Running the Landa Nanopress

The Blognosticator in Munich

Part III [Part II] [Part I]

After numerous visits to the printing plant where the Landa Nanopress is running, I have a pretty good idea of how that machine works. I am assisted by a very nice diagram on the wall adjacent to the machine.

Fundamentally, the Landa Nanopress is a production ink-jet printing press. Its maximum sheet size is B1, or 1000 mm x 700 mm (the press is slightly larger than B1). The ink is water-based pigment. There are seven colors on this model: CMYK, plus orange, green, and blue/violet. These additional colors add tremendously to the color gamut of the press, making it one of the largest of any production press.

The ink-jet heads are made by Fuji/Dimatix. The resolution of the machine is 1,200 spi (machine spots per linear inch), meaning that the resolution of the ink-jet heads is 1,200 spi. The resolution in the other axis – belt direction – is 600 spi, which is a function of belt speed and other factors (likely the speed with which electronic instructions can be delivered to the heads). This resolution is comparable to toner-based printers like the Konica Minolta production machines which also have 1,200 spi resolution.

Offset presses, by comparison, use aluminum printing plates that are imaged on machines with at least twice that resolution, typically 2,400 spi. A Kodak Trendsetter can render 2,400 spi images – and more – with its combination of extraordinary feed accuracy and laser imaging precision. Another machine with which I have experience is the Spark from ESKO, which has over 5,000 spi resolution.

Both of those machines are capable of “currency” resolution. The Landa press is not in that league.

However, for commercial quality printing, the Nanopress is capable of producing competitive quality with an expanded color gamut, the combination of which makes it a formidable machine in the marketplace. This is especially true for general commercial printing in short runs in nearly any category of printing. The example I wrote about in my last blog shows that this machine can print very high quality books in short runs at an economical price. Wth no plates, and a very short make-ready, the machine is a true short-run production printing press.

To understand the path of ink-to-paper, you can follow the accompanying diagram.

A job is imposed into pages and forms (a form is one complete side of one press sheet). The press can print on both sides of the sheet in one pass through the press, where most offset presses cannot do this.

Prepress for the Landa machine is similar to that for any offset press. A skilled prepress operator assembles files – typically PDF files – into their component parts, and then positions those parts in the correct locations for printing. This could be as simple as two large “pages” for a full-sheet poster, or it could be many smaller pages imposed for a book. In any event, the elements of the printing job are made into complete forms, then crop and bleed marks, register marks and labels are added to make the forms ready to print.

The prepared forms are sent to the EFI Fiery RIP that is embedded in the Nanopress. This device is customized to run the Nanopress with its seven-color ink system, and capable of delivering data to the Landa electronics about the colors and positions of every imageable spot in all seven colors on the press sheet – both sides, and at a rate that keeps the machine running at its production speed of 6,500 impressions per hour.

The press operator moves the files through the Fiery, and it in turn creates all of the instructions necessary to run the machine – instructions that fire an ink-jet nozzle at every possible location on the press sheet in every color. Those files are supplemented by machine instructions for paper feed, ink volume, drying temperatures, perfecting (as required), coating (optional) and delivery. The complexity of the systems on this machine is greater than that of an offset press because the machine is not only moving and putting ink on paper, the Nanopress is imaging billions of microscopic ink-jet spots on that paper as it goes through the press.

The image starts on the ink-jet Print Bars. When running, the print bars emerge from air-tight parking places and move to hover over the Imaging Belt. When instructed to do so, the ink-jet nozzles are activated, and thousands of microscopic droplets of ink are ejected from the print bars onto the moving imaging belt. Collectively, the image is made up of potentially billions of ink-jet droplets deposited onto the moving belt.

In general, printing presses image the darkest color first, and then work their way to the lightest color. This is true for the Nanopress. All of the ink is deposited onto the belt, which then moves under a series of air dryers whose purpose is to dry the thin film of ink on the belt. By the time the ink film reaches the right-hand end of the press, the image is dry.

The belt carries the ink around the corner and then turns left and into the press where it meets a sheet of paper that has been fed into the cylinders. As the image on the belt comes in contact with the paper, the thin film of ink is transferred by pressure from the belt to the paper. This transfer takes place between Blanket Cylinder 1 and the first Impression Cylinder (with the belt and paper between).

The ink on the paper is completely dry when it emerges from the pinch of those two cylinders.

The paper is then passed around an intermediate cylinder and on to a Perfecting Cylinder which can either pass the sheet onward, or flip the sheet over, handing its trailing edge to the next Blanket and Impression cylinder pair for printing the other side.

This technique requires that the front side and back-side images must be printed to the belt in alternating order to perfect a sheet. So, when perfecting, the belt will carry images in front-back-front-back order. If the sheet does not perfect, then there would be only one side imaged to the belt, and it will double the output of the press by printing only the one side of each sheet.

On an offset press, one tries not to lose control of the gripper-edge by delivering the trailing-edge of the sheet to the gripper. On Heidelberg presses, for example, the perfecting system flips the sheet when perfecting, but maintains register by holding on to the original gripper edge – even when it is feeding the opposite direction into the press when perfecting. I don’t know if the Nanopress does this, but I would be surprised if it does not.

Front-to-back register is controllable on the press console with register cameras capturing images of the register marks on both sides of the sheet as it is imaged.

Once both sides of the press sheet are imaged, the paper is carried toward the delivery pile. Along this path there is another set of cylinders that can optionally hand the sheet to a conventional coating unit (part of the Komori press components). Here, an aqueous liquid coating can be applied to the sheet on both sides if desired.

The press sheet is carried by the delivery chain and dropped onto the receding delivery pile. The printing is then complete.

When the press goes to its idle stage, the seven ink-jet bars recede into parking places where the heads are kept away from dust and air in the machine. Both humidity and temperature are maintained in these parking spaces to protect the ink-jet heads, keeping them ready to run the next job.

At Blueprint, they keep the press warm and humidified 24 hours a day. The press is run for two shifts, and stands idle for the third shift.

Post-press operations – cutting, folding and binding – can commence immediately because the press sheets are completely dry the moment they arrive at the delivery. Offset printing would be allowed to dry for at least a few hours before commencing on these operations.

