Printers had a language; they still have. It hasn't changed a lot, even though Gutenberg might have found PageMaker on the Mac a little puzzling. Not for long, of course. It's pleasant to know and use these old words that are still precise, useful, and the everyday language of working printers.


That part of the character that extends above the x height of the fount (as in the lowercase b).


That part of the character that extends above the x height of the fount (as in the lowercase b).


The imaginary line that characters rest on in a line of text; it runs along the base of the x-height, and is crossed by descenders.


The space on a type between the bottom of the x-height and the upper edge of the shank or body. This space comprises the shoulder on which the face rests and the bevel by which it is raised from it, and is the area in which the descenders of lower-case letters extrude.


The table of a printing press on which the forme of type is placed for printing.


The front or nick side of a type.


The study of any kind of written matter as a physical object.


A difficulty arising when locking up type, caused by using furniture which is longer or wider than the type, so that it 'binds' at the ends.


When an element, usually an illustration, prints to the edge of the paper.


In the hand press period, a block of wood with a relief carving on it used for printing pictures. In the machine press period, an engraved or etched zinc or copper plate used for printing illustrations in books. A line block reproduces only lines, dots, and black surfaces; a half-tone block reproduces tones or shades by means of dots, which, the closer together they are, appear to reproduce deeper shades.


A pointed steel tool used to lever up type when correcting.


Or body-size. The measurement of thickness from back to front of a type, slug, lead, or rule, etc; it governs how big a letter looks on the page. Measured in points.


Bold face is type with a conspicuous black, heavy appearance, but based on the same basic type design as its medium weight in the same fount.


Also known simply as 'rules': strips of brass, type high, used to print lines.


Originally a sheet of paper printed on one side only; commonly used for royal proclamations, then for subversive publications and cheap mass-circulation poems and ballads, so eventually the word came to mean also simply the kind of material that was normally printed on it: a broadside ballad, or simply a broadside.


Estimating the number of pages that copy will occupy when set up in type, as the basis for the printing cost estimate. The number of words in the copy is judged, and the format and size of page and measure are also established for this purpose.


The word written underneath the last line of each page or section of a hand printed book, which is also the word with which the next page or section commences. Its purpose was to guide the binder. Used in England roughly 1530-1800, usually on every page.


A type line is centred when it is placed in the centre of the page, i.e. with an equal margin on each side, that margin being greater than that of the rest of the text.


The vertical lines on handmade paper, which run parallel to the shorter side of the sheet.


A steel or cast-iron frame into which type and furniture are locked for printing.


The sides of the press that enclose the platen and its screw or lever mechanism are called 'cheeks'.


The part of the press that is run to and fro under the platen and out again so that printing can take place.


The physical makeup or format of a book, as described in a standardised formula.


The inscription, usually placed at the end of early printed books, giving the name of the printer, title, place and date of printing.


The shallow adjustable tray, about 10 lines of 12 point type in depth, that the compositor uses to set type. It looks like this.


A face of type that is narrower than the normal face.


Any two leaves of a book which together form one piece of paper.


The document (manuscript, typescript, printed book) from which the printer sets up his type. Also known as printer's copy.


A book is cropped when its margins have been trimmed for the purposes of binding or rebinding.


A printing press in which the forme is carried on a flat bed under a paper bearing cylinder for an impression to be made at the point of contact. There were: stop-cylinder machines, in which the cylinder is stationary during the return of the bed; two-revolution machines, in which the cylinder revolves continuously, making one rev. during the impression and one while the bed returns, being raised at the same time to clear the forme and receive the next sheet; and single-revolution machines which operate in the same way except that the machine makes half a rev. for each movement of the bed.


The wooden (usually) border of a paper-making mould, which confines the paper pulp to the mould. The pulp, or stuff, flows between the frame and the deckle, causing a deckle-edge.


The portion of lower case letters, i.e. g,j,q,p,y, that projects below the main body of the letter.


Type is distributed (or dissed) when it is returned to the case after printing.


Dots per inch. The measurement of the degree of delicacy of reproduction, or resolution, of a halftone picture or a dot matrix or laser printer. (About 150/300 dpi respectively, but you can get expensive versions of each that have a much higher (=better) dpi). Top quality graphic printing comes in at 1000 dpi.


Originally a duck's beak was a piece of heavy paper or card, a small rectangle in shape. A v-shaped cut was made in it, and the v folded outwards. The non-v bit of the card is then pasted and attached to the tympans so that the protruding v would steady and hold in the edges of the paper to be printed. This was used mainly for fine and delicate printing; for most work press-points only were used. My use of the term in the Christmas card manual is an affectation. So it goes.


