever hear of InDesign? It is called software that’s used on a computer. Where I work as estimator we produce lots of books booklets etc.all of your blather regarding page layout is done quite well with this device.

T L In view of the ORIGINAL question would it not be more constructive to offer some hints, tips, clues re the actual vagaries of using LETTERPRESS with multiple forms in succession, do modern day *estimators* know or have to know about the system(s) of marrying ancient and modern with multiple plate changes etc Take me to pieces by all means but at least try to post some constructive comments about the pros and cons of the different methods, which was the basis of the original quest. Got any alternative *BLATHER* to offer?? Many Many years ago as the next link in the chain after the Bona Fide estimators, the Monotype Keyboard and Caster Operators would work Hand in Glove with the Estimators, as Also did Linotype operators.
Step back and take an in depth look at some, (in fact a lot) of current, computor generated, Typesetting? and possibly ask who GUESStimated THAT!!!
Linotype and Monotype always worked to a long established formula, the estimator worked to the same rule book, as laid down by Tolbert Lanston and Otmar Merganthaler???

Using linotype hot metal for printing requires the other items like leads and slugs and appropriate furniture, much of which may be lacking with a printer who uses only photopolymer or another plate system. Those of us who still use metal type work and think in traditional terms, not in terms of “inDesign.” Makeup of forms, makeready, and even inking all have dynamics completely different from printing with plates or the preparation of the type form starting with the raw copy. I think many who have learned only with plates, primarily photopolymer and computer programs, may have a steep learning curve working with traditional materials. Problems like workups, slugs cast with uneven bodies and the makeup of page forms may be overwhelming for the current “studio” printer.


Mick, as someone who is both a dabbler in traditional letterpress as well as photopolymer and a professional graphic designer for a modern printing company, I can say the software is not the problem. InDesign has some really amazing capabilities for control of type flow, layout and look. Both manual and automatic controls. The problem is that nobody teaches the importance of these capabilities or how they work anymore. A designer can’t use tools s/he doesn’t know how to use or why. But the fact is, you can do absolutely beautiful typesetting in modern layout software. You just have to know how. Just the same as pulling type from the case or sitting down at the Monotype keyboard.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Linotype varies in quality, and it takes some skill and understanding not just to set and cast, but also to lock up and print bad Linotype, and I’ve cast and printed from my share of it. You must be accepting of not only the constraints of the Linotype matrix, for example how the italic “f” is tortured, (personally, I love seeing this, and noticing where f-refinements hae been used), but also the hairlines and misaligned characters: evidence of method.
This is far more interesting to me than the digital product, where every character in every size looks exactly the same. Type SHOULD vary as it changes size! Study Caslon and you’ll see what variations are needed to be interesting throughout a family.

As an Intertype operator and owner, a well set book in metal cast will always give a old world look.

If you want a look of another copy machine book, do it with a computer and plates.

I would be glad to set your book, problem, I am in Texas and the shipping of metal across the country would be high.

I have a V-50 that prints great!

A very long time ago I was giving a lecture on the virtues of photopolymer plates for printing letterpress and quite highly regarded Gabriel Rummonds was in the audience and asked a question. He admitted he liked the occasional broken piece of metal type (as opposed to photopolymer which was perfect). Stunned, I guess my answer was, well you can get that with photopolymer plates if you aren’t careful or if you just don’t give a rat’s ass.

Later I wondered about all those old punchcutters and type designers (including the contemporary) who would feel about folks with allegiance to just any old system with all its faults.

Isn’t it all really about typography?

Frederic Goudy, as a typographer, had a different take on it:
“The appearance of the work itself is of more importance than any quibble over the method of its translation into the vehicle of thought, since its legibility or beauty is determined by the eye and not by the means employed to produce the type.”

And, in his Manuel typographique (1764), the great typefounder/punchcutter Pierre Simon Fournier declared, “It is not right to blame the letter for the fault of the ink.” He was blaming the printer, as well he should have.


It may not be an issue for a book of simple design, but the problem with most digital typography is the single master. Optical size is way down the list of concerns for contemporary makers and users, but in the days of hand punch-cutting, and well into the era of pantographic punch-cutting, a type family varied specific features such as contrast and serif structure through different sizes fo a family to maintain legibilty, printabilty, visual interest. 20th-century founders even tested faces to see where a design failed on paper (say, the l.c. “e” fills on uncoated stock). They might have opened the bowl of the “e”, or recommended a face is best used on smooth stock (the Bodoni strategy). Other than the abandoned Multiple Masters fonts and Founder’s Caslon, this has pretty much been ignored by digital typefoundries. Giampa-Lanston’s 337 is great at 12 point but even just enlarging to 18 point lacks visual interest compaared to the metal original.
Not that metal is in any way easier. Recently I’ve been struggling with the changes in Linotype Caslon Old Face, as struck in the mats. The 18 roman has a smaller cap height than the 12 italic swash, and the 12 point D looks like it is 13 point but the 11 and 14 versions align nicely. As a printer, I have come to love these quirks when I use them in-house, but convincing a customer used to digital regularity is another matter entirely.

Than one worked in handset type and a former day job was setting entire volumes in french and german by hand and than we used monotype for the most complicated settings in math and chemical formula. In other words, if you are used how it looks in metal with it’s limitations, you can do this in digital and from polymer plate. But as long as your entire typographical education is digital and you printed on an inkjet and than move to letterpress, you might have an issue.