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Printing on the Landa Nanopress

The Blognosticator in Munich

Part II [Part I]

In the fall, my Master’s degree students and I worked on a project to write and publish a book about street art and street artists in Munich. We chose to photograph the work of these artists in one neighborhood called Tumblingerstraße. There, the city of Munich has declared that graffiti is legal.

This is art on Tumblingerstraße taken in mid-May, 2022. Works like this change quickly, one artist painting over the work of another from days or weeks earlier. The quality varies significantly from artwork to artwork. This example is extraordinary.

The block-long palette is a workplace for those who practice fine art with a spray can. The locals call it the Wall of Fame. The turnover of street art along this block is sometimes so rapid that a work will be covered up by a new work within days. I have seen the artwork change twice in one week – once in the rain!

My students split up into teams, some working on finding the sometimes-elusive artists, and others working on the photography of the artwork. We interviewed local experts, painters, and the man who runs an artists’ collective adjacent to Tumblingerstraße called Bahnwärter Thiel (Railroad Man Thiel). Trains run alongside this neighborhood too, whizzing overhead as you walk down the highly-decorated block.

For the street art photography we practiced something I call repositioned panoramic photography. This is a technique I have used on several occasions in the past, and I have perfected it through practice. I bought a roll of string, and we tied a knot in the string every meter. Then my students taped that string to the sidewalk three meters away from the wall.

Two of my students working on the repositioned panoramic images She is positioning the camera directly over the string, taped to the ground on the sidewalk.

With a plumb-bob on the tripod, we moved the camera along that string, stopping to take a photo at every one-meter interval. We were shooting with a medium wide lens with careful (manual) exposures to ensure consistency. What we ended up with are overlapping photos of the artwork with about 85 MB of data per shot.

Another team of photographers, using still cameras, photographed every nook and cranny of the street, gathering detail photos of the paint and the empty cans (the street artists are reasonably careful not to litter; they dispose of their paint cans properly – most of the time).

A third team of photographers took portraits of some of the artists working on their art.

Three of the students using Portrait mode on their mobile phones to capture portraits of one of the street artists featured in the book. The quality of those images was more than adequate for print.

When we were finished gathering photos and stories, another team of students transcribed the interviews and edited them into what the Germans call a “porträt” of each artist. These are stories that describe the people and their work. They are intimate descriptions of these men (we couldn’t find any of the women in the street arts community) and their philosophies about art and expression.

A smaller team of senior editors then fashioned these written portraits of the artists into a cohesive story about Tumblingerstraße and its contributors. They worked to define the “voice” of our book so that the stories were consistent in style and language.

Meanwhile the students and I worked on stitching the stepped panoramas together into ultra-high-resolution panoramic images for our book. Adobe Photoshop is an excellent platform for this kind of work, as its Automate:Photomerge function is very good a piecing together stepped images into flawless horizontal panoramas of hundreds of megabytes.

I have written about this technique before.

Yet another team began to build the pages for our book-to-be.

And, that is where the Landa Nanopress comes into this story.

I had seen the press running (read about it in this blog), and had asked the company president if they would print our book. With his affirmative answer, I began to work on getting press specifications, creating and printing a test sheet, and making the basic mechanical requirements for my students to follow in designing the book.

I also needed money to print the book, so I applied for, and received a grant from our university to get this book, and several smaller projects printed.

This is the test sheet I created to determine the qualities of the Landa Nanopress. The balloon photos at the top are designed to show how different RGB color spaces reproduce on the press. ProPhoto RGB is on the right, and despite being a huge color gamut, the resulting images did not look very good. I changed to Adobe RGB instead.

My test sheet revealed that the seven-color Nanopress would make an excellent printing platform for a book about street art. The vibrant colors of the artwork – including brilliant oranges and greens – would reproduce well on this machine. This was going to be a perfect pairing of technology and art.

I am an advocate of big-gamut RGB images for print. I have long believed that saving my photos with Adobe RGB, or ProPhoto RGB profiles gives them an opportunity to shine on the printed page. In this case I was working with the students to create ProPhoto RGB files for the book.

My test sheet proved me wrong, though. Those images I printed from the ProPhoto space did not reproduce well at all, instead turning them muddy and unattractive. But, that is why I made a press test sheet!

After consulting with a representative of EFI here in Germany (they make the RIP that runs the Nanopress), I decided that my best path would be to use Adobe RGB (though after researching it a bit, perhaps ECIRGB might be better – this is yet to be determined).

We reprocessed the photos with Adobe RGB source profiles.

After two months’ work, we completed the book in Adobe InDesign. It was ready to print. The grant would not come through until March, so we waited.

These are two of the six fold-out pages in the book. Each of the fold-outs is 950 mm in length (about 38 inches), covering three pages in the layout. Combined with individual adjacent pages, the fold-out sections measure more than one meter wide (about 55 inches).

When the grant money was available, I made arrangements for the books to be printed. Our press run would only be 125, but that is what the Nanopress does best. Limited editions are not only possible, they are routine on this machine. And, comparing the cost of printing on the Landa Nanopress with offset printing shows that when you don’t have to make plates and do even nominal make-ready, the Nanopress wins. You get gorgeous printing and you don’t have to spend a lot of money and time getting ready to print.

My summer semester Bachelor’s degree students and I used the Nanopress demonstration as a teaching opportunity. I took 14 students to see the book being printed, and to give them an opportunity to see this amazing machine at work. Representatives of Landa were on-hand to give the students an all-around tour. The machine was running beautifully, and the students had a rare view inside the machine.

The press run didn’t take very long: the book was comprised of three full B1 press sheets for the book body, and one additional press sheet for the covers. They ran about 150 sheets of each, and the entire run was completed in less than an hour.

The students eagerly accepted samples from the Nanopress, rolled them up and left the plant excited to have seen this new technology at work.

The press sheets were shipped to a bindery in Frankfurt where they were trimmed, folded and perfect-bound into beautiful examples of the work created by my Master’s students. Their work paid off in a form previously not seen – seven-color production printing on the Landa Nanopress that is beyond what we normally see from commercial presses.

