Efficiency of the Ludlow

The Ludlow people went a long way to prove that their machine was the best for smaller printers and also for jobbing work.  They did acknowledge that for the major part of a newspaper the text should be composed on a linecasting machine like a Linotype or Intertype.  They said that “…anything that to advantage can be set by hand with single types can be set more effectively and more economically on the Ludlow.”  I’ve summarised their claims, along with some additional information, below.

Like any historical view, it’s easy to be doubtful of their claims.  Perhaps their best weapon was setting hand-setting against Ludlow-setting, which they did at the 1939 Graphic Arts Exposition in New York.  Their leaflet Some Ludlow Time Records says what they did and the results are impressive.  For example a display advert for a newspaper took 42 minutes by hand and 9 minutes on the Ludlow.  A ruled invoice was 28 minutes by hand and just 12 minutes on the Ludlow.  Naturally their claims were based around work suited to the Ludlow, but it illustrates how good the system could be for jobbing work (rather than  for books or newspapers).  In a rather dispassionate review of estimating, even the British Federation of Master Printers accepted that Ludlow composition took at least a third off the time of hand composition.

Remember as well that there is no opportunity for error once the slug has been cast and proofed once.  With Monotype composition it’s possible to exchange individual types and this can lead to errors being introduced before printing.

Gathering Matrices

Because the uniformly-shaped and sized matrices, they can be collected more efficiently than normal type.  They draw a parallel between hand distribution (three times as fast as composition) and assembling mats because the same degree of precision is involved.  While no machine changes are needed, multiple type styles can be cast in a single slug, so allowing bold, italic, small caps etc. all to be cast from one set of matrices without any machine adjustments.


Spacing is aided by three means.  Firstly, all spaces have a common ‘footprint’, being slightly larger than characters.  This means only a single set of spacing is needed for all type sizes and they can be gathered out of the stick before the letters and so aid speedy distribution.  Secondly, all sticks are graduated in picas, so once all the characters are set in a line, it’s a mathematical operation to decide on the space thickness needed between each word.  For example, a five word sentence in the 22 em stick reaching 18 ems will need 4 ems of space split in four gaps which equals a one-em space between each.  All this done without the need for trial and error or even to handle the spaces before deciding.

Finally, justification becomes easier because of the stick with a moveable end.  While hand-set types have to be spaced exactly to that they can be locked up a lifted, there is a degree of movement allowed for in the Ludlow.  A slightly loose line-end can be tightened up with the adjusting screw and then cast, without the need to be so precise.


The limitation of using a small set of matrices means they must be replaced in their cases at the end of each casting.  This reduces the risk of an incorrect distribution and allows for the next line to be cast from a position of all distribution having been done.

Uniform Slug Length

While slugs are a uniform length, there is no need to cast the full length of the line.  If a 22 em stick is used, but 16 em measure, then 3 em spacing can be added to the beginning and end of the stick, and type set within that.  This will create a 16 em long line on a 22 em slug.  Again, this needs no machine changes.

Repeat Castings

Many printers found that working two-up or more and then cutting the sheets was more economical than printing a single impression at a time.  For example, tickets might be printed four-to-a-sheet and then cut to size.  This would mean less time on the machine as each impression would produce four rather than one tickets.  The Ludlow’s repeat casting system allows for multiple copies of each slug to be made, each exactly the same as the other.  These could be set on one forme with complete accuracy.


The Ludlow people claimed that their set-up occupied much less space than competitors’ outfits or even standing type.  Remember that no type is ever used up in this system, the only limitation being the amount of metal available.  Even once ten lines of 144pt type had been cast, more lines could be cast equally as easily.  In hand-setting this would demand a massive stock of foundry type to be held.