typesetting programs and tutorials


worked on press room floor
with a little bit of time in offset
dark room, striping and plate making

now have set up a small shop
using foundry type

but am turning down jobs
that would need other type styles
and plastic plates

have no experience with computer typesetting
for plastic plates
bought an Adobe program
but can’t seem to make heads or tails of it

so where pray tell does a old ink under the finger
nails pressman start

any suggestions would be appreciated

yours truly


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Where are you located? Maybe one of us is near you and could help in person.

Also check youtube.com for “illustrator basics”.

If you are willing to pay for knowledge try:


Tried and true for software instruction (including the Adobe stuff). Won’t teach you typography though. No one or no thing can do that. You have to find that road by yourself. That is sort of an epiphany kind of thing.

I note that they do offer courses as such at institutions of higher learning though, usually as Type !, Type 2, Type 3, Type 4. Four times the enrollment fees equals something or other competence in typography. If you pass, you are indoctrinated. Congrats.


I had no problem learning DTP with Quark XPress 3.2 because all the actions were derived from the metal typography I knew already. But 20 years later I still can’t make sense of any typographical action in an Adobe program.
Linecasting machines make more sense to me than InDesign and maybe have more comprehensible documentation.

As mentioned about the Linda programs are fantastic. If you like you can send me a practice file and I can send it back to you set up ready to print. I can show you what I did and why. Making polymer plates is a very expensive learning curve. You will find that most of the dos and donts would apply to traditional methods as well. Its just a familiarity thing really.

Also do not be too overwhelmed, most of the Adobe suite is now designed for multiple purposes. Photoshop which was originally an electric darkroom is now used for a myriad of professions. You will find with Illustrator you use a small portion of it - but it is a fantastic program.


as someone who has taken, and helped teach, a few type classes in a few “institutions of higher learning”, perhaps I can actually weigh in on their usefulness. And why, I would contend, that it is absolutely possible to “learn typography”, though obviously the classes are only an introduction to a life-long relationship to an extensive field of study.

The first type class in my current institution, and its equivalent in any college design course I’ve seen, is focused on type forms. Dealing with the design, classifications and history of typefaces. They are aimed at people with little-to-no knowledge of type.

The Type Forms (aka. Type 1) class in the department I am currently both studying and working in, teaches students these differences, with lectures on prominent type designers and movements to accompany every critique of student work.

The final projects, I believe comprising the last 3 weeks of the 15 week class (a 15 week course is 45 hours of lectures and feedback, and an expected workload outside classtime of at least 135 hours) require them to design beautiful posters that show a full set of characters in a chosen typeface alongside historical information, typeset in a manner accurate to its history and design. A single-sheet specimen if you will.

Some of these posters are downright gorgeous, printed on nice paper with an expensive printer (in the machine sense of the word, not person), using well-made digital typefaces. Not a single one of them would have been possible if it was not for the instruction and feedback they got in the class. And I put it to you that most would be hard pressed to create such beautiful work without a much longer time of self-study, and probably a decent investment in equipment, software and time.

The type 2 class, or Type Composition as we call it at my university, focuses on passages of text, typographical color, tracking and kerning, getting an even rag and flowing headlines, a text-block free of rivers. It also covers the range of paragraph indicators and their stylistic impact, leading into weeks of fine-tuning type, students getting better with every session and being reassured of their progression through better critiques. Then the students design book-covers, display type and body copy working together to create meaning and illustrating the content (as no image or illustration is permitted) across a series of books with a common thematic thread. Though with different stories to be identified.

The last project of the class asks students to apply their skills to redesigning an existing book, combining text, image and layout across its chapters, ensuring that the typesetting fits the content and allows for the reader to absorb the content as one would expect (the differences between typesetting for, for example, novels and coffe-table books are stressed).

The third class, Type 3 or Type Systems as we call it, is another take on books, this time with a higher focus on developing a typographical hierarchy to support content you’ve gathered and curated into a narrative. Students are tasked with creating a system to present original research in book form, the book needing to be between 80 and 140 pages and include a variety of information, copy, images and infographics. The end results are beautiful, hand-bound and given stamped and gilded covers (so much for designers of today only knowing digital tools).

The last class is called Type Experiments, or Type 4, though some would say it involves just as much lettering. It is about playing with letterforms, typeset and handdrawn alike. Posters, websites, books and original software comes out of these classes every semester. The projects vary from semester to semester, but always stunning (and often quite witty) work. These are admittedly self-indulgent projects, but at their foundation lies an understanding of what makes type or letters work.

