Planning Jobs

I am in my second year of letterpress, mostly self-taught through reading here, and trial and error and a few classes. I am enjoying this hobby a great deal and especially appreciate all the good help offered by people in this forum.

I’m not even sure how to frame this question/query but here goes.

I am sure there is a system where the size of a print job (I’m thinking layout and lockup and not quantity) is thought through before even the first sort is put in the stick. And, such factors as the size of the image, the number of characters per line, the width and height of furniture, etc. are all taken into account. And, there must be a systematic way that this is taught to apprentices and such. I find myself (sometimes by serendipity) discovering that locking up certain forms is easier because all seems to just “fit” together quite nicely.

It just strikes me that the art and craft of letterpress is so elegantly executed that the history must find a system of some sort that was teachable or a set of basic rules that one should know.

Can anyone suggest some reading or other resources that might cover such basics. I know that responses from the more experienced among us can’t teach what takes years to learn, but how about something basic for a start? I hope I am somewhat clear. Thanks, Neil

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One of the best books I have encountered that discusses a broad spectrum of work is:

Advanced Typography by Walter Banzet Gress, 1931 The United Typothetae of America, Washington, D.C.

A more general work is:

Elements of Composition, 1957, International Typographical Union, Indianapolis, IN

I would also recommend:

Using Type Correctly, by Kurt Volk, 1935 Kurt H. Volk, Incorporated, New York & Philadelphia

Introduction to Typography, by Oliver Simon, 1963, Faber & Faber Limited, London

The Thames & Hudson Manual of Typography, by Ruari McLean, 1980, Thames& Hudson Ltd., London

There are any number of good books that would give you a general typographical background, and there are even different schools of thought that are separated by country and region. There are also books that deal with specific aspects of typography, advertising, invitations, books, &c. Most of the letterpress references can be transposed to computer quite easily if that is necessary. There are designers who count letters and spaces, and work everything out on paper before they ever physically start a job, and there are others who can visualize a layout in their heads, and fit type as they go along, I guess I am of the latter school. I think that a bit of spontaneity gives a printed work more life - I guess that is left-over from having to hammer out poster lay-outs as fast as possible.


Thank you Paul. I’ll look for those books.

Thanks, Paul, for the book recommendations. Traditional typesetting is one subject that doesn’t get much coverage in today’s forums, but I’m grateful that I’ve always gotten helpful responses when I’ve run into a typesetting challenge.

Bigboy, I use both of the methods that Paul describes, depending on the job. For this piece I actually used a spreadsheet. But for this piece I didn’t even use a composing stick and had no particular vision in mind when I started.


Barbara - I get it. Today I set a Tennyson quote and once I set the longest line, I had a very good sense of what the layout would be. Can you send me that spreadsheet and I am sure I can figure out how you planned that lovely piece? If you cannot, I understand. Thanks, Neil

Neil, I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the spreadsheet (I emailed you), though every job is different. To me, one of the beauties of typesetting is working with the limitations it imposes. With my Yule log piece, the sheet size was limited to what would fit in a reasonably sized envelope since it was a Christmas card. Then, of course, you can’t tweak the size of metal type with a couple of keystrokes, as you can with digital text. You find creativity thrust upon you!