Having spent almost a century bossing the typesetting industry Mergenthaler recognized that the Linotype couldn’t go on for ever. Their first phototypesetter, the Linofilm, came out in 1954, but film typesetting didn’t really take off till offset lithography dominated the print market and cheap computing was becoming available. By 1970 Mergenthaler had produced a phototypesetter called the V-I-P (Variable Input Photo-typesetter) which was driven by a paper tape analogous to that used for years by Monotype. By 1975 Penta had designed a front-end system which was widely used with the phototypesetting machine for book work. Depending on complexity the V-I-P would set a page of type in about four minutes though its several moving parts did mean it needed constant maintenance. In the 70s you couldn’t get away from them!

aed2b45673f5823a826446797c5d0d21The V-I-P looked like a metal filing cabinet, similar in size to an office copying machine. You’d open the side doors to find remarkably little in there: a light source, a carrier for film strips with the fonts on them, and a lens. The machine held six fonts (or eighteen depending on model) at a time, one reserved for punctuation and special characters like the asterisk, etc. It could set type in sizes from 5 to 35 points (separate font strips were available for 35 to 72 point type) by moving a lens back and forth to adjust size and expose each character onto a roll of photo-sensitive paper with a flash of strobe light. The type fonts for the V-I-P were on film strips a little larger than a business card, which cost hundreds of dollars each. They were not priced as families of light, medium, italic, bold, & bold italic; each of these would require separate purchases, so not all typesetters had all the options. This meant that book designers still had to fit their design specs to the holdings of their typesetters — if less extensively than in hot-metal days. Phototypesetters nearly always had dark rooms, and a special punch was soon available so that you could duplicate the registration holes in the original font strips and make copies of the fonts. Since they could be easily damaged in cleaning, and the frequent switching in and out of the machine, it was a good idea to keep a copy as a backup.

088-craigprod-DSC_0350Faced with competition from companies producing bootleg film strips Mergenthaler reduced font prices from $100-$200 to $30-$40, and this price reduction spurred the dominance of the V-I-P; yet another textbook example of the virtue of price reductions! Setting up a typesetting company became relatively straightforward, and unsurprisingly the choice available to production managers exploded.

Much of this is taken from Graphion Museum: Old Typesetter’s Tales.

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