When they’ve gone through these classes, students are “at home” with the software, but they also know how to create typographical layouts that are beautiful, legible, expressive and original. They know how to select typefaces to reinforce content and how to set them to maximize the author’s, or designer’s, intent.

No one is saying you will be fully taught, but you’ll have an understanding of the basics and you will have applied them to a range of projects under criticism from professionals and peers alike. You’d be hard pressed to emerge from these classes without a love for type and letters, and to move into your lifelong studies with passion. Whether that is a worthwile investment, or the right way of arriving at such insight and interest, is up to the individual. Not all classes are as good, but to say no one can teach you type seems silly.


Hello Mac,

I third lynda.com, but Adobe’s own “help” pages are also very good. (Sometimes they turn out to be straight from lynda.com). For example, in InDesign (CS6), there’s a search box at the upper right. If you type your keyword(s) in there, you’ll get a list of relevant articles and tutorials. Faced with a blank InDesign workspace, you could type in something like “create new document” and go from there. But the lynda tutorials are more structured, and there are levels appropriate for beginners through professionals.

My approach to learning software is to learn what I need for each project, starting with something simple. The Adobe products are so comprehensive that I assume I can achieve whatever I envision, so I explore each issue as it comes up.

EDIT: As for the differences between Gerald’s and Kim’s approaches to learning about typography, I can appreciate both, though I lean toward Gerald’s. If you want to write a novel, you can get an MFA in creative writing and learn all the “rules” and such that the other MFAs are learning, or you can spend your life reading novels and then just sit down to write your own. I wonder how many of the best novelists ever studied it in school.



I fully understand the curriculum and how hard it must have been to initiate it in an institutional environment. The problem is with the quality of instruction.

I was in the cafeteria the other day and listened as a Type something or other instructor railed against a student for using hyphenation. “One should never use hyphenation.” Really! Someone should have informed Gutenberg and all.

Digital has changed all that?!? I’ve had a peek at a very sophisticated typesetting program being developed in the industry, and oddly enough, it is based primarily on the setting of The Gutenberg Bible! Lots of hyphens in that.

So, later, I looked up her credentials. Nothing. She went direct from student to teacher.


Barbara, I am not saying that four semesters of type classes will make you a typographer, just like studying writing won’t make you a novelist. I am saying it will teach you *some* typography.

A good class is simply structured learning, comprising lectures, examples, assignments and feedback to get the student as much experience and as much direction as possible in the time provided. You could find the same examples, get the same insights and do the same work in a variety of ways, but it would not be nearly as easy or fast as taking the class. Once the class is over, you can choose to apply the rules or discard them, but when it comes to type, few rules are set in stone and few rules aren’t based on centuries of experience.

It should go without saying that any field as old and varied as typography cannot be fully explored by anyone and just as any education is just a foundation for a lifetime of work or study, the type classes are the same. I’m just saying that a good type class is a good way to learn typography.

Gerald, I have also encountered those who discount hyphenation entirely, which is of course absurd. Some instructors are simply not good instructors and many are also too stuck in their stylistic views. I was lucky that most of my instructors, both those who were trained in the pre-digital era and those who came later, were good instructors with solid experience from different fields. And not too eager to introduce their own stylistic bias into our work.

“Never hyphenate” is not a digital-era idea, my guess would be that it is someone’s stylistic preference on a single assignment taken as gospel by a student who wasn’t paying attention to its context.

I was never told to “never do” anything, but every once in a while I’ll encounter students in my workshops or tutoring sessions who tell me they were told to *always* hang all their punctuation (which I personally think looks terrible), that adding tons of tracking to italics is fine, or that hyphenation is never “good typography”. After trying to make sure the instructor meant it as an overall rule, not for an isolated application, I’m not shy about saying “that is not always true”, admittedly in much less graceful terms.



Hanging punctuation is actually a desired typographic treatment. It was practiced through out the Period of Incunabula and again with the Typographic Revival. And is still practiced by certain fine press printers. It’s origins are from manuscript writing and it is a form of visual adjustment and optimization.

I’ve practiced it with metal type and with digital type, albeit, prior to it’s adaptation by InDesign, it was difficult to do. The trick is not to do it indiscriminately, which is the common practice today. A hundred percent hang is simply wrong, it needs to be adjusted until the page “sings,” so to speak. This, by the way, does not just effect punctuation, but letterforms as well, such as cap characters that need visual adjustment.

I knew a fellow who refused to make any spatial adjustment to his metal typesetting because he had “respect for the metal.” Another way of saying this would be he was just too lazy to spend the time required to do so.



