Typography and desktop publishing

Elaboración: Pablo Cosgaya, Marcela Romero

Artículo en proceso de traducción

Apart from calligraphy and common hand writing, there are other forms of composing texts: manual composition, mechanical composition, photocomposition and desktop publishing. Each one of them is the result of successive modifications of previous techniques, which we will describe in this paper.

Manual composition

Texts are composed line by line with loose types casted individually. In this technique, types are picked by hand from their case, adjusting each line precisely in the composer stick. With that little tool, the line is set on a chase, the mould that holds the page or whole sheet of text. The blocks of images are also added inside the chase. The white spaces, though not printed, occupy in the line their corresponding place, composed with normalized measures.

Mechanical composition

Technological advances allowed for the mechanization of composition, considerable increasing speed. In the beginning of the 19th century a system was developed with which, in three consecutive stages, a matrix line was composed, then spaces were adjusted and finally the line of text was casted. The procedure was controlled by means of a keyboard and allowed for manual adjustments. After its use, each line could be melted again to recover the metal. Linotype, monotype and Ludlow composition are variants of this technique.


In the beginning of the 1960s, with the forthcoming of photocomposition, production speed was once more increased. Besides, this technique allowed for composition in big type sizes.

Photocomposition consists of several stages: First, the text is introduced in the computer using a keyboard. Apart from letters, the operator can include some formatting commands. The text is displayed in a monitor, together with the information corresponding to the formatting commands, though not as it will be seen in the end, but as straight matter. This is stored and then processed as a negative film, through which a source of light impacts on a photosensitive substrate. The material obtained is developed, reaching the definitive photocomposition.

Desktop publishing

With the launching of the personal computer (PC) in 1984, the user gained access to a technology that represents the material in the monitor exactly as it is composed. This «interface» between the user and the machine is called WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Although in the beginning this technique lacked refinement, it underwent (and still undergoes) a vertiginous evolution.

Desktop publishing makes it possible to coordinate all the parts that compose the original of an edition in a single machine. It checks and solves several aspects related to quality. Desktop publishing operation is divided into three stages: loading of information (text and images), processing and output.


The loading of information happens through one or several devices at the same time. The tools for loading are: the keyboard, the scanner, and the modem which consists of a transformer of the data received through a telephone line, optic fiber and other types of physical or wireless connections. Information can also be received by means of a connection to networks composed by several machines, to share files, programs or peripheral equipment.


Processing is performed with programs designed according to needs: each program (software) carries out a specific task. Thus, there is a program that works as operative system for the machine, one for image digitalization, one to touch up digitalized images, one to produce and to color illustrations, and there are specialized programs in document layout with which all the necessary elements are composed (they are glued): text, photographs, illustrations, etcetera. We will illustrate the interfaces of the two currently most important layout programs: InDesign and QuarkXPress.


Upon finishing the file processing, output is prepared which, depending on the printer, can have different qualities and resolutions. This process can include the split of color in the paper, pre-printing films or directly on the printing plates. Many times, due to the cost of these processes, the designer must employ outsourced professionals: first he must produce evidence in low resolution printers; then, store the files in optical or magnetic supports (cds, pen drives, DVDs, etc.) to finally send them to specialized workshops.

No matter which is the selected procedure, the result is the same: an original or matrix to be reproduced. Each composition technique and each output technology has its own characteristics which will be closely related to the final reproduction technique (typographic impression, serigraph printing, offset, digital files, video, etc.). According to the method used in the output process, costs, times and qualities are different.

Layout programs

This paper contains a listing of aspects to take into consideration so as to be familiar with the use of layout programs. We recommend the reading of the layout notes, the originals of which are available to the students. Manuals and tutorials are also available in internet and in bookstores.

Program operation

First, we have to decide which program we will work with. Though in this paper we describe two programs which we consider have similar characteristics, it is unquestionably very important that the program we decide to use must be well known in the market of design studies and pre-printing workshops to avoid incompatibilities.

