Monotype vs. Linotype

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Will Miller's picture
Joined: 30 Aug 2004 - 10:24pm
Monotype vs. Linotype

In the days when casting was done with these machines, were they ever in competition for efficiency? was one better to work with than the other in being thrifty with time and cost? i can see the benefits of having both a line of type and an individual piece of type but was one used more frequently than the other or in conjunction similar to display faces vs. text faces collaborating together to make a nice layout? forgive me if i've confused the whole process altogether as my knowledge is limited to a few really great books I read a couple of years ago.

Mike Koppa's picture
Joined: 29 May 2007 - 11:43am

Linotype was more efficient, yes. However, a lot of a typesetter's finesse went out the window with the slug-set line. No more brasses, coppers, and paper thins. No attention allowed to be given to the fine art of letterspacing. If compositors ever paid attention to these details in the first place, their expertise was no longer in demand. I suspect that there were few who cared too terribly much, just as your average Joe desktop publishers (and some lesser designers) don't really pay attention to those details today. Either way, I'd guess that Linotype could be credited with squelching any momentum that existed regarding the art of fine typesetting in the commercial world.

Both were created with softer metal than ATF type and therefore, by nature, were often used once and then tossed in the melting pot for recasting. Say hello to recycling and good bye to the unwinding meditative practice of type distribution. As is the custom, efficiency and profit took precedence over fine craft for the masses.

Craig Eliason's picture
Joined: 19 Mar 2004 - 1:44pm

Linotype "slugs were easy to handle, but less easy to correct, and Linotypes were more commonly used for setting newspapers than books....The Monotype ... cast separate sorts, and so it could be used for both text setting and for filling cases for hand-setting; and corrections were simpler than with Linotype slugs." S. Carter, 20c Type Designers, pp. 16-17.

My impression is that printers would invest in one or the other system but not both, though either might be paired with a Ludlow typograph for larger letters.

Will Powers's picture
Joined: 16 Jun 2005 - 10:32pm

In the USA, one generally found Linos in newspaper composing rooms and commercial printers, while Monotype was found more often in book composition shops. But there was a further split in which book shops used which machine. Book composing rooms that worked more with scholarly work and high-end work more often used Monotypes. Really big composing rooms used both. I am resting my left elbow on the 3-volume set of Kingsport Press type specimen books (no date, dang it). The Lino book has many more pages than the Mono. The pagination is weird, and there's not enough lunch-hour time for me to do the counts. (The 3rd volume is display, with types from many foundries, as well as Mono and Ludlow faces.)

Lino was much easier to handle at the composing bank and to lock up on the stone. A line 'o type could contain 65 characters and spaces, all set into one piece of metal. For the Mono, that same line would have 65 individual metal sorts. The ease is obvious. Mono was a bitch to get to lift if the forme had lots of cuts or mitred boxes or if the Mono had been poorly worked by the bankman.

Mono faces could have more elegant kerns than Lino faces. The same degree of kerning beauty could be achieved with some Lino faces, but the machine guy had to insert special mats ("side sorts") by hand.

Mono faces also allowed for much easier insertion of odd sorts in the line. If a sort could not be placed in a Lino slug on the machine, the slug was cut up and space cut out for the insertion. With Mono, the keyboard operator could insert bogus type to the correct width. The bankman then removed that deadwood and dropped in the appropriate Chinese, Greek, Coptic, or whatever sorts were needed. See my point about scholarly work?

One also tended to find Lino more common in the USA, and Mono in the UK (and its colonies). There was an American Mono manufacturer, as well as several European manufacturers of Linos [or rip-offs thereof in the Soviet Union; maybe they ripped off the Mono design also. I don't know).

On press, Lino was easier to makeready. Again: a factor of the number of pieces of metal in the forme, hitting the paper.

Each system had its flaws. I was in a shop in Missoula a few days and was astonished that the Lino slugs were not the same thickness at the right end as the left. By a small amount. But when locking up 40 lines in a page, the difference was terrible. Lots of thin paper spaces had to be inserted. Monotype was subject to the phenomenon known as "bottle-assed type," which I think was discussed here some time back.

There is nothing like the fearsome beauty of a 9" x 12" page of 8/10 Monotype in two columns. Maybe 9000 sorts, all gleaming, asking for a neat coat of ink. All tied up with string, demanding to be handled sweetly lest it collapse.

I hope this helps you think about this.


Don McCahill's picture
Joined: 30 Mar 2006 - 7:55pm

Matt has pretty much said it all. The University of Toronto Press (book publisher) used monotypes (long before I showed up there). Apparently they could do multiline maths (think of your college physics or calculus text). But every newspaper I knew used Linotypes, or the cheaper clone, Intertype.