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.


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.


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.