Next we will describe the steps to take into consideration so as to become familiar with an unknown program, regardless of which one we have selected:

a) Definition of general preferences: Vertical and horizontal measurement units, adding and eliminating pages, visualizing guiding lines (in front of or behind the elements of the page), minimum text visible in the screen, etc.

b) Definition of main characteristics of the new document (layout): These are: format, margins, single or double pages (usual in editions) and use of master pages, in case they have been previously elaborated.

c) Managing basic tools (Tools bar): Tools for the selection and treatment of text and images, how to define text and image boxes, how to chain texts from independent boxes, how to enlarge and reduce the visualization of the screen, how to scroll through the document, etc.

d) Definition of main measures (Measurements bar): Location of each element with x and y coordinates, width and height of type pages, number of columns, typographic selection, space between pairs of letters and in blocks of text (kerning and tracking), line spacing, alignment of text blocks and variations in text style.

e) How text is treated: Once the characteristics and location of the type page have been defined, we must define the features of the paragraph: select a type of margin setting, set up word breaks according to the language we are working in (programs are often set up for English word breaks), exceptions to automatic word breaks (orthographic and style correction), define the criteria to differentiate one paragraph from the other, control the presence of widows and orphans, review the matching or the type of relationship between baselines of different type pages, overrun of an image with a text, incorporation of chapters, etcetera.

Typographic fonts

Computers use two types of fonts: Outline fonts and bitmap fonts.

Bitmap fonts: Called fixed size fonts. They define each character by means of a dots grid for a specific type size. For this reason, only the type sizes available in the system folder may be used.
Outline fonts: Usually called scalable fonts. They may be scaled in all type sizes. Each character is defined using a mathematical formula of curves, which may be scaled to an arbitrary type size

Fuente de mapa de bits y mapa de contorno de una letra

A la izquierda: fuente de mapa de bits. A la derecha: fuente de contorno.

There are two kinds of standards in the category of outline fonts. TrueType fonts (TTF), PostScript fonts (PS1, PS2, PS3). There is a third format, OpenType (OTF), which is currently under development. Both the TrueType and the Post- Script, may be used in different platforms (Macintosh/PC) or Mac OS/Windows operative systems, but specific files for each one of them. On the other hand, OpenType fonts use a single file for both platforms.

They are called «outline fonts» because they describe the shape of the letter by means of dots that define lines and curves. They have an independent resolution, thus they can be scaled to arbitrary type sizes without loosing resolution. The possibility of scaling a font depends on the program or operative system used. For the fonts to be seen in any output device, by the screen pixels or by a laser or inkjet printer, a conversion process called «rasterization» is performed, which consists of translation the font outline in a pattern of dots located in a grid.

When there are not enough dots to conform the outline of the font, there are failures that affect the original features of the letter. A very common example is that the width of the letter stem unjustifiably varies To avoid such deformations, the fonts have codified information in the file.

Métricas de la fuente

Entre la información codificada la fuente se encuentran las métricas, por ejemplo el ancho del carácter.

Technical differences between True Type and PostScript

a) They use different math calculations to describe their curves.

b) TrueType fonts are more easily scalable. They contain specific instructions to control their manifestation and thus, preserve their features and legibility. Careful adjustments are made, such as equalizing the weight of the stem in order to prevent the disappearance of parts of the form or to avoid having other parts looking thinner than normal.

c) Both MacOs and Windows (in all their versions) directly support TrueType fonts. They are pre-visualized on the screen and sent to the printer, as bitmaps or as recognizable fonts. PostSCript fonts are only accepted directly by the OS system. To scale a PostScript font in MacOs or in Windows it is necessary to install a program called ATM (Adobe Type Manager), which allows to see the font on the screen and converts it to make it easy to print in no PostScript printers. Technically, ATM is not necessary to print PostScript fonts in PostScript printers, but it is necessary in order to see them on the PC’s screen.

d) They have different physical storage: TrueType fonts have all the information stored in one file, while PostScript fonts require two: one for screen pre-visualization or outline and another one with the metric information.