This is the cover of the book: Tumblingerstraße. I commissioned this work by a local Munich artist whose work is featured in our book. On the Nanopress, the greens and oranges are reproduced with amazing intensity, something not possible with traditional CMYK printing.

Read Part III of this series

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Working with the Landa Nanopress

The Blognosticator in Munich

Part I

Last September I moved to Germany to teach for a year at Hochschule München in the Print and Media Technology program. This is my second time teaching here. The program is very similar to the program at Cal Poly, where I taught for 22 years. There is an exchange program with both teachers and students trading places for one or two semesters each year.

In the first weeks after my classes began in the Winter semester I was invited by a colleague to visit a commercial printing company in Munich that had installed a Landa Nanopress, one of the first in Europe, and one of a few dozen of the machines in existence. I was excited to see one of these machines outside of the controlled circumstances of a trade show hall. I wanted to see a Nanopress in production.

Three young men from Landa and Blueprint AG who run the Landa Nanopress in Munich.

The press is the brainchild of industry wizard Benny Landa, who in 2012 showed the machine to the world at the DRUPA exhibition in Dusseldorf. It was the most exciting new technology that year, and people stood in line to get a ticket to see the Landa team demonstrate the new machine.

This was not Mr. Landa’s first printing machine. He invented the Indigo printing press in the 1970s, and that machine became popular in the printing industry in the 1990s. Indigo is a toner printing system that is quite different from other electrophotographic machines in that its particulate is suspended in a liquid hydrocarbon called Isopar, giving the machine a higher resolution and greater control over the placement of microscopic particles of toner onto paper and other substrates.

While the Indigo had significant success, the company struggled to compete against other machines in the same category – Xerox, Konica-Minolta, Ricoh, Heidelberg, Kodak – and many feared that Indigo organization would fail. In 2002, Hewlett-Packard bought Indigo, not only saving it from failure, but creating a new division to improve and expand the Indigo offerings. Today, the Indigo press is one of the major players in digital printing and packaging. It has carved-out a large share of the market for short-run, exceptionally high quality printing in the digital field.

Gerhard Meier, President of Blueprint AG, extolls the virtues of the Nanopress to a group of visiting professors from Hochschule München last fall.

With the sale of Indigo, Mr. Landa started a new company in Tel Aviv, Israel, called Landa Group, specializing in nanotechnologies. The product of that firm is the Nanopress, a machine that combines production printing size (B1 size: 1000 x 700 mm), reasonable production speed (6,500 impressions per hour, perfected), and resolution of 1,200 x 600 ppi, making it competitive in the field of commercial printing. Offset presses typically print at twice that resolution, but the image quality and clever imaging techniques used by the Nanopress make an admirable printed product that is difficult to differentiate from offset without a microscope. Because of the excellent screening techniques, these sheets look like stochastic printing from offset presses.

The Nanopress in Munich is a model that features seven printing inks: the standard CMYK plus orange, green and blue/violet. Driven by an EFI Fiery controller, the press has a remarkable color gamut, and photos printed on the machine exceed normal process color printing in color range and brightness. Some of this is a result of the extraordinarily thin ink film thickness of just 20 nanometers, which allows light to pass through the ink and reflect back with less absorption than conventional printing inks with a thicker ink film thickness.

The press uses a stochastic halftone screen method to image photos and graphics, freeing images from the traditional rosette patterns of four-color halftones. This also eliminates any possibility of moiré patterns, a curse of printing with more than four colors of ink constrained by standard screen angles.

Herr Meier shows his guests the inner workings of the Nanopress from the operator side. The seven ink-jet head assemblies are just inboard of the black boxes with yellow labels above him.

The imaging is done with ink-jet technology. The Nanopress has rows of Fuji/Dimatix ink-jet heads that produce their microscopic droplets, depositing them on a huge rolling belt that runs the length of the press. All of the colors of ink are deposited onto the belt, and then immediately dried by a row of air dryers, resulting in the ink being a flexible entity that is transferred to the paper (or other substrate) in one step, arriving there fully dry.

If the sheet is to be perfected, it is passed to a perfecting cylinder, which flips the sheet and feeds it under the belt a second time, the ink for the backside being transferred by a second impression cylinder. After the two-sided sheet is finished, it goes to the delivery – or it can be sent to a conventional coating unit for aqueous coating.

The press feeder, coater, delivery, and all paper handling components are made by Komori in Japan. The Nanopress itself is built in Tel Aviv. This machine is very large. It is as long as a four-color offset press, three times wider, and about as tall. In addition to the printing machine, there are ink pumps, heaters, humidifier units, and a formidable array of devices for moving the belt through the machine and then removing the nanometers-thick ink from the belt to transfer it to the paper. It is exciting to watch it run.

When the ink-jet heads are making images, they are positioned inline with the belt and paper. When not printing, they retreat into air-tight landing positions to protect them from exposure (the ink cannot be allowed to dry on the heads).

The machine is capable, as most digital presses are, of making just one finished impression. Theoretically there is no make-ready, and there is no need to run many copies to get the machine “up to color.” In practice, the machine does need to be run up to color and the register of colors must be checked before production begins. But, with far fewer sheets run to get to full production – compared to an offset press – the machine is very practical for short-run, very high-quality printing. It is also capable of variable-data and variable-image printing where every sheet can conceivably be unique.

An interesting characteristic of the Nanopress is that it has only one operating speed: 6,500 impressions per hour. No faster, no slower. A technician from Landa told me that the company is working to make the machine run a bit faster in future versions. That speed is acceptable in my opinion, based on its other capabilities.

The Landa machine is not alone in the market. Digital ink-jet presses from Komori, Fuji, Heidelberg, Koenig & Bauer and others are also making their way into plants around the world, edging for an opportunity to meet the demand for production size and quality printing using short-run ink-jet technology.

On our first visit to the Nanopress we received a tour of the machine and were dazzled by the test sheets provided by the printer – Blueprint AG. While we visited we saw sheets of routine short-run commercial printing for numerous clients. Germany is home to Porsche, VW, BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz and other auto and truck manufacturers. We saw printing for several of those companies being run on the Nanopress. The work was extraordinary because of the expanded color gamut. This is a machine that calls out to graphic designers and photographers. There are greens, oranges and blues on these sheets that we almost never see on traditional presses, a result of there being seven colors available on the machine.

