diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Before desktop publishing, there was Letraset. I guess if you're much under 25 you may never have used these lettering transfers, but those of us growing up before the advent of the affordable printer originally knew no better.

I loved Letraset. I had sheets of the stuff in a variety of sizes, fonts and colours. Whenever there was some writing that needed to look semi-official then I'd pick the style that I liked the most, grab myself a bluntish pencil and prepare for a good rub down. Letraset offered a choice that my typewriter couldn't, and also the flexibility to write on almost any surface. Some of the fonts (as I would later learn to call them) were really quite adventurous, and if I didn't have the one that I wanted then I could pop down to the corner shop and buy another set for 49p. With a bit of practice I could produce a page layout which looked sort of professional. Almost, but not quite.

One of the biggest problems with Letraset was trying to line the sheet up properly so that the selected letters would appear on the page underneath in an approximately horizontal line. I also had to be sure that I rubbed over the whole of the letter and didn't leave a tiny limb flapping in the air when I lifted the sheet away. And, most importantly of all, I had to count the different letters in the phrase I was trying to write to ensure that there were still enough letters remaining on the sheet to be able to complete it. Far too often I'd start on a particularly lengthy sentence only to find that the 'e's or 'o's ran out halfway through and so the whole typesetting exercise would have to be abandoned.

Letraset was revolutionary when it was invented back in 1959, its stylish versatility bringing affordable graphic design to the masses. Many's the 60s revolutionary tract, 70s school project or 80s village show programme that was produced by pressing down really hard on a thin sheet of opaque paper. A whole swathe of public signage also owes its existence to this giant transfer lettering. The end for Letraset came with the rise of the home computer, the Apple Mac in particular, and now most of us can dash off a jumble sale poster in less than the time it used to take to line up a lower case 'u' next to a capital 'J'.

My Letraset stash was my introduction to the world of desktop publishing, and I owe it a lot. But I don't miss it, especially that annoying habit the letters used to have of peeling off at the crucial moment.

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