Mapa de caracteres de una fuente

Mapa de carecteres de Alegreya.

OpenType Characteristics

Fonts have a code assigned to the characters that allow the computer to process electric impulses coming from the keyboard. TrueType and PostScript fonts have an 8 bits encoding system that allow a maximum of 256 characters in a font. This is a limitation because many languages need more than 256 characters for writing and because many times it is necessary to write in more than one language with the same font. The 8 bit families solve this problem with fonts for each language (for example: Cyrillic, Hebrew, Latin). OpenType, with 16 bits, admit more than 65.000 characters. They use Unicode to standardize the encoding system which assigns a unique ID to each character used in the world. Windows XP and MacOs operative systems use the same system to give multilingual support to program developers.

OpenType fonts have three purposes:

  1. The font format is multiplatform: it works in MacOs, in Windows, and in Linux/Unix.
  2. They are compatible with Unicode to facilitate the production and functioning of multilingual programs.
  3. They provide support for complex writings and typographic refinements.

OpenType, developed together with Microsoft and Adobe spreads the load of language in three layers: the font, the operative system and the application or program.

The current drawback of OpenType is that it is compatible with Windows and Linux, but in MacOs it is limited to Adobe applications.

Formatos de fuentes y cantidad de archivos que la componen

Los formatos de fuentes y la cantidad de archivos que las componen.

Font installing

To install a new font in Windows, we recommend following these steps:

  1. Go to the Start Menu and access the control panel.
  2. Click on the Fonts folder.
  3. In the Archive menu, click on Install new font.
  4. Click on the unit and in the folder that contains the fonts you want to add.
  5. Double click on the desired font.

You can obtain the same results by accessing the control panel via My PC (system hard disk), accessing the Windows folder, double clicking on the Fonts folder and dragging the desired fonts from the source unit.

Carga de fuentes en Windows

Carga de fuentes en Windows

Installing a new font in MacOs

Fonts are stored in the fonts folder in the System Folder. A selection of fonts is already installed with the operative system. We can install as many fonts as we want as long as the machine has enough memory, but if we abuse of this operation we can make the use of other programs more complicated. Thus, it is advisable to install only the necessary font folders. Steps to be followed:

  1. Double click on the hard disk icon.
  2. Find the font you wish to install and drag it to the system font folder.

This way of loading fonts is not very advisable because we operate on the machine system.

Instalar una fuente en MacOs

Instalar una fuente en MacOs.

Install a font with a font manager

To avoid problems with PostScript fonts and eliminate sources recommend adding a font manager. Different programs have some differences but the steps are:

  1. Open the program and click Add Sources tab.
  2. Sourcing choose to add fonts from a local hard drive, CD-ROM, a floppy disk or a network server. Locate the folder that contains the font files to install.
  3. Double-click or drag and drop the icon of the selected sources on Target list (could be a existing set or create a new one).
  4. Select the font and Activate.

Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish

Previous postType size, units and measuring instruments Next postCharacter map

Related Posts

  • Text, image, dingbats and decorative elements

    April 27, 2012

    Dingbats and decorative elements as elements of the typographic case. Function and types of dingbats and decorative elements. Double function: characters or image. Letters as images or characters. Relations.

  • Design and morphological operations with typography

    April 27, 2012

    Typeface family as a system. Aspects to be considered when designing a related group of characters: choosing the historical and cultural context, structural relations, stroke and terminal features. character weight and word color, distinctive characters and terminals. Axes for the construction of styles.

  • Typographic Programs

    April 27, 2012

    System of systems. Typographic programs, serial families and super families. Construction criteria. Uses. Description of some programs.

  • Typographic styles

    April 27, 2012

    Functions and convention in the use of styles. Traditional axes. Recognizing designed variants and the effects of digital distortion. Small capitals: character weight and line color.