I didn’t say it wasn’t a valid thing to do, but that such typographic treatments are stylistic choices, suitable for some work, but not all. If the student can explain why they did it, and demonstrate that the use of the optically adjusted margin option made their type read better and brought something to the layout, then it is great. But as with anything that is calculated by InDesign and not the typedesigner, like the Optical kerning settings, results vary by size and typeface to such a degree that each case must be evaluated on its own.

More than hanging punctuation, I take issue with blanket statements from instructors. Because if the reason/context isn’t made clear, it instills bad habits. I’ve seen many times a student four more semesters down the line using the option in a case where it causes nothing but dissonance to their layout and is clashing with style and content. When questioned on their use of the option, they say “well, I was told to *always* turn on optically adjusted margins”.

I use it myself quite frequently but there are also cases, and typefaces, with which it isn’t the right way to go.


Would you please explain to an aged (very much so) hot metal typographer the meaning of “adding tons of tracking to italics.”
Thank you,


Well, the optical kerning settings are only useful for cheap typefaces that have poor kerning metrics on their own. It’s not actually an Adobe feature but rather a third party add on. I rarely use it myself. I do keep the hanging punctuation feature on but as you say it does need to be adjusted on a typeface basis, I would also add that it needs adjusting on a per size basis and a line length basis, same as H&J.



If I may, tracking is just kerning, like adding coppers and brasses (note though that there is negative kerning in digital sans printer’s saw). Expansive kerning to italics and small size type (and obviously to cap settings) is well documented in printing history. It is a visual thing. If the type looks crowded, it needs to be spaced out a tad. The first small size text typefaces were actually cut to fit wider bodies to achieve the effect.

No apologies to Frederic Goudy are actually needed. His infamous remark about letterspacing lowercase type (which I doubt I can repeat here) was intended as an insult to the German usage of black-letter (where there was no italic for emphasis). Not that he did not like black-letter, he just did not like the Germans. At the time, the US was undecided if it would go to war against Germany.



Agreed. I rarely, if ever, stray from Metrics. I prefer to tweak for size and color manually, rather than rely on whoever did the Optical feature. :)


in digital type, the “Tracking” option will increase letterspacing throughout the paragraph, or the selected line/word. Gerald is correct in saying that it is technically just kerning, though distributed evenly in the paragraph in thousands of an Em. These settings don’t take much before they start looking odd, as the software knows nothing of how the letter-pairs look once tracked. So the settings should generally be used sparingly, especially on lowercase, small type and italics.

Over the years many a person, type-designers in particular perhaps, came up with rules to discourage the use of such settings, or of spacing before digital. Preferring to have “respect for the metal” as Gerald mentioned, or for the design of the digital type.

But at least when the type was metal, the subtle differences between the sizes of cast type accounted for legibility issues, not so with digital type, where the type drawn at one size and simply scaled down with no regard to the limits of the design, or the display, or the ink with which it was to be printed.

These days, modern type-foundries/designers, like those who cut type for metal, create “cuts” of their typefaces for various sizes. It is not uncommon for a new family of typefaces to have weights for text, small text, display etc.

It took a while for the digital age to catch up, but these variations make a huge difference, and as they become more common, it will be less common for young designers to apply too many automated settings to their type.


Hey Kim

I’m actually enjoying the back and forth. Thanks for that. I’m interested in your comment about the optical “cuts.” Is this really happening? Examples? I thought that was over with. I kind of gave up paying attention to digital typography when everything seemed to be going toward animation and mobile device compatible. Inform me, please.



I’ve got some stuff on optimization over at
that I put up in the old days.

There was this young fellow, Andy Crewdson, who started one of the first blogs, and almost single handedly dismissed the grunge movement in typography (when most traditional typographers lived in fear of speaking out). Thank god for him.

I’m thinking I want to hear more from you on this list.


Hi Gerald,

a good discussion is always welcome, even when my experience and knowledge pales. :) Much of the historical context and movements are, as of yet, largely unknown to me, as I am still growing my library of specimens and printing history, for the years of study to come.

The optical cuts are definitely getting more common, with the most common example perhaps being Text and Book weights in addition to Roman or Regular, nothing new there, but welcome they are nonetheless.

Hoefler & Frere Jones are doing among those that do a good job of it these days. Some of their larger “super”-families, such as Chronicle and Mercury come first in a text and a display.