Another class of work that we saw was beautiful printing of menus. These were jobs that would be impractical to run on an offset press because the finished run would be shorter than the make-ready. Clearly it is practical to print 50 sheets on this machine.

The president of the company allowed us to take sample sheets that day, and we all walked out of the plant carrying our very special roll of paper with beautiful images printed on Mr. Landa’s new machine.

Read more about working with the Landa Nanopress!

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Designing a monogram font

The Blognosticator in Munich

Years ago I made a reproduction-quality proof of a type font in the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly. This font is comprised a sets of three letters that can be assembled into monograms.

Monograms were quite popular for business stationery in the early 20th century, and are often seen in embroidery patterns.

This font has left, center and right elements, each one designed to stand with two others to make a three-letter monogram.

I was up all night last night, reinstalling the software on my iPad Pro (a story for another day), and I was left with long wait times as a new operating system and back-up were downloaded and installed on that device.

I decided to work on the monograms to make a digital font. There are many monogram fonts in existence, some of which look very much like the one I was planning to draw, but I went ahead and began the work anyway. My design is relatively faithful to the metal type in the museum, and different enough from the others online that it would not be a waste of time.

The idea is that each letter has to fit a third of a pointy ellipse shape with white space between the elements. I also decided to make the first version of the font an outline font (the solid version followed).

These are the three shapes into which I chose to draw letters: left, center and right.

I started by drawing the letter O for all three spots, then worked on derivative letters including P, R, B, and C. Pretty soon I had created the N, M and W letters, and worked my way to U, V, X and Z. I finished the others and made a test font.

What I realized, but wouldn’t admit to myself is that drawing the left-side letter D was impossible. I tried several versions of the letter D, but they violated the basic structural rules that I had created for the other letters. Nothing worked for the left-hand D.

Here is the dilemma of the left-hand D: It just doesn’t work. I ended up doing what many other monogram designers have done, and flipped the D so it faces backward. C’est la vie typographique!

I looked online, and I discovered that no one else had figured out the D either. I was relieved. Most monogram fonts use a reverse D in the left position. I decided to do the same. It’s a cop-out, I admit, but there really isn’t much else I could do. In the end, I put a forward-facing D (shown on the left, and really ugly) as an alternate character in the font.

My next challenge was mapping the font to the keyboard. I would, of course, use upper-case and lower-case keys for the left and center glyphs, and I figured I could use Alt and Alt-Shift for the right-hand glyphs. Alt worked in most cases, but there are several “escaped” glyphs that won’t work because they don’t space (when you type an accented character, the computer puts the accent on screen, but it does not advance to the next letter; instead, it waits for you to type the accented letter, which is then presented under – or over – the accent mark).

Here are two versions of a monogram for my initials (BPL). Traditional monograms (like those embroidered on handkerchiefs) have the initial of your last name in the middle, and your first and middle initials on either side. I don’t own any handkerchiefs, so I choose to put my initials in proper order (right). I really like the two-color letters made by choosing a fill and stroke of different colors.

I figured out which glyphs go under which Alt and Alt-Shift combinations so that I can set the entire alphabet in all three positions. When I was in doubt, I put the right-hand glyphs in two positions so that either Alt or Alt-Shift will work.

It works, but I wish it worked more consistently.

The monogram is set with a fill and stroke color at the top, followed by another period font from the Shakespeare Press Museum collection, one called Art Point. I drew that font for digital use about ten years ago, and it works well as a contrasting font for the Monogram font.

In the end, I am very pleased with my Monogram font (except the backward D). I have tried it in a number of settings, and it looks pretty good. And, it only took a couple of days of work to get ready for beta testing.

I have posted a set of downloadable fonts for noncommercial use. You are welcome to download them,

Below is a link to a folder containing both the outline and solid versions of the Monogram font, and a character map to help you get the correct characters. I hope you enjoy these fonts.

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Lining Livermore, der zweite Teil

The Blognosticator in Munich

This is a continuation of a blog I wrote two days ago. To read the first part, click here.

After I put all the letters (called “glyphs” In typography) into a master Adobe Illustrator document, I built the destination environment for the letters in FontLab. There, I assigned a cap-X height, a lower-case x-height, and an Italic slope.

This is the cap A in its glyph window in FontLab. I have enhanced the parallelogram lines that describe
that space in light blue. Working in an Italicized environment was confusing to me at first, but I figured it out, and am now comfortable with these glyph spaces. The red nodes indicate anchor points in the letter: round nodes are curve nodes; square nodes are corner nodes. I really like the FontLab controls for drawing letters – they offer precise control over the position, angle and length of each node and handle.

This turns the spaces in which the glyphs reside into parallelograms. The Italic slope is 30° in Lining Livermore, which I determined by measuring the slope of the letters in my photos. Once the FontLab settings were made, I prepared the first letter to move, and calculated the amount it needed to be enlarged to fit the glyph spaces in the destination application.

This is my Adobe Illustrator master document containing almost all the glyphs I created to make the font. Many others were created in FontLab because it’s easier and more precise to work in that environment. There are also some experimental glyphs here – characters that never made it into the font. I don’t think that the 19th century designers of Lining Livermore knew what an eth is, and the Euro glyph certainly didn’t exist. Notice the red sidebearing rectangles. These were taken from the micro photos of the type, and assigned by the width and height of the lead blocks on which the letters are cast.

I create a “pasting page” in another Illustrator document where I paste a copy of each glyph, then scale it to the correct size for FontLab (I could more simply enlarge the entire master document then just copy and paste into FontLab). Then the process is to select a single glyph in Illustrator, copy it, paste it onto the pasting page, and scale it to the right size. Then I cut the glyph, move to FontLab, open the glyph window and paste.

Once in FontLab, I move the glyph into the correct position on the glyph window. “Correct” is the operative word here: I have never made an Italic font before, so this was new territory. Roman alphabets are simpler: there is a left sidebearing, and a right sidebearing. They are usually equal, with some exceptions, and it’s easy to gauge where a glyph sits inside its glyph rectangle, depending on the “natural” spacing of the font you are creating.

