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Matthew Carter: My life in typefaces (video)
p.s. have nice Easter break everyone.
Here is the original talk (on the TED site)
I viewed the video. One thing surprised me: when I hear of an 18 unit system, I think of Monotype. And with Monotype, different typefaces had a parameter called "set width": that is, you could have an 18 point typeface, but 18 units could equal an 18 point em or a 17 ¾ point em, or a 17 ½ point em, or a 17 ¼ point em, or a 17 point em, and so on. (The phrasing is because a distance of 18 points across is normally called two-thirds of a pica em, or an 18 point em, since in typography the point is strictly a unit of vertical distance.)
Since the 18 unit system of the phototypesetting system Matthew Carter worked on limited how he could create intermediate versions of a typeface intended to have multiple condensed forms, apparently it didn't retain this feature of Monotype.
However, this is not too surprising. Since most phototypesetting systems used magnification to get different point sizes, the different point sizes of a typeface weren't designed individually. As soon as set width doesn't equal point size, you wind up either with having to design each point size individually (since 17/18 doesn't exactly equal 15/16 and so on) or having to use anamorphic lenses. Many phototypesetting systems did have anamorphic lenses, but compensating for a set width offset would have required complicated cams.