An edition consists of all the copies of a book printed at any time or times from substantially the same setting of type, and includes all the various impressions, issues, and states which may have derived from that setting. 'Substantially the same setting of type' is usually taken to imply that if less than half the type has been reset, then any impression taken from it is part of the same edition.

In the hand press period editions are easy to identify, because two settings, even if one is designedly an imitation of the other, are going to differ considerably in small details: thus the spacing and the random pattern of damaged types will differ from edition to edition. But in the modern period the new technology has made the definition rather obsolete: a single keyboarding of the copy can then be kept on disc forever, taking up little room (and certainly not keeping occupied massive amounts of expensive lead type, as in the hand press period) and then be printed out in any form, typeface, format, or whatever, that you may want.


A duplicate printing forme made in a galvanic bath by precipitating copper on a matrix. The matrix is made by taking a mould, often in wax, from the original printing forme. The mould is treated with graphite to make it conduct electricity. The mould is treated with graphite to make it conduct electricity. The duplicate forme (usually called an 'electro') was used for reprints, and often for the entire run, the original metal serving only to produce the mould.


1) Short for 'em quad': a square piece of spacing material. So a 10 point em would be 10 points square.
2) Also the unit of typographical measurement for which the 12 point em is the basis. This unit is used for computing the area of a printed page no matter what size of type is used for setting the text; thus if the area is twenty ems wide and thirty ems deep the width is 240 points and the depth 360 points. There are approximately six ems to an inch. Also known as pica-em or just pica (pronounced piker) because before the point system became widely used different sizes of type had names, and twelve-point was known as pica.


The unit of spacing material, always less than type height and of course square: an em-quad of 10-point type is always 10 points by 10 points. Used to indent paragraphs, among other things.


Half of an em. A compositor's output in terms of type set is measured in ens per hour.


An author's or printer's error, only discovered after the book has been printed. If noticed in time, this can be corrected in an errata list, which, depending on when it is noticed, can either be set up and worked off with the prelims, or else separately printed, cut off, and pasted into the book.


The printing surface of any type character; also, the group or family to which any particular type-design belongs: as, bold-face.


The grooved base on which a type stands, plural because of the groove. Type not standing squarely is said to be 'off its feet'.


An illustration forming part of a page of text with which it is printed from a block imposed together with the type.


Said of a press having the printing forme on a flat as opposed to a curved surface: thus, flat bed cylinder press means flat forme, cylindrical platen; flat bed web press: flat forme, continuous roll (web) of paper--as opposed to printing from distinct sheets.


Alternate layers of blotting paper and tissue paper used for moulds in stereotyping. Particularly for a rotary machine where the forme must be curved.


Adjective: either 'flush left' or 'flush right'. To set text flush left is to set it with the beginnings of the lines all at the left margin, but the ends of the lines not reaching the right; flush right means that the ends of the lines all line up against the right margin, but the beginnings are ragged, and do not reach the left margin. You also her printers use the expressions 'range left' and 'range right', meaning the same thing. If the lines are straight both on the right and the left, like a normal printed page, the type is said to be 'justified'.


The leaves rather than the pages numbered. Expressed as: f.1, f.2, ff.6-8, f.10v (= verso = page 20); f.10r (= recto = page 19).


Loosely, the shape and size of a page; specifically, the way the paper is folded in order to make the shape and size. So if the sheet is folded once, the format is folio (2°); twice, quarto (4°); three times, octavo (8°); four times, sixteenmo (16°); and so on, up to (but not often) sixty-fourmo (64°).

Nowadays, format means: the general shape and appearance of a page, including its margins,type columns, etc; also the combination of instructions for reproducing it, stored in a computer's memory for future use.


Type matter and blocks assembled into pages and locked up in a chase ready for printing.


Type in the wrong box in a case.


A complete set of type characters of the same design and size, e.g. including upper and lower case, numerals, punctuation marks, etc. Pronounced 'font', and spelled 'font' by Americans and Desk Top Publishing programs.


A rectangular metal frame, hinged at one end to attach it to the tympans; it folds over the tympans when printing takes place. It is covered with paper. The paper is cut to allow the type to print through it; the remaining paper protects the paper to be printed.


= preliminaries.


When printing was done in hand presses, two men operated them with one applying the ink, the other putting in the sheet and pulling the impression; when one man did all this, it was called working at half-press; when two, full-press.