Breaking it down further, their Text faces have four optical weights, or grades (http://www.typography.com/fonts/chronicle-text/features/chronicle-grades...) as they call them, for use on different papers or printing processes. Each grade has three weights with accompanying italics and small caps, for a total of 36 styles + numeric fonts in each grade and weight.

The Display faces have six weights, in various widths and with a “Deck” style for use at sizes between display and text. 46 styles total.

When they launched their webfont service, they also introduced weights optimized for small type on screen, and optimal legibility on mobile and high-definition displays.

When Christian Schwartz revived Neue Haas Grotesk (for the redesign of Newsweek) from the original Miedinger sketches and specimens, he made sure to include a Display cut, to fully recreate the nuances present in the larger sizes.



Edit: and I read your article on the digital response to Letterpress a few years ago. It was a great read then, as it is now, and definitely opened my eyes to the differences between lead and the state of bezier curves.

What are you want to do?

As a printer from, hand set, Linotype, photo composing to now the computer. I have done it all.

If you know the basic type styles of layouts, you can do in any computer program.

The best way on your own, is find a printed page that you like the design.

And, if you have a scanner, scan the page and bring the scan page into the InDesign page.

Lock the image in place, and do your typesetting on top of the scan page. When finish, unlock the page and delete it.

Print it out and see how close it looks to the scan page.

Once you do that, and it turns out fine, you just need a few more, until you ready to take on an scan page.


ok here goes
am not expecting to learn
typography from software instructions

just want to be able to do simple work
expect to still be learning about printing
when i kick off

started my apprenticeship in 1968
PPAU local #2 Detroit
first few years worked as a helper
then as a pressman

got out 20 years ago
running a big two color convertible perfector
started being less like a skilled trade
and more like serving the machine
that and winding skids of stock

so retired and opened up a book store
but always was interested in letterpress work

so have set up a small shop in the book store
front window

thanks to all for the suggestions
guess i will try the linda tutorial

once again
thank you


oh PS the book store is located
in Berkley Michigan 4 miles North of Detroit

image: L1000571.JPG


Hey Mac

Here is a thought, why not trade your knowledge with someone local, maybe a student who can help you with some training using software and designing for letterpress.
There are so many art students that would love to learn the craft and would be able to help you at the same time. Try your local college or university Graphic arts dept.

Good luck

I wish Mac every success, and wish I had money/time to study with both Gerald and Kim, loved the discourse.
Best wishes to ” ‘em ” all (pun intended).


distance learning courses eg, also in States????

Hi Mac,

“BoundEdition” in Ann Arbor are the folks who have picked up the book-arts operation that Hollander’s paper store let go. Jim Horton is an instructor there. They might be very willing to swap Adobe skills with a type veteran.

I use an open-source design program, so I’m not the best choice for hands-on guidance on Adobe, but would gladly share any tips I can on basics that are common to most programs. I get up your way every month or so.

Which Adobe products have you purchased?

I know that if my local bookstore had a press, I would drop by more often.

For learning Adobe software, I recommend taking the Lynda.com courses, they are very comprehensive, but if you work your way through them you’ll learn most of the ins and outs of the software.


why do letterpress printing and use a computer?

The real fun for me, is using real foundry, linotype and ludlow slugs and printing a job with them.

“…why do letterpress printing and use a computer?”

Good livings are made in that fashion, by designers, printers and suppliers around the world.

Yes, beyond fun, there are some folks who do this for a living.

As a fine press book printer I can say that when I was printing with metal type I was always in debt, investing in the next book project, buying the elusive typeface (that you just have to have), adding to the breadth of the collection, etc. When I switched to photopolymer, suddenly I began to have money in my pocket. Strange, compelling feeling, that.

BTW, not blowing farts, I still have a small collection of foundry type, and occasionally print from it:



Let’s face it. 90 % of the work which is asked by clients to be printed, you can’t do in Hot metal. Period.
I have a book in Prep. 243 pp, 9x12 around, if I do that in metal, the cost runs 11.7 x higher than what it cost to produce this book in a 550 copies run,on zerkall paper, 2 colors, machine sewn and bound in full cloth and half Leather.
Doesn’t matter if you do it for fun or for a living, than it’s start to take food away from your family or clears out the retirement account you may even not yet have, you’re doing something wrong.Just for the glory of saying it was printed from metal? The 12 first Titels coming from my imprint were handset, before I had the chance to aquire a Montotype plant. And yes, I know there are printers out there who print from type (Metal) and can make a living from it. But us who live in big cities, have commercial spaces and all the cost and expenses which comes with it!, we work for clients and strive to give them what they want at a price they can afford and which puts coin in our pockets.

