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Brief history of Mactronic

BY HARRY MCINTOSH, SPEEDSPOOLS, 385 QUEENSFERRY ROAD, EDINBURGH EH47AG, UK Monday January 26th, 2004, par Harry MacIntosh


By a quirk of fate I started my working career in a craft that still used the same end-product that had been used for over 500 years - type and the process of letterpress printing. In a few short years this changed completely with the common usage of offset lithography and photographic type images and latterly digitised typefaces and computers.

During this time of confusion, with the use of electro-mechanical photosetters driven by computers using narrow punched tape, I remained completely disinterested until the advent of the floppy disk. This is when I became interested in computers and was using a photosetting system called Linoterm made by Linotype (Monotype systems were well beyond my resources) when I heard of a 272 System by Monotype that could punch 31-channel tape for composition casters. I went down to Salfords for a demonstration, but even then I thought it slow, inflexible and very expensive. I asked if it could be customised to my requirements and received an immediate and emphatic no. On my return to Edinburgh I vowed I would do just that - customise my own program for hot-metal.

I bought a second-hand Monophoto system that had electronic perforators as input devices. These devices had 31-channel punch units which I interfaced to an old Amstrad CP/M box - this was new at the time, and much cheaper than IBM compatibles or Macs. My first attempt (in the mid-1980s) only permitted galleys, but within a short time this became very sophisticated with full pagination. The first project was the List of Members and Rules for the Double Crown Club, and the MacTronic program was compiled to cope with the exacting demands of my old typographic mentor, George Mackie, and, of course, my own years of experience and training.

Later I moved the programs and interfaces over to the DOS environment to gain more memory and speed, and off-the-shelf compatibility. I then realised that anyone who owned a composition caster had a pneumatic keyboard which in fact was a punch unit. So I immediately went to work interfacing this unit to a computer. This was successfully done, but due to its physical limitations, wear and tear, expensive parts, maintaining adjustments, a costly punching process, the cost of paper with its possible difficulty in future availability convinced me to concentrate on direct to caster. This I successfully accomplished in 1996, and I’ve been using this concept ever since with great success - no paper. The reason I used the keyboard valves (apart from the fact it amused me to adapt the original idea to run a caster without the use of the paper) was cost of materials - solenoid air-valves are expensive, though they are more reliable and certainly easier to assemble. It isn’t pretty, but it works! There is a Mark 2 in preparation which is much more compact and uses solenoid air-valves acquired in USA and an improved version of my original clip-on device - this allows the use of paper-tape, which is a comfort, but should never be required. If I ever feel there is a demand and I start producing more Mark 2s, I shall use similar air-valves, depending on cost effectiveness, availability and reliability.

This development allows the acceptance of disks and CD-roms from word-processors, data files, e-mails, or hard copy that can be either scanned or keyboarded into a computer and then converted into Monotype hot-metal or 31-channel punched tape. I’ve gone a complete circle by supplying spools to customers with their own casters, which was the original concept of Speedspools. To cut down the learning curve, Adobe’s Pagemaker and InDesign, and QuarkXpress, in both PC and Mac systems, can be utilised to run Monotype composition casters. These industry-standard programs can now be used to control one’s own ideas of typographical masterpieces, with the punch-program and MacTronic controlling caster output - the new maintaining the qualities of the old! This requires the correct hot-metal widths; no tracking or kerning; normal characters typed for ligatures; list of accents and characters used outwith hot-metal layout. These recent developments enable PDF files to be used as proofs, and corrections can be implemented before commitment to punched-tape or type - you get what you see on your own screens! For the technically minded, PCs (and even some Macs), from the oldest to the newest, can produce text that is justified, ragged left, right or centred on any Monotype composition caster. Any layout can be used - standard or customised (16x17, 15x17 and 15x15). Any set size; measure up to 60 ems; unit-adding, letterspacing, unit shift; automatic high space when character in layout requires it; auto-generated ligatures; when word space in line is over wedge limits, extra spaces are auto-generated until within limits (usually in very narrow measures). Galley line/page length control with galley lines auto-generated with stop quad and blank line through any length of file - usually per chapter. Due to the limitations of matrix-case layouts, punctuation, etc. can be shared between fonts or changed to deliberate wrong characters for hand alteration. Accents, pi-characters, etc. are only limited by the capacity of the matrix-case. Any layout can be generated, and, if the caster has the unit-shift facility, even 15x15 and 15x17 layouts can be unit-shifted. A ‘wrong’ normal wedge of the same set can be substituted to produce the same results as a correct wedge, utilising unit-adding and unit-shift (if available) or single justifying to obtain the correct character width. This facility can be used to kern characters - plus 1-9 units, minus 1-2 units (depending on type size). There are many modes of indents, hyphenation, word-spacing, letterspacing and kerning - even dropped-initial allowance and tabulation. The latest developments include word-spacing under three units to accommodate the exacting demands for tight spacing. For example, a proof correction in a line was slightly overset using a 3-unit space; this was automatically recalculated, the spaces dropped and the first character of each word after a space was letterspaced with the required amount under three units - this is a rare requirement, but it’s there! Sorts casting can be done by lines of characters or number of characters, though sorts casting is still difficult due to the limitations of the matrix-case. The most recent capability is to mix italic, bold, small caps, etc. of the same set from other diecases. This is done by automatically leaving the correct allowances in the master galley and creating new galleys of the italic, etc. for casting with their correct diecases, which can be inserted by hand at a later stage - very useful in large composition where there is only one font per diecase. Further work is in progress to mix any set size within the physical limitations of the wedges. This means that words and phrases in Greek, Hebrew, Fraktur, etc. and other sizes can be easily set within the text, using the same technique as fonts in different diecases.


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Dans la même rubrique :
First prototype in 1965



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