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.