Lengths of wood or metal less than type height used in a forme for making margins and filling blank areas of a page.


1) the steel or wooden tray in which composed type was put before being imposed. Hand press compositors set by the page; the long galley which didn't divide into pages until the imposing stage was a 19c innovation. 2) proofs taken from long galleys are known as galley-proofs or just galleys, which means long slips of paper bearing a proof of unpaged type.


The sheet or sheets folded according to format intended to be sewn together. With, but distinct from, the other gatherings to make up the bound book. Also known as a quire or signature, though strictly the latter comprises the gathering plus any inserts, plates, etc. that are intended to go in but are not part of the original folding.


The space near the spine (the right side on left-hand pages, the left on right-hand pages) comprising both the space allowed for binding in a double-sided publication and the margin.


The thinnest rule you can get from your equipment. On a 300 dpi laser printer, it is one 300th of an inch.


A continuous tone image that has been photographically converted to a pettern of very small dots.


Loosely, the title of the book as printed at the top of every page of text. When the headline indicates the contents of the page, it is known as a running head. Strictly, headline refers to forme, not page, and means all the type and quads composing the typographical unit that will print the heading at the top of the page.


The pile of printed or waiting-to-be-printed sheets of paper. The latter is known as the white paper heap.


MS in author's own hand, also known as autograph (both are both nouns and adjectives: a holograph, a holograph MS.


Adding hyphens to columns of text allowing words to 'break' across the end of a line, so that excessive amounts of white space aren't left between words in justified type and the right hand margin of unjustified type is not too ragged. DTP programs have automatic hyphenation programs, but they have also to have a list of words that you have to be careful about hyphenating. 'Arsenal', for instance, is not hyphenated in books printed in the UK.


The arranging of pages in a chase in a particular sequence so that when the printed sheet is folded the pages will be consecutive; also includes adding the furniture and quoins and locking up the type into a forme.


An impression is all the copies of an edition printed at any one time.

In the early hand press period it was normal to redistribute type after a book had been printed, owing to type shortages, so impression is normally identical with edition. Increasingly during the 18c. popular pamphlets (i.e. of five sheets or less) including plays, were kept in standing type for later reprinting in a second or third or further impression. Different impressions are hard to distinguish, but it may be done by corrections in successive impressions. In the absence of any typographical distinction, the best clue is to be found in the paper used.


An issue is all the copies of that part of an edition which is identifiable as a distinct consciously planned publishing unit.

The criteria for a distinct issue are that the book must differ in some typographical way from copies of the edition first put on the market, yet be composed largely of sheets derived from the original typesetting; and that the copies forming another issue must be a purposeful publishing unit removed from the original issue either in time (reissue), or, much more rarely, in form (separate issue). Reissue normally involves a new or altered title-page and may involve either a new title page added to bring old sheets up to date, or collections of separate pieces reissued with a new general title. Reissue implies the re-issuing of the same old sheets in a different form (i.e. with a new title page), usually to stimulate flagging sales, perhaps by pretending that the reissue is a new edition; ideally it implies the withdrawal of the previous issue from sale.

Examples of separate issue: the alteration of title pages to suit the issue of a book simultaneously in two or more different forms; the reimposition of the type pages to produce copies in different formats (since the type is reimposed this has often been designated as a distinct edition; but since it is the same type, it should more properly be called new issue (re-imposed); impressions on special paper distinguished from ordinary copies by added, deleted, or substituted material.


A variation of typeface in which letters slope forward. True italic typefaces are specially designed, as opposed to oblique faces, which are just slanted versions of the regular face.


Type is justified when all of the lines are of the same length, producing a straight left hand margin. It is done by varying the spacing between the words.


The process of moving together letters that would normally look too far apart. Used especially in large type sizes and with certain letter pairs (such as the capitals A and T).


Page orientation where the two longer edges of the paper are at the top and bottom. If the shorter edges are at top and bottom, the term is 'portrait'.


A row of dots or dashes used to separate items in tables (as in a list of contents, often).

LEADING, or LEADS (rhymes with 'bedding'. Or 'beds'.

Thin strips of quad-high metal spacing material used to separate lines of type. If a page is said to be 'leaded two points' it means that there is a two point (=2/72nds of an inch) space between the bottom of one line and the top of the next. Cf linespacing.


A book is normally composed of sheets of paper, folded to make gatherings or quires, and bound together. Each gathering is composed of an even number of leaves, joined together in the spine of the book (ie at the fold). A leaf consists of two pages, which are known as the recto and verso (ie front and back) of the leaf.