With Italics, however, I was befuddled. Do I center the glyph in its space? Do I imitate the overhang in the original metal type (which is even more confusing, since the metal type is not cast on parallelogram-shaped blocks)? I found, with some experimentation, that placing the left edge of each glyph on the left edge of the glyph space, then setting the right sidebearing either touching or overlapping the right-hand edge of the glyph I was placing gave me the best spacing.

The images on the left show the glyphs inside their original type block spaces, showing the overhangs as they exist on the original type. On the right are parallelograms with the same glyphs within. The parallelogram environment is the world of FontLab as I am using it for this font.

In this way I allowed the overhanging parts of most letters to overhang, and thus intrude into the left side of the following character’s space. This is not intuitive, but eventually it made sense. I completed the entire font using that technique. Now I am in the process of adjusting those glyphs to get them to fit their spaces more effectively. It will take time.

When I finish that I will move on to kerning, which will be an all-new experience for me in the Italicized world I have created.

So Lining Livermore is almost ready for prime time, which is to say “beta-testing.” I will pass a few copies to friends and family to give it a shake-down.

On the day I started writing this blog I read the latest post from Lucas at Type Network about new revivals of fonts from the American Type Founders Collection. I was excited to see these new fonts – until I saw Livermore Script. I was crushed. On the same day that I made my first “finished draft” of Lining Livermore, they beat me to market.

So, what do I do now? Scrap the entire project? Kill Lining Livermore and move on to another font? I don’t know.

I have drawn the necessary hundreds of glyphs for Lining Livermore, and I completed years of work, working quietly in the background, to get this far.

I will continue to “perfect” the font, working to make a beautiful Italic font that represents the original metal type, and then I will probably use it myself and appreciate the effort whenever I do.

Meanwhile I congratulate the modern ATF revivalists – Mark van Bronkhorst, Igino Marini, and Ben Kiel – for their work to make a commercial digital version of Livermore. It looks great.

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Drawing the Lining Livermore font

The Blognosticator in Munich

Deep in the recesses of the back room of the Shakespeare Press Museum at California Polytechnic State University is a cabinet. It contains about 20 drawers of hand-set metal type.

We never use this type because it is difficult to use, and it is the rarest of the museum’s collection of about 600 drawers of wood and metal type. If it were used, it would certainly get damaged, and that’s not acceptable.

This is my digital font in its early stages. Much work remains to be done on spacing and kerning.
I’m sure you can appreciate what an interesting design this is.

The reason it would be damaged is that this font has extraordinary wings of unsupported metal – the most pronounced of any font I have seen. This means that parts of the letters hang off the sides of the blocks on which the type was cast. In order to prevent those wings from breaking off on the first impression of a printing press, there is, somewhere, special spacing material that is designed to support the parts of the letters that hang over the edges.

We don’t have that special spacing material, so the fonts of this style have been designated as never-use fonts for their own protection.

This illustration shows the position of the letter on the lead type block. The parts of the letter that hang over the edges are designed to be supported by the next character’s base.
If the type is printed without that support, those fragile overhangs will be broken off, ruining the type.
(I have made that mistake a number of times in my career.)

The Lining Livermore type was made about 150 years ago by a foundry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania named the McKellar, Smiths & Jordan Foundry. This company was one of numerous small type foundries that later became American Type Founders. ATF became the largest type foundry conglomerate in the United States. Its type designs dominated hand-set typography for two centuries, and the vestiges of that firm are still in existence (though today those vestiges are designs being converted into digital fonts).

I looked for decades to find Lining Livermore in any catalog of type from ATF and others, and was never successful in doing so. I finally found a reproduction of the McKellar, Smiths and Jordan specimen book in which there is a sample of Lining Livermore.

This is enlarged from the proof print, made from the original type at 18 pt.
The type I used for this project is 40 pt. (an abnormal size), with much greater detail.
Notice how inking and printing the specimen makes the type look bolder, and the details fill in.

It’s a unique font. It is very Italicized – about 30° ­– and it has huge, sweeping capital letters and diminutive lower-case characters. The style is not completely consistent in that it has no consistent angle of emphasis (the thick-and-thin parts of letters). The caps are significantly bolder than the lower-case, and there are those overhanging parts that challenge typographers who possess the actual metal type.

I first discovered this font of type in the early 1970s when I was the student curator of Shakespeare Press Museum. I knew it was special when I dug it out of the very back corner of the museum. I carefully proofed the type on a Vandercook proof press, printing on beautiful coated soft white proofing paper. My plan was to photograph it and maybe someday redraw it for photocomposition.

Decades passed, and a few years ago I started work on that process.

I have drawn many fonts for digitization by scanning these beautiful proof prints, then drawing the letters in Adobe Illustrator using the scanned images as a template. This process worked well for all of the other fonts I made, but Lining Livermore refused to cooperate. There are tiny gaps in the lower-case letters that plug-up when the type is inked and printed, closing the space between parts of the letters that are designed to be sharp.

Despite making these careful proofs, I never got one that showed the pure original design of the letters.

This past summer, while preparing for my year here in Germany, I got out my digital microscope and set it up on my desk. Then I arranged the Lining Livermore type in rows and photographed each pair of letters in the complete set. I chose a magnification of about 20X, and carefully moved each pair of letters under the lens of the microscope, and made my exposures.

Then I filed those photos away for some long winter night in Munich when I was stuck indoors with nothing to do. This month those long winter nights arrived, and I began to work on Lining Livermore.

My process is simple: I cleaned up the photos in Photoshop to enhance their brightness and contrast, then I placed each photo into an Illustrator file, set the photo as a template, and then drew each letter on top of the photo template, being as careful as I could to follow the exact shapes of the metal type.

This is the letter R in Adobe Illustrator showing the photo taken with my digital microscope. After turning the photo into a template, I drew the letter in Illustrator (white), and outlined the block of metal on which the letter is located (yellow) to get the side bearings of the font. Notice the overhangs on the right and the top, which are unsupported in the original type. These overhangs would require a block of lead (usually the next letter) to support the overhang to prevent it from being broken off on the press. Metal type is very fragile, and overhangs like this cannot be printed without support.

