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Letraset, Lubalin and ligatures – in newsprint

By Mark Sinclair

Two things close to Unit Editions’ heart – Letraset and Herb Lubalin – came together recently in the form of a broadsheet newspaper produced by the Herb Lubalin Study Center and Adobe Type’s Dan Rhatigan. Made in collaboration with Newspaper Club, ‘100% Lubalin Letraset’ was created for Day 90 of the Center’s #Lubalin100 project that has been celebrating the designer’s centenary.

The newspaper features 17 images of Lubalin’s typefaces as they appeared on sheets of the lettering system in the 1970s. Each sheet comes from Rhatigan’s own collection and he introduces the paper with a text on Lubalin’s International Typeface Corporation (ITC), the foundry that the US designer launched with Aaron Burns and Edward Rondthaler in 1970. ITC didn’t make any type, Rhatigan notes, but instead released designs that could be licensed to other companies.

The foundry focused on “the design of distinctive new typefaces (including revivals which were given a characteristic ITC spin) and then created demand for them with superb marketing promo­tion,” Rhatigan writes. “They then made these designs available to manufacturers so the type could be distributed on whichever kind of media were used by a given typesetting system.”

The 20-page newspaper reprints the sheets at actual size giving the reader the chance to pore over the details of Lubalin’s type as rendered in the rub-down DIY lettering system. While the paper features several iterations of arguably Lubalin’s most famous typeface, Avant Garde, there are also examples of ITC Lubalin Graph from 1974. Lubalin was also one of several prominent designers who contributed designs to Letrasets Letragraphica series – several examples of which are featured in Units book on the company.

The reproductions in ‘100% Lubalin Letraset’ show exactly what designers would have had to work with – and even within the context of the seemingly limitless possibilities of digital, the sheets of Lubalin Graph and Serif Gothic “are particularly notable for their inclusion of alternate glyph styles that never made their way into digitised fonts,” writes Rhatigan. In this sense there were “possibilities that