Unfortunately more and more letterpress printers using photopolymer will hammer in the final nails into the coffin of hot metal. If printers don’t buy from the few type foundries that are left they simply won’t be able to remain open, and the discussion will become moot. It’s a shame because metal type is actually a renewable resource. The last time I brought old metal to M&H in San Francisco they didn’t want it. They don’t need it, they already have too much metal on hand, far more than is going out the door. San Francisco has a large letterpress community, but due to the SF Center for the Book the community is largely moving to photopolymer. What will happen to M&H when Andy Hoyem retires?



There has to be a difference between Printers who work for Clients and Printers who print out of their own interest.
A large hot metal shop (Lino and Ludlow) had advertised for over a decade to the small hobby printer -if I may to use the term - that cast type can be easily set up and be printed from.
Everybody responded they don’t need that - as they use Boxcar. Let’s face it, not everybody has to print from Polymer, but you are right on the point: As long as the ones who educate preach the gospel that only a vandercook is the press to use and only Boxcar is the place to go for plates, these people won’t even know there are more types of presses out there or methods to print from. I have hotmetal on my floor (Ludlow - and a good collection at that), but I also make Film and Polymerplates.

How often do I got a call if I make Boxcar plates -I make Polymerplates, well, than they don’t want my service, even if I’m in the same town,
And please - glory to Herold for what he has accomplished, we know each other and what I write here is no critic on Boxcar but a statement to the situation.
We have reached the Point of Xerox and Heintz,
one is a copy, the other one it ketchup, but if you use a Oce copier and call it a xerox !

That is the problem we have, it’s the Loss of our terminology, our vernacular.

I had a possible client knock on my shop door one day. She wanted letterpress invitations, and her “designer” (great designer to convince the client to do her own leg-work) told her that she needed the job printed from polymer plates. I showed her my work, described the process of printing from type, and showed her zinc plates that I used for camera-ready copy. I made it clear to her that I was familiar with photopolymer, but did not have the equipment to make those kinds of plates, nor did I have the mounting plate for it, but could easily print it letterpress which was her ultimate outcome. It was obvious that she had no concept of what I was describing, and after much hesitation she thanked me, but said, “No, my designer (remember, the one that couldn’t be bothered to research what local printers were capable of) said that I have to have photopolymer.” She wandered away, and I tried to figure out how I could get that wasted half-hour of my life back.

Now, I’m well aware that expanding my capability by using photopolymer would ultimately bring in more money. But having originally learned printing in offset shops I think that if I was going to print from photo-ready work I should prefer to print offset than from photopolymer. Offset is faster with better reproduction, and financially makes more sense if one is just putting ink to paper. I know, I know, letterpress is cool, and it is so very fashionable today, but since I print without a lot of impression, I am more concerned with proper layout and design than getting the “look of letterpress”.

If I were setting up today it wouldn’t take very much research to realize that letterpress type and equipment is incredibly over-priced, and not a great investment because of age and unavailability of parts. I did poster work for years, and today the type collection that I once owned would be cost prohibitive. The foundry type I still retain in my shop will probably unavailable soon, should I wish to add to it, leaving me to compete on eBay, or barter with collectors to increase my holdings or replace it as it wears out.

People who don’t know me think I am down on letterpress, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have loved printing from types since the days I ran Hatch Slow Print, and will continue to do so until I can no longer hold a stick. But I see no future in it, only a lot of past.


What is the set cost to make polymer plates?

I know where I can get a Litho camera.

email me:

[email protected]


back like a bad penny

not about to give up hot type
enjoy working with hot type
it is one of the reasons
starting working letterpress

except for paper
have spend more money on M&H type
then anything else in the shop

will keep working with foundry type
so far have only lost money on this enterprise

would love to have a ludlow or Linotype
there is no way i could keep a Linotype running
a Ludlow would be nice
but have only so much room don’t want
to bite off too much
and oh my
the electric bill to keep the pot hot

have turned away jobs that could have done
using photo polymer

could have done a few dozen QSL card jobs
but simply do not have the display type

not expecting to make big bucks in printing
but it would be nice if it made a little money

rather not work with photo polymer / computer
would prefer if the shop was
strictly hand set foundry type
got to make some money at this
if it takes photo polymer so be it

again many thanks

while posting
my leading keeps getting shorter
yea sure
anybody know a good source
for leading


Hi Mac,

Still looking for some help with polymer? If so, I’m in the area and would be willing to trade for some instruction on the press.