Two or more letters joined together and usually cast on one body.


The distance from the baseline of one line to the baseline of the line below it. Technically, it is the amount of leading plus the point size of the type.


A machine for setting and casting type in units of one line known as slugs. Faster than monotype but slower to correct, since for any correction the whole line must be reset. In this country used commonly for newspapers, much less commonly for printed books. More commonly for the latter in America. The first effective substitute for composing by hand; developed slowly through the 1880's, beginning to come into common use 1890 onwards. An operator can produce consistent speeds of 6,000 Ens an hour, distribution being no problem since the type was simply melted down (hand press, perhaps an extremely variable 1,000 ens an hour include distribution). For comparison, 2,750 ens = 500 words = two typed quarto pages (very roughly).


The complicated and skilled business of putting the forme in the right place on the bed and packing the tympan so that the best possible impression is obtained.


The width (measured in ems) to which a line or column of type is set or a lino-slug is cast. The width to which a setting rule is set.


The weight of type-face midway between light and bold; normally used for the body of the book.


The other important hot-metal composing machine. The operation of a keyboard produces a spool with punched holes in it, which when fed into a caster instructs it to cast individual types and spaces in a series of justified lines. The end product is indistinguishable from brand-new hand-set type. Mono machines began to be mass produced in 1901, but because of technical difficulties and slowness relative to line (since it involved two distinct operations to lino's one) it wasn't until the 1920's that most large printing houses in Britain were using monotype.


Common abbreviation for 'manuscript'.


The groove in the body of type cast as an aid to placing it the right way up in the stick.


Said of type that is not perfectly vertical in the stick or on the STONE.


When recently printed paper prints on to another sheet of paper because the ink is still wet, it is said to 'offset' or 'set off' on to that sheet.


Any two facing pages, not necessarily conjugate.


A generic term for any of the kinds of decoration that printers use along with type-- borders, flowers, rules, etc.


A single line of type from the bottom of a paragraph left alone at the top of a column or page. Undesirable.


Packing the tympan sheet very selectively with torn pieces of paper to increase pressure in selected areas of the printing surface in order to improve the quality of printing.


To perfect a sheet is to print the other side, one side already having been machined; the sheet is then said to be perfect (adj.). A perfecting press is one that prints both sides of the paper simultaneously. You would also say "work the reiteration" if you wanted to say print the other side-or at least you would if you lived in the hand press period. Nowadays printers say "back it up".


The old name for 12-point type; hence came to be synonymous with em.


Composed type which has been spilled and indiscriminately mixed (pied). To be avoided.


The width of characters, or the number of characters fitting into a horizontal inch. To say '10-pitch' means that there are ten characters to the inch.


To plane the type is to put a flat board, a PLANER, on top of the set type on the stone and hit it rather gently with a mallet. This to make sure that all the type is the same height.


The heavy flat plate which on a hand press pressed the paper against the inked type. A platen press is any press that operates by such a method, including therefore all hand presses (as opposed to a cylinder press).


The smallest unit of measurement used by printers: one 72nd of an inch. There are 12 points in an em and 6 ems in an inch.


Properly, preliminary matter, the pages of a book that precede a text. A handy way of distinguishing between a first and second edition of a hand printed book is that in a first edition the prelims were usually printed after the rest of the book, and therefore are not included and otherwise undistinguishable in point of primacy, the one with the irregular signature run would be first.


Gutenborg's invention consisted of taking two techniques from two different spheres of activity and combining them to invent a third. From coining he took the idea of using a punch to make a matrix in which lead-alloy type could be cast in large quantities, each identical; and from the wine-press he took a means whereby firm even pressure could be applied quickly in order to print from this type. Both of these inventions - cast type and the wooden press making impressions with a combination of lever and screw - lasted unchanged except in minor details for 450 years, until 1800. Refinements to the hand press were introduced after this date: the Stanhope, which augmented the power of the lever; the Columbia, which replaced the screw with another lever; and the Albion, which replaced the screw with a toggle mechanism. All of these were mechanically more efficient and, since they were made of iron, more precise, but they were only successful in making more delicate and sharper impressions; they didn't make the output any faster than the original wooden common press. Much greater speeds were achieved with various kinds of machine presses usually based on the cylinder (i.e. mangle) and therefore long runs and massively selling books and newspapers; the social and cultural consequences of this are obvious. Only in the last ten years has it been possible to produce a machine, based on an entirely different principle from Gutengberg's original invention of letterpress printing, that combines the original virtues of small runs and small investment with the later achievement of fast production: this is the offset-litho press.


