Monotype vs Linotype -- why

Jemma Hostetler's picture

Hello all,

I recently had an email exchange with a group of people and I believe there are some here that may be able to provide more insight on this discussion.

It begins with...

On Sep 22, 2009, at 4:11 PM, Todd Childers wrote:

Hello All:

A few weeks ago in my Graphic Design History course we studied the Linotype versus the Monotype Hot lead casting techniques that were used in the 19th and muchj of the 20th century for printing and setting type.
After all of the studying it dawned on me, Linotype seems to be so superior to Monotype that I can't figure out why Monotype came into existence one year after the creation of Linotype 1886 - 1887.

The only clue that I have is that Wikipedia says that Linotype was faster because its set a line of type at a time. While Monotype was better for "fine" printing because it set in singular blocks (one letter per block) it allowed for the easier correction for misspellings.

I don't fully trust Wikipedia. So I have to ask is this true? And were there other differences that made Monotype worthwhile in the first place?




Charles Spontelli
Associate Professor, VCT-Tech Education, Bowling Green State University
had this to say about Linotype vs Monotype

"I've worked on a Linotype in my career.
I guess that makes me old. I'm pretty sure the machine
still runs at Star Calendar and Printing Co. in Cleveland.
I would agree with Wikipedia and add that my understanding
is that the Monotype was used more for financial printing
– financial reports and the like. If there was an error
or if the numbers changed after the type was set,
corrections could be made to individual figures
without resetting the entire body of work.
I also understood that it was easier to do tabular columns
– (common in financial work) but I really don't know exactly why,
so I can't verify that. It's interesting – so I'll pass this on
to some people I know."

Patrick Schreiber, University of Cincinnati Professor AIGA Cincinnati President
and my old room mate in Havana, Cuba last Fall for the AIGA XCD Sharing Dreams
Expedition had this to say about Linotype vs Monotype

"For anyone who has had the experience of composing significant
quantities of 'hand-set' type, the ability to quickly make a change
without having to completely recompose a galley is significant. While
Linotype does indeed set type on a predefined measure would from the
outset appears to be a significant time-saver, typesetters were
restricted to the mechanical process; letter spacing (tracking) was
possible, but craft issues such as the ability to kern (remember the
kern is actually the sawing away of the cast lead that allowed the
the descender of a 'y' to overlap the previous character and slug)
weren't easily accomplished. It is also easier and faster to replace a
single letter than to compose an entire new line when a keystroke
error was made."

Wikipedia had this to say about the Linotype vs. Monotype question
in an article on the Lanston Monotype Machine Company

"The original Monotype machine used "hot metal" to form individual letters.
Thus spelling mistakes could be corrected by adding or removing individual letters.
This was particularly useful for "quality" printing - such as books.
In contrast the Linotype machine formed a complete line of type in one bar.
Editing these required replacing an entire line (and if the replacement ran on to another line,
the rest of the paragraph). But Linotype slugs were easier to handle if moving
a complete section of text around a page. This was more useful for "quick" printing
- such as newspapers."

Finally There several videos on You Tube and other sites that show Linotype and Monotype printing processes.

Thanks for putting up with my incessant e-mails!


Don McCahill's picture

Linotype was excellent for newspapers and simple books. However, for scholarly books, where you needed complex math equations and the like, Linotype was less than ideal. Monotype could run circles around it in the ability to create multi-level math equations (think college Calculus). And it could also do straight text well, so for those users who needed even occasional math setting, Monotype was the way to go.

There is another bit that might interest you. Some years after the Linotype was invented, a machine called the Intertype was developed that used many of the same features as the Linotype (just different enough to avoid patent issues, I guess). You might want to look into it in your research.

dezcom's picture

Monotype separated composing from casting by having the text typed on to punched paper tape that was read by the caster. This was a way of dividing labor.


quadibloc's picture

Linotype was faster and cheaper than Monotype, and, in consequence, it was much more popular. In fact, as I type these words, "Monotype", but not "Linotype", is underlined in red, indicating that whatever spell checking my browser is using did not even recognize the word.

Newspapers, paperback books, and magazines were set almost exclusively on the Linotype, and I believe that a great many hardcover books may have been set in that fashion as well.

Why, then, did the Monotype even exist?

Well, the main reason is that the Monotype was more flexible than the Linotype. Since Linotype produced a line of text as one elongated slug, it was absolutely limited to the setting of straight text matter.

Newspapers, of course, have headlines. It isn't impossible to mix foundry type - or Ludlow - with Linotype, and indeed that was standard practice. However, there were limits to how intimately Linotype could be mixed with other kinds of type. That one solid slug was a big part of it.

Another was the fact that while the point size of foundry type (and Monotype type) is 0.013837", just under the nominal 1/72", the point size of Linotype is 0.014".

So casting a short line of type in Linotype and then putting something in foundry type on the same line would be difficult. This wouldn't be needed to insert sorts - Linotype had such matrices - but for things like equations it would be painful.

Also, with Linotype, the regular and italic versions of a typeface had to have the same widths, character for character. This was a noticeable aesthetic limitation.

Monotype, on the other hand, fit perfectly with the use of foundry types - and, indeed, because it produced individual type slugs, it would normally make it unnecessary to use foundry type even for the most demanding typography.

Also, Monotype had, as has already been noted in this thread, a separate keyboard and caster. This meant that multiple keyboarders could prepare paper tapes that could brought to a single caster working at full efficiency.

Originally for newspapers with special fonts, but later for all Linotype users, this particular advantage was eventually matched by Linotype thanks to TTS perforators. They created paper tapes that controlled a machine that would operate a Linotype machine. The perforators calculated where each line would end. At first, this was done by designing newspaper fonts to fit the same 18-unit system as a Monotype caster had. Later, the Multifont perforator used a 32-unit system internally; this was fine enough that line breaks could be calculated properly even though the perforator calculated on the basis of character widths that were rounded into those units, not exactly matching the actual widths of the Linotype characters.

However, since a TTS perforator had a keyboard almost like that of a typewriter - while a Monotype keyboard was big and complicated, just as a Linotype keyboard was - it is possible that there were union-related issues connected with the use of TTS to eliminate the gap with Monotype in this area.

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