The Monotype System

The sys­tem that spawned a great name in let­ter­press and the typo­graphy we use today

The Mono­type sys­tem was a major break through: a sys­tem that could use a set of com­pon­ents to pro­duce indi­vidu­al types, in the right order, using high-qual­ity print­ing metals from a key­board input.  This approach meant an end to extens­ive hand com­pos­i­tion.  While friends with line cast­ing machines (like the Lino­type or Inter­type) were first to avoid hand-com­pos­i­tion, they could not handle indi­vidu­al types like the Mono­type chaps could.  The advant­ages were man­i­fold: once the type was cast indi­vidu­al char­ac­ters could be exchanged, for a cor­rec­tion or simply to improve spa­cing.  Smal­ler jobs could be done by hand-set­ting but using the indi­vidu­al types cast by the machine.  None of this could be done with line-cast­ing.  Mono­type also had an aggress­ive policy of pro­mot­ing great typo­graphy.  The firm revived and re-cut many faces to offer a stag­ger­ing array of dif­fer­ent styles for use in all uses of the prin­ted word.  Com­pet­it­ors in line-cast­ing did make some advances in this area but their focus was on smal­ler sizes and very quick turn­around as they relied on the news­pa­per industry for custom.

The Mono­type sys­tem relied on some dif­fer­ent com­pon­ents.  The sep­ar­a­tion of work meant that indi­vidu­al machines could be kept busy.  For example, two key­boards could be pro­du­cing paper tapes that would drive a single cast­ing machine: so the cast­ing machine was busy all day while the two key­boards were busy.  If a line-cast­ing machine was used then the machine is only cast­ing when the oper­at­or is key­ing.  I’ll sum­mar­ise the key parts of the sys­tem in this sec­tions and why you might use them.

Sid­e­note: The Mono­type Cor­por­a­tion was very very keen to pro­tect their trade­mark.  They insisted that the mark was a not to be used to describe any­thing; and that the word ‘Mono­type’ should always be shown either in quotes or in cap­it­als.  They also asked that wherever pos­sible that word should be described as a Trade Mark of the Cor­por­a­tion.  For ease of use, I’ll refer here to simply Mono­type.  Should the Cor­por­a­tion wish to cor­rect me on this, I will be happy to oblige provided that they allow me to take them up on their offer of free day train­ing at their Mono­type school.


The Mono­type Com­pos­i­tion caster pro­duces com­posed lines of indi­vidu­al pieces of type, from 4 to 14pt bod­ies, and to a max­im­um line length of 60 picas. It is con­trolled by a punched paper tape, and runs from 45 to 180 rpm, depend­ing upon body size. With appro­pri­ate attach­ments, it will pro­duce com­posed type up to 24pt, and dis­play type (sorts) to 36pt, and go down to a speed of 9 rpm. It can also pro­duce math­em­at­ics, Arab­ic, Hebrew, etc., and lead and rule from 1pt to 12pt. Its over­all weight is 1522lbs and work­ing floor area is 9 ft sq.

The Mono­type Type and Rule caster is sim­il­ar to the Com­pos­i­tion caster, but does not have the paper tape con­trol mech­an­ism, and so only casts indi­vidu­al sorts. Sizes from 4pt to 36pt, and speed from 45 to 180 rpm (down to 9 rpm with low speed and Vari­gear). It can cast lead and rule from 1pt to 12pt. It weighs 1326 lbs and its work­ing floor area is 9 x 10 ft.

The Mono­type Super caster pro­duces indi­vidu­al type sorts from 4pt to 72pt, at speeds from 4 to 144 rpm (or 2 to 160 rpm with Vari­gear). With appro­pri­ate attach­ments, it can cast Palace Script, quo­ta­tions, con­tinu­ous bor­der, swelled rule, lead and rule from 1pt to 18pt, and strip fur­niture from 24pt to 72pt. It weighs 1484 lbs and its work­ing floor area is 8 ft sq.


This descrip­tion taken from the ‘Mono­type Book of Inform­a­tion’ by Dav­id Bolton of the Alem­bic Press.