To investigate the provenance of a book or MS is to look into its origins, i.e. its history to its present whereabouts.


Blank types cast less than type height, in standard point sizes, used as spacing material. Usual size are en, em, 2-3m, 3-em, and 4-em quads.


Pron. coin. Metal or wooden wedges placed between the outer furniture and the sides of a chase in order to lock the type and blocks in it during printing.


A ragged right hand margin occurs when type has been set unjustified; the lines are irregular in length and do not all reach the right margin.


The right hand pages of a book, which bear the odd numbers; the versos are the left-hand, even numbered pages.


The exact correspondence in position of the printed area on the two sides of a leaf. Also known as 'registration'.


Strips of oil-soaked wood used as inter-linear spacing material 3/4 inch high and 6- to 18-point thick.


A further proof embodying corrections made by the author and/or reader and/or compositor to the first proof.


Unsightly white channels running through the lines of a printed page, caused when interword spacing material is set too wide.


A machine for printing from a revolving cylindrical forme to which paper is usually fed from a reel (if not, it is sheet-fed).


The handle of the small windlass under the bed of the press that is used to run the carriage, with type on it, under the platen to be printed.


Strip of brass or type metal, type high, cast in point sizes. Used for printing straight lines. Now used to mean a line of any width, varying from a hairline to a wide dark bar. A SETTING RULE, however, means a brass (usually) rule used by the compositor to help set type: it sets the MEASURE, and is put on top of each set line of type in turn so that the new line to be set will not bind against the previous line.


Texts that repeats at the top (ie in the headline) of successive pages: the name of a chapter, for instance, or the title of a book.


Cross-stroke at the ends of the strokes of letters, deriving originally from the finishing strokes made by the stone-cutter's chisel. Said to assist legibility because the letters seem more joined together in serif type; sans serif type is usually used only for technical manuals and display work.


The width of a type body.


Type set without leads between the lines is set solid.


The transference of ink from the freshly inked impression on a printed sheet to the underside of the next sheet to be laid on it in a pile.


The sides of the type or sort.


The piece of paper on which printing takes place, before it is folded to form a gathering of two or more leaves, is called a sheet.


the platform of a shank of type from which the face rises, i.e. the non-printing area surrounding the face.


A line of type characters cast in one piece by a linotype machine.


A specific letter.


Type which has been printed and which instead of being dissed is kept standing for reprints.


a printing plate made by taking an impression from set-up type, or another plate, in a mould of plaster of Paris, papier mache, or flong; stereotype metal is then poured into the mould to form the printing plate.


The amount of copy allotted to each compositor.


Table bearing a stone slab or metal plate at which type is imposed.


The narrow margin which remains in a book when a cancel has been removed, and on to which a corrected leaf (cancellans) is fixed.


This is the name given to the pulp of water and rag used to make paper.


The amount of copy taken by a compositor to set up in type at any one time.


The tympans are two rectangular metal frames clipped together, each covered with tough paper or some stronger substance (canvas, for instance), and sandwiching packing material. They are hinged at one end to the bed of the press and at the other to the frisket. The paper to be printed is placed on the tympans.


When a sheet of paper is made by hand, it is normal to put a small raised wire pattern in the middle of one half of the mould. This presses into the stuff as the paper is made, and so the resulting sheet is thinner at where the wire pattern has pressed, forming an image that can be seen when the sheet is held up to the light. The water-mark was usually used as a trade-mark by the paper maker. This is imitated in modern machine-made papers, usually for decoration, or, in the case of banknotes, to deter forgers, who would have to make the paper themselves in order to imitate the distinctive watermark.


When a sheet of paper is made by hand, it is normal to put a small raised wire pattern in the middle of one half of the mould. This presses into the stuff as the paper is made, and so the resulting sheet is thinner at where the wire pattern has pressed, forming an image that can be seen when the sheet is held up to the light. The water-mark was usually used as a trade-mark by the paper maker. This is imitated in modern machine-made papers, usually for decoration, or, in the case of banknotes, to deter forgers, who would have to make the paper themselves in order to imitate the distinctive watermark.


AN area of type in the FORME or COMPOSING STICK that will not print; that is less than type high.


A single line of type from the top of a paragraph left alone at the bottom of a column or page. Undesirable.


The height of lower case letters, excluding ascenders and descenders, i.e. the height of a lower-case x.