MacTronic: Monotype Typesetting from Computer

Harry McIntosh, Speedspools
Harry McIntosh, Speedspools

MacTronic is a hybrid of computer and Monotype setting.  Harry McIntosh’s system replaces the Monotype keyboard with a computer and drives the caster with computer signals and not paper tape.  The result is a system that allows text to be prepared and then sent directly to the caster to produce brand-new perfect types.  This article looks in a little more detail at how the system works.

Monotype Casting

Producing Monotype matter originally needed the text to be keyed on a compressed-air powered keyboard which punched holes in paper tape. The air going through these holes positioned the matrix-case over the stationary mould to obtain the required character. Because of the differences between faces, different sets of keybars, stopbars, etc. were needed for each face to account for spacing and width of each character. For example, the width of a Gill Condensed W is smaller than a Latin Expanded W. As the caster needed to know where each line ended the width of each character had to be recorded: hence the need for different keybars, etc. A change of type size or typeface within the process would need other keybars, etc. to be used — for example, in headings within a report, footnotes, Greek, etc.

The original system also demanded that the operator had an understanding of where and how to break each line, and they relied on a rotating indicator (Justification Drum) at the top of the keyboard to help them. As there was no monitor or hard-copy output (aside from the paper tape) errors or corrections could only be made once the type had been cast.

In summary the original approach needed a keyboard plus keybanks, keybars, etc. for each face and the operator to have a high degree of accuracy and judgement to get the paper tape right.

MacTronic

This is a hybrid of computer and Monotype setting. Harry McIntosh’s system replaces the Monotype keyboard with a computer (PC only at the moment) and drives the caster with computer signals rather than paper tape. The result is a system that allows text to be prepared and then sent directly to the caster to produce brand-new perfect types. This article looks in a little more detail at how the system works.

In the earlier versions of MacTronic, the computer was used to drive a Monotype electronic tape punching machine and the tape was fed to the caster. Harry still uses the same punch-unit and current direct-to-caster software to supply spools of tape for customers who want to cast type on their own casters.

Harry later developed a direct interface: a system of compressed air valves controlled by computer attached to the head of the caster: opening valves to allow compressed air to flow to the required matrix-case stop buttons and so replicating the original action of punch-holes in the paper tape.

Text Preparation

Text from the author is imported into InDesign/OpenOffice Writer. Harry then replaces the author’s faces with his own computer fonts that are faithful replicas of the Monotype cast faces, along with the type size, text width, etc. This step is needed because standard PC Baskerville, for example, is slightly different to Monotype Hot-metal Baskerville. Any minor changes needed at this point are made: hyphenation, line length, etc. and InDesign/OpenOffice Writer now show on-screen what the Monotype caster will produce. At this point a PDF can be created and returned to the author so that they can see what the finally cast output will look like. After any text changes have been made, a Hot-Metal Plug-in is used to create a usable MacTronic file — this preserves the new formatting, including spacing, tables, alignment, line-endings, etc. Harry’s web pages lists the faces he has available for casting, but MacTronic can cope with any Monotype face -– all that is needed is a matrix-case, wedge and character unit-values or matrix case arrangement.

Preparation to Cast

This file is then sent to the Justification Program that contains an electronic version of the required matrix-case; predetermined line-length galleys per file are produced and can be used to cast type or produce punched tape. Any different type sizes or typefaces are sent to separate files, and equivalent spaces (usually cap ‘X’s and lowercase ‘i’s) are left in main text for manual insertion -– more than one line is indicated once only. The wedge settings and characters can be modified within the electronic matrix-case.

Casting

The galley punch files are sent to the Caster Driver Program that sends the casting instructions via USB to the MacTronic Interface. From here everything follows the usual course of Monotype casting: there’s a lovely calming sound as the machine produces letter-by-letter according to the computer’s instructions and these march out of the machine. Brand new, perfectly justified type ready to print.

In summary, the MacTronic may appear complicated to some, but it only requires a few simple, seamless procedures to produce perfect galleys of type:

  1. Text produced by using all text controls of InDesign/OpenOffice Writer, including indents, tables, etc.
  2. Create a MacTronic-compatible file using InDesign/OpenOffice Writer Hot- metal Plug-ins -– all fonts, line-endings, etc. are retained.
  3. Create a punch file using Justification Program.
  4. Send punch file to Caster Driver Program to create galleys of type.

Sorts galleys can be produced to any line width (60 ems max.) and mixed amounts of characters. Interested parties are welcome to see MacTronic in action and discuss the many other useful features, or view website at MacTronic.