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Getting to Know Monophoto Filmsetters, 1963

Started by Dave Hughes, September 08, 2017, 10:14:30 AM

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Dave Hughes

Recently shared on Vimeo by the Linotype: The Film people is this in-depth look at Monotype's first photo system. Like other early hybrid mechanical/photo setups the whole process seems incredibly complicated.

Learn all about the "Monophoto" Filmsetter from Monotype. This machine attempts to bridge the gap in typesetting from the hot metal machines to the "new and exciting" world of photo typesetting.

The Monophoto machine is a casting machine that uses a photographic process to set type instead of the old, hot-metal process from the past. Using light-sensitive paper, a photographic lens, and photo type matrices, the Monotype casts type that can be used for offset printing.

At 6:38, see a diagram of how the Monophoto system works and exposes individual type characters on a drum of photo paper. At 8:34, see the hundreds of tiny pieces of film that make up the photographic matrix case and how they work inside of the machine.

Starting at 23:24 you can see the process of taking the film from the machine, processing it in a dark room, and producing a positive (or negative) that can be used for proofing and printing. If you're interested in the process of photo composition and layout, an in-depth explanation starts at 27:23. The film ends with a celebration of the shining future for Monotype in the world of photo typesetting.

See more printing, journalism, and typographic-related films at:

(note: audio is missing for the first 35 seconds)
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Keri Szafir

Interesting video; I've never seen any complete (let alone working) Monophoto machine in real life.
The first generations based on the composition caster's mechanisms were a rather short-lived technology. I've seen some parts from one such machine, and one or two diecases for it.
To be honest, I can hardly see a use for them now. You need a source of material (good luck with that - even regular 36mm or 60mm photographic film and paper is expensive nowadays), darkroom, chemicals etc. If the effect is the same, then cheaper means (e.g. DTP program and a laser printer) to reach it win. And the mistakes are a pain in the arse to correct; mistyped characters (especially on Monophoto keyboards) don't come up until you process the film. The composition caster at least lets you replace the wrong characters by hand.

The system had its advantages back in the day, if you had a lot of work to do. The speed didn't depend on type size, developing the film was easier if done as a batch process and chemicals would be used faster than they expire. It all made the process good for newspapers/magazines, publishing houses etc., but not small fine book printshops where hot metal is still used nowadays.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." --Arthur C. Clarke
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever." --John Keats
Founder and owner of Keritech Electronics

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