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relief printing, punctuation marks, descender, magnetic tape, American system

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Type, originally, the mechanical medium by means of which written matter was composed and transferred onto paper by printing. Each piece of type was a rectangular metal block about an inch long and bearing on one end an individual letter or other character in relief. Lines of type were arranged, inked, and positioned on a printing press that squeezed the type against paper or like material, leaving readable images. Although the heyday of metal type and relief printing is long past, the term type is still used to describe a printing character regardless of how it is stored—on metal, film, or magnetic tape, or as a series of mathematical formulas in a computer.

A font of type traditionally consists of all of the characters of the alphabet, upper (capital) and lowercase, in one size and design, and also includes numerals, punctuation marks, and special characters. The term font is used today to describe all these elements plus italic and lighter or bolder weights of the same design. A typeface consists of the character sets represented by all of the sizes and weights of a particular type design.

The size of type is expressed by means of the vertical dimension of the type body (that is, the distance from the bottom of a letter with a descender—g, p—to the top of a letter with an ascender—b, h). The customary unit of measurement of type is the point. In 1886, an agreement was reached among American foundries to fix the size of one point at 0.013837 in (0.0351 cm), sometimes rounded off to 1/72 in. Although the American system predominates, some European countries use the Didot system, in which the point is slightly larger (0.0376 cm / 0.0148 in). Text types generally range from 8 to 12 points.


Pankow, David, M.A., M.L.S.

Assistant Professor, School of Printing, Rochester Institute of Technology; Curator, Melbert B. Cary, Jr., Graphic Arts Collection.

Article key phrases:

relief printing, punctuation marks, descender, magnetic tape, American system, ascender, Text types, printing press, special characters, character sets, typeface, European countries, numerals, long past, film, alphabet, capital, computer, cm, letter, range, paper, distance, matter, agreement, material, end, points, means, sizes

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