More importantly, I drew a rectangle on each letter to indicate that letter’s position on its block of lead, so that I would know the exact sidebearings and positions of the letters on the type blocks.

This photo shows the letters EFGH and their metal blocks. The space between the E and the F goes unsupported, so would require another letter (usually a lower-case letter) next to support the fragile overhang. The original type is, of course, reversed. I flipped the images in Photoshop to make it easier to draw the letters in Adobe Illustrator (no point working backward!).

Then I copied the Illustrator drawings to a master document and assembled the letters that I would be converting into a digital font.

…and these are the same letters from my master drawing in Adobe Illustrator. The red lines show the character’s position on the original blocks of lead. Notice that all of the letters have overhangs.

That, in my font design work flow, is the technique to get the letters drawn and ready to move into FontLab.

For that process, and the steps that are needed to make a digital font in FontLab, read the next chapter of this story.

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The birth of Bauschrift

The Blognosticator in Munich

I went on a journey last week to buy some foam-core board. En route, I saw a handsome metal sign at the Technische Universität München.

In English, this translates (roughly) to:


The sign is cut in a thick (approx. 10 mm) sheet of aluminum, and the lettering is unique. I would call it “Constructivist” or “Bauhaus” (it’s too Constructivist to be Bauhaus), and it has a touch of Art Deco influence.

There are many beautiful signs that I have found around Munich, and this one is my favorite.

I came home and decided to write this blog post. But first I had to clean up the photo, removing some reflections and background lights. Then I had to make it look really beautiful. And, then I had to design a complete alphabet from the lettering in the sign. Then I decided to create a type font in the style of the sign.

Now, several days later, I have completed the first draft of that font. I am calling it Bauschrift Schwartz (Construction Lettering Black).

Interestingly, the sign has most of the alphabet, and the dieresis (umlaut) accent on two of the U’s. I only had to create eight other letters in the same style to complete the alphabet.

This is the nearly complete Bauschrift font I designed from the lettering on the sign. The letters in black are in the original sign; those in red I drew, attempting to maintain the spirit of the original lettering as best I could.

Then I had to draw the punctuation and the numerals that will make a usable font. For Romance and Germanic languages this means the 26 capital letters (repeated in the lower case positions), all the standard punctuation, numerals, and the accented characters for AEIOUY with the dieresis, and the acute-accent for those same letters (French and German use this), the accent-grave, cedilla and circumflex for French and Portuguese, and a few others: the question mark, exclamation mark (and upside-down for Spanish), the ampersand and the percent sign.

…and the @ sign, and the dollar sign, and the Euro glyph and an asterisk, etc., etc.

I decided to stop there, as I doubt that many of the glyphs usually found in a type font are necessary for such a unique style like this. The percentile symbol, the series symbol and a herd of others are so unlikely to be used that I didn’t draw them at all (and they would look really odd).

Drawing the numerals was relatively easy, except for the number 5. That one eluded me, as it doesn’t read as a 5 unless there is a distinct bar across the top, and a counter in the lower half. Since all of the square edges in this alphabet are rounded, the hole in the 5 and the lip of the bottom-left of the glyph must also be rounded. I made several versions before I was happy with the one I chose, and I’m not convinced that I got it right.

This sample uses the font, including one accented cap O, followed by too many pi characters from a font
I designed years ago called BPL Dingbats III. That font is, as far as I know, the only pi font in existence
that has actual pie characters for both apple and cherry pie!

I built the font in FontLab 7, the latest version of that incredible font creation application. I have been using FontLab for over a decade, and this version is dramatically better than the previous versions. I just had to learn how to use it. And, I am working on the small screen of a MacBook Air while I am in Germany, so I don’t have the luxurious two-screen set-up that I enjoy at home in California.

My preference is to draw letters in Adobe Illustrator. I am skillful there, and it’s a simple cut-and-paste path between Illustrator and FontLab.

Getting used to the small screen was challenging, but pretty soon I was moving quickly through the steps to make the font and test it. There are many features of FontLab that I don’t know yet, and it will take months for me to become facile with this version. Meanwhile I had a font to make!

This is my recreation of the sign using the new font. I am happy with the result. It is, admittedly,
not a very useful font, but I had fun making it, and paying homage to the original work.

As with any font, it’s the details that make it a complex task. Building kerning tables is semi-automated in the latest FontLab, but I am not able to take advantage of that feature yet. So, because I know how to do it by hand, I spent several hours going through the letter combinations adding the kerning values. I am pretty fast at this, so it wasn’t too bad.

If you would like a no-warranty version of the font to try, click on the lettering below. Remember that it’s a draft, subject to a great deal of tinkering. I think it was type designer Jim Parkinson who once told me that you never finish a type font. You declare victory and move on!

Update 16 February 2022: The font is now v.2. I improved the ß glyph dramatically and I added lots of kerning pairs. It’s more functional now.

(That’s the German. Really.)

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German & EU Pharmaceutical Safety using Blindenschrift

The Blognosticator in Munich

I walked into the local Apotheke this afternoon to buy a couple of over-the-counter medicines. Both were easy to find. I paid at the cashier’s counter and turned down an offer for a bag to carry the two small packages.

I put one in the pocket of my jacket, and gave the other to my wife. And, a few minutes later I put my hand in my pocket to discover a small box there (surprise!). I felt it, and remembered the trip to the apothecary, just a few minutes earlier.

But, what I also felt was Braille printing on the package (Blindenschrift in German).

This is the IbuHexal package with Braille lettering on the front cover.

I occasionally notice Braille in Munich. When I put my hand on a public transport handrail – bannisters and other hand-holds – the name of the station I am entering is often presented there in Braille. These labels, embossed on a strip of stainless steel, are affixed at the very top of bannister rails, and you touch them when you grip the railing. There is no mistaking them for a rough patch on the rail. It’s clearly a message.

This was my first time finding Braille on a package, and I am impressed.

This photomicrograph shows the Braille dots as embossed dimples in the packaging.

