pilgrimage to pencil to pixel


Monotoype UK recently staged Pencil to Pixel: a small-but-perfectly-formed exhibition about the development of typeface production—well worth the minor trek to its slightly off-grid Wapping location.

The decades of change between hot metal and digital production could easily make you overlook the extent of labour and craft that is still involved in bringing type to use. Type may be surface design but it has more in common with furniture or other product design in its mix of essential functional and aesthetic requirements than with most of the graphic design it serves. The sheer beauty of the pencil-drawn curves of pre-digital type masters is something I had seen before but almost forgotten. In the exhibition the evidence of mid-20th century type impressed most, the physically less present display of digital era work on show suffering by comparison: pencils 1, pixels 0. Anyhoo—all of it is better seen than waffled on about. Below are some snaps of things that caught my eye:


Like a cartoon character in a bad mood, a l.c. Times Roman ‘a’ has overdrawn accents for consistent positioning.


French curves were used for these master character drawings, impressive and beautiful nonetheless.


Notebook recording Monotype’s typeface output.


A lovely bit of Perpetua Italic.


Don’t make ’em like they used to #1,325: ceremonial trowel that laid the 1st brick of Monotype’s Salfords factory.


Beautiful typeface sample proof.


Brass character matrices from which hot metal characters were cast.


Character master cut (by hand) into Rubylith film (note spikes to prevent fill-in on reduction).


Phototypesetting matrices.


n.b. Pencil to Pixel is now over. For more and better detail the current Eye Magazine carries an informative series of articles on Monotype’s contribution to type production.






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