As romantic as the notion is to print books from metal is, it is extremely connected to your environment, If the cost of your shop is to expensive to afford you the possibility of owning your own metal to print from, you want be efficient enough to make a living from it.
There are Vendors who can cast the type for you in Lino /’ Intertype or Monotype but shipping that metal is an issue if you are not close by.

We all produce with what we have, within the restrictions of our surroundings and striving to print the best possible quality.

If you want to learn, and II mean LEARN - because it’s not something you can pick up in a weekend or a couple days in the sunshine, find somebody you can learn from before it’s all gone. Typesetting used to be a Trade, because it took time to learn it.

Advanced typography in a college setting runs a couple months if and doesn’t even touch the surface.

Friends, thanks for the wealth of knowledge. It is interesting to hear you share stories about the things we are all clearly passionate about.

By the lack of responses to my questions, I am guessing there aren’t a lot of linotype vendors out there and the costs are kind of a mystery. We have a pretty strong printing history here in Chicago and it still goes on today so I thought maybe there would be someone nearby but I could be wrong.

I hate to say it but most of us with hot metal capability don’t have the time to spend on other people’s work and still set what our own operations take. The exceptions being the Monotype operations like M&H Type and the Bixlers—that’s their living. Even back in the 60s before I had a full hot metal capability, finding trade sources for Linotype work was difficult. In the SF Bay Area, I had one place in San Jose and a fairly expensive one in San Francisco. There was a trade shop in the East Bay that did primarily book work, and maybe a few others. But the industry changed dramatically back then. Even in the 50s in the Washington DC area when I was first starting out as a kid, my only source in Alexandria was a one man shop that serviced most of the shops that had no linecasting equipment. Most of the small shops couldn’t afford the rates charged by the remaining trade composition houses that were geared towards the advertising agencies—and those mostly bit the dust by the early 1980s.


I know of only one Intertype machine within 100 miles of where I live and the fellow who owns and operates it doesn’t take outside work. Occasionally he will cast a few lines for me as a favor, but he isn’t interested in taking outside work. He has a wonderful shop that sits idle most of the time, and will probably be junked when he dies.


One source has been linecasting soliciting work online for years, with an interesting list of faces:
To say that most linecasters don’t want outside work may be true, but the fact is the few who want outside work don’t get enough to keep going. Joe Halton cast the best slugs I have ever printed but all his hot-metal stuff went to eBay or scrap; that made economic sense then, and things have not gotten any better. I just cast for a few experienced users who know how to use a slug. People whose sense of design started on-screen, and whose whole sense of presswork comes from seeing heavy-impression photopolymer work, have no backwards-compatibilty with type metal. Today’s work is rock/paper/scissors printing where only plastic type beats paper and typemetal loses.

Eric and I visited Halton’s shop when he was still active doing letterpress and his work was impressive—and he had a thorough traditional background. I was fortunate to get his Star linotype mat fixing device. For a look at our visit, a few years ago, see:[email protected]/sets/72157612268749598/


Another reason you don’t hear much from anybody with linecasters is that what you’ve described appears as an open ended project. Any number of things could kill it, from the typeface desired (no mat rentals anymore) to potential technical problems, and to the fact that an exceeding few people recently has set books (in any of the hot metal systems).

I also suspect that many operators have shied away from such work since books can contain the emotional baggage of wedding stationery and dealing with fickle customers might not be worth it. There are trade houses such as,, the Bixlers, M & H and so on, but they won’t come cheap.

That said (and I’ll elaborate off list) I do have an Intertype and do trade work. I would find a book an interesting project over some of the other work I’ve done (setting names for hot foil stamping).

TED, FRITZ, MEPHITS and others!!HOT METAL, including Monotype, Linotype and Ludlow VERSUS Photopolymer???
One comprehends the amazing prowess, speed and power of modern, one dimensional Typesetting with all the intracasies and capabilities on hand, and expanding by the minute!!!
BUT it appears and seems that Sophisticated, Up Market, Ultra modern systems, CAN produce Page Make up and everything else etc, within Seconds, to include every desired effect/appearance, The System(s) Appear to have powers, beyond the wildest dreams of hot metal EVER, in seconds rather than days and weeks???
The problem as already observed, by a few, with an idea about the original concepts of typography are told, (frequently) the power of the system(s) are virtually limitless, The stumbling blocks appear to be the operators??? who apparently are aware of the power of the System(s) and believe that they can leave, punctuation, hyphenation, abbreviation etc etc etc to the machine, but are let down, through no fault of their own, probably through lack of insight or formal typoghraphical training or, *typoghrapher/designer* driven instructions, that want to put, a beautiful type face from yesteryear, IN BED with some ultra modern 21st Century, Named Designer, *so This year My Dear* Typeface!!!
I. E. Times, Plantin, Baskerville, Perpetua INTERSPERSED With Hirosh, Shanghai, Karate etc Fine for Take Away menus, but surely out of place, alongside, and with traditional letterpress as the vehicle!!!
If my ramblings appear garbled, PLEASE put me straight On line, hopefully a few New One,s may get an insight into the vagaries and principles from yesteryear, and a better picture of marrying Ancient and Modern. Utilising L/Press.
AND P.P. of course??? T. F. & M. Thank You, Mick!

thanks again for all the great insight.

it seems working with linotype these days is really like swimming against the waves!

I would be happy to set your book.
Working C-4 and Ludlow.