The European Union enacted legislation in 2009 to require all member nations to put tactile labels on most pharmaceuticals, many soap and hygiene products, and chemicals like bleach. Most producers began to include Braille the following year.

In the U.S. the advisory committee that makes similar regulations decided that the decision to put Braille on packaging would be left up to the manufacturers, so there is no consistent application of this in the U.S.

The idea, of course, is to provide tactile printing for those in our society who cannot see printed labels. Stop to consider that over seven million men and women in the U.S. were known to the National Federation for the Blind in 2016. That is about 0.02 percent of the U.S. population. There are very likely many more.

So when it comes to pharmaceutical safety, and the broader need to label dangerous products, the presence of Braille on packaging can save lives.

This is a translation of the IbuHexal box Braille.

Printing a package with ink is one thing. Embossing the same package with Braille is slightly more complicated. Ironically, it’s not much more complicated, considering that virtually every package (paper) is die-cut and then glued into a carton. Adding Braille while die-cutting is a moderately complex additional task. I am sure that it requires a second impression in many cases. But since the package is already being cut, it can be embossed in the same plant on the same machines at a small cost.

Plastic packaging is slightly more complicated. Centrifugal plastic molding machines – those used for soap bottles and similar items, could add Braille easily to the die (I know that these dies are very costly to make). Overall, the cost of adding Braille to packages is a few cents per unit. It would not break the pharmaceutical industry or the home cleaning products industry to add it. And, it could save visually impaired people the risk of injury from not being able to identify the pills in a bottle or the liquid they need to use in the washing machine.

…and this is the whole Braille alphabet. This is used the world over. It can be used to write in many languages. It’s very common for Braille to be encoded with contractions and shortcuts, localized to the market.

Back in the 1970s, I was involved in an effort to print Braille using offset printing and thermography (it didn’t work very well). At the time, I developed a type font for our Mergenthaler VIP typesetter that we used to set type samples in Braille. So, I am vaguely aware of the way that Braille is set. I also know that Braille is not a 1:1 encoding of language. Effective Braille has many, many contractions and shortcuts, making it easier for the reader to read without having to read every letter.

There are numerous modern methods for printing for the visually-impaired. I found a number of desktop printers that can do it using needle-printing techniques. I am also confident that various of the ink-jet technologies used for “digital embossing” can probably put down a thick enough layer of toner to make legible Braille.

Regardless, there are methods of making the letters. It’s a great idea that the Braille can be added to any commercial product to make it possible for visually-impaired people to read it.

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The advertising poster is enjoying a multilingual limelight

(Das Werbeplakat in mehreren Sprachen)

The Blognosticator in Munich

I’m doing a casual study of what I call translingual advertisements here in Germany.

Germans are famous for being multilingual. They begin studying a second language in elementary school, and many students graduate from college speaking at least two languages other than German.

This poster, for a Russian vodka, features a headline in English, no German, and the label in Russian and English.

They are also required to take Latin – and a lot of it – while in school. American students have no such requirement. In fact I fear that studying any language other than English is rare now in American schools. The online language app Duolingo claims that it has more subscribers than America has students studying another language. This is a shame, because languages are so interesting, and they encourage social interaction.

When I ask a German if he/she speaks English, the answer is almost always “A little.” But, this modest response almost always means, “I only took six years of English in school,” – and then conversation continues in (excellent) English.

I polled my students recently about their language skills. Out of 16, all spoke German plus English (one spoke Portuguese and English). About half also speak French, and two spoke another language (one spoke Czech and Russian, the other spoke Italian).

This poster is for a bicycle delivery service – very popular in Munich. They deliver food to your apartment. In German the text says, “Purchases delivered in minutes.”

When I taught here in 2017, I needed a new modem for the Internet line coming into my apartment. I studied the dictionary for the right words, and built a sentence in German to describe what I sought. I practiced, and then I went downtown to the Saturn electronics store. When I approached a salesman and played-out my carefully-practiced sentence, he smiled, and then said, “Would you rather do this in English?” I was humiliated, but happy to continue in English.

This time, having been in Germany now for five months, I’m getting much better at constructing sentences in German, but I’m still slow to understand the answers I get. I often have to ask for the conversation to be continued in English. In my daily German lessons I have learned how to say, “My fish doesn’t need a chair,” among other very useful expressions.

Another lead in English promises fitness at 19,90 € per month (cancellable monthly).
No registration fee until January 11th – only from December 1st.

One of the most interesting manifestations of multilingualism in Munich is the use of English in retail advertising. I see English headlines on buses and trams, on kiosks and in the train station on automated billboards. The popular thing for advertisers to do is splash an English language headline on their poster, followed by details about the product/offer in German. I am often amused by the choice of phrases, because they require a reasonable understanding of English even to understand.

My favorite poster recently was an ad for a chocolate bar. It read “DARKER, RICHER, LECKER.” I liked this one because it required the reader to understand the first two words in English, and the third in German, which of course they would.

It translates in English to “Darker, Richer,” and then, in German, “Delicious.” This one was clever and amusing in both languages; in fact you don’t get it unless you understand both languages reasonably well.

When I see an advertisement that uses both languages, I stop and take a photo with my phone. They are everywhere, and they change often. One day I saw an ad for coffee featuring a photo of Leonardo di Caprio. I didn’t photograph it when I saw it, and just two days later it was gone, replaced by an ad for fancy Italian lingerie.

I am always rooting for the printing industry, and outdoor advertising is dominated by printed posters here in Munich (in Munich there are five daily newspapers!). With the exception of the fancy motor-driven signs at the central train station (these roll through different ads every few seconds), all of the posters I see are printed by offset lithography in sections. Those sections are then adhered to sign boards with wheat paste. At tram stops, single-sheet posters are mounted inside glass frames. The turnover is amazing; seldom does a poster last more than a few days.

And, curiously, I have not recently seen an ad being changed. I imagine a corps of midnight poster-pasters who move around the city in vans changing the advertisements. I did observe a poster-paster in 2017 when he was putting up ads in my neighborhood. I wrote a blog about that here.

