typeface characteristics.

I am currently in the process of designing a text typeface for use on photopolymer plates. Since most of the typefaces that have been digitized were based on the prints, not the punches or lead type itself, we lost this subtlety of shape specific of letterpress on photopolymer plates. I am looking for special features of original lead text faces that you think are worth noticing (special ink traps) or anything they used to do on a text letterpress face to make it come out right (shape adjustments, etc.). If you find anything you think is worth showing please post it here.

Thank you!

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Hello e.aubertbonn,

Gerald Lange’s book Printing Digital Type on the Hand-Operated Flatbed Cylinder Press has a few sections on modifying fonts for letterpress printing. Perhaps Mr. Lange himself will comment here.

Have you checked the archives at typophile.com? You could even post the question there, though I think this is a very large question and they tend to focus on small questions there. They might point you toward some references, though.


I would definitely check out typophile’s build forums. Ink trapping, optical compensation etc are still very necessary and relevant practices in type-design and interesting advancements and experiments have been made in those directions (and continue to be made, as documented there.) I am always less worried about ink spread when printing letterpress than offset as it is planographic (almost completely flat) and on web presses or duplicators, a much less precise practice than most letterpress printing—I don’t think these concerns have disappeared in the digital age at all.

I find your question very interesting. I have been thinking about a way to illustrate to my students why letterpress is “better”. For example take the original Cloister Lightface, printed from metal. Then digitized and printed from the computer via photo polymer, then stroked minutely in Illustrator to show ink gain and finally stroked liberally with a gray shadow to show deep impression. Each one would be different and none would be true to the original except metal printed without over inking and with a slight bite. Does this give you a place to start?

Check out P22.com/Lanston. This is from their website: “The Lanston fonts are optimal for photopolymer letterpress printers because they have been accurately digitized from the original metal patterns and type specimens from the Lanston Monotype Company.” They have a beautiful selection of digitized type; it’s the only digital foundry I’ll buy from.


Good Heavens…all those printers (?) who believe that “one who dies with the most typefaces wins” will have yet another typeface to acquire!!

The Lanston faces mentioned, while true that some are digitized from original metal patterns, cannot be considered a full translation of a letterpress type. Giampa only used one size as a master, when in the case of a face like Caslon 337 there were probably four masters, something like small text, regular text, small display, large display. Giampa used the regular text master so 12 point 337 looks like the original; 6 point, 24 point, 60 point do not. Of course few digital offerings take optical size into account, and at Lanston the only text-and-display offering I recall was for a Jim Rimmer original design, Albertan. Lanston also used printed samples to recreate lost Goudy faces.

Thanks for the answers.

Are you wanting to get the look of letter press type with a computer?