During my current stay in Munich I have been observing the frequent changing-of-the-signs on trams, requiring very large and long poster art to be mounted on the tops of streetcars. I can’t get close enough to determine how they are printed. In the U.S., these would be printed by ink-jet, which is probably more expensive, but they would also stay on the trams longer. In Munich I think the life of a tram-ad campaign is probably only 30 days. How they are printed I cannot tell.

One thing that I don’t see here now that was fairly common in 2017 is the wrapping of regional trains. They were popular here during my previous stay, but I have seen none in my current stay. I think it’s too expensive to wrap a huge train car with beautiful ink-jet printed graphics. It was probably not a good way for advertisers to get their message across.

I know that wrapping an automobile in the U.S. costs over $5,000. Imagine the cost of wrapping a railroad car!

This ad poster, which would be highly offensive in the U.S., is entirely in English, for German readers.
Apologies for the quality of the photo. It’s impossible to get without the reflections because it is in a glass case.

Another poster I photographed last week broke the rules of public decency (for the U.S.). This one caught my eye as I rode by on a streetcar. I thought, “Did that say what I thought it said??” I returned to the scene a few hours later and photographed the poster to include in this blog. Obviously, most Germans know the meaning of the rude word on this poster, but it doesn’t bother them because it’s not in the local language. In America we would be offended by this poster – and it would never, ever, be posted in a public place.

I wonder if this poster had the same phrase in German (not exactly: “Ich fliege verdammt noch mal!”), the locals would be offended (I suspect not). I will poll my students on this topic next time I see them.

My study, meanwhile, will continue.

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Late to the party for Shepard Fairey

The Blognosticator in Munich

It gets late early here in Munich in winter, and sometimes I find myself being ready for bed only to discover that it’s 8:15. So, I have taken to watching documentaries on Hulu (and elsewhere) or refining that day’s effort on the New York Times Spelling Bee puzzle.

I was watching the Hulu Original documentary about Shepard Fairey a few nights back, and found it very compelling. I have been an subconscious admirer of Mr. Fairey’s work for years, though unlike the rest of the world, I became aware of the artist’s name only after his Barrack Obama poster became so well known.

This is the SWM building in Munich that features a wonderful mural
by street artist Shepard Fairey.

I was also aware of the lawsuit filed by Associated Press claiming copyright infringement, a suit that the cooperative spent almost $15 million prosecuting (according to the documentary). At the time of the suit I sided with AP, because I saw the artwork as being an almost-literal copy of the photo taken by Mannie Garcia, who is a contributing photographer for the Associated Press.

If you watch the documentary – and I recommend that you do – you will learn that Shepard Fairey didn’t just “paint-by-numbers” using software, as was argued in AP’s lawsuit. Mr. Fairey used Rubylith* film to hand-cut the separations for his poster, working from an enlarged version of the photo. It was, by reason of artistic merit, a derivative work.

That phrase “derivative work” is vaguely described in the most recent U.S. Copyright law, excepting artists for works that are “derived” from the work of others from infringement claims. After watching the film, I flipped to Fairey’s side of the argument.

In the film there is a touching scene where Mannie Garcia, the photographer, talks about going to lunch with Shepard Fairey during a break in depositions. To the horror of all the lawyers present, the two went off together and shook hands after discussing the photo and Fairey’s interpretation of it.

It’s important to note that Shepard Fairey is sincerely repentant about not licensing the photo, which he should have done, and which would have obviated the need for the action in the first place.

AP and Fairey settled their suit in 2011 on undisclosed terms.

I have long admired, but misunderstood Shepard Fairey’s work. I really like his Soviet-style constructivist art (often modeled after actual Soviet-era artwork), and I love his political posters, especially those he created after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. To see tens of thousands of Fairey’s posters being carried by the millions of people who attended protest rallies after the inauguration in 2017 was moving.

His style is unique. His skills are extraordinary (he is a graduate of RISD), and his ability to use images to move crowds and change minds is really impressive. His work has become timeless.

Sure, he has been arrested on numerous occasions (who hasn’t?**) and certainly he is guilty of putting stickers on all sorts of municipal properties in his career. All of that I have forgiven because his artwork transcends graffiti and vandalism.

I am just now finishing a project with my students about street art in Munich. As part of this, I have experienced a conversion that lets me to see street art as something entirely different from graffiti or “tagging.”

While on a tram last week traveling to a local museum, my wife and I saw an amazing work of street art: a building-size paint can with an environmentalist message. I made note of the cross-streets and returned the next day to photograph that art. It covers an entire side of a building in Munich, one that houses the workshops of SWM, the local public utility. It is a dazzling work of art, and I wondered who did it (I should have noticed the style and the similarities to his other works).

It was that evening that I watched the Shepard Fairey documentary, and saw in one scene, Mr. Fairey painting the wall in Munich. A version of that same image was used at the Paris Climate Conference on a sphere suspended under the Eiffel Tower. Wow! It is Shepard Fairey’s work, sponsored by a Munich arts organization called Positive-Propaganda.

That work is complemented by an electric vehicle charging station (appropriate because the message of Fairey’s art is anti-Big-Oil).

So, call me a late-to-the-party Shepard Fairey fan. I have now seen so many fine examples of his work to call him an inspiration to fine art around the world. I’m sorry that I didn’t become an admirer sooner. I apologize for my tardiness.

* Rubylith is a red (or amber) colored gelatine film that is used to prepare masks for photographic and plate-making activities in the graphic arts. You cut through the gelatine layer with an X-Acto knife and peel-away the parts that you want to be transparent, leaving the rest behind to create a photo-opaque mask. I think it is still made.

** I have never been arrested, though I was escorted and questioned once by military police after taking a panoramic photo on military property. They let me go without charging me, because the boundary of the military property was not clearly marked.

Addendum 9 January, 2022:
Another gorgeous mural created with a funds from Positive Propaganda can be found on Dachauerstraße, near the corner of Lothstraße in Munich. This was painted in 2018 by an artist named Liqen.

This extraordinary work, entitled Exhuman, is by artist Liqen, and sponsored by Positive Propaganda. It was painted in 2018. This photo was made by the students in my Master’s Advanced Photography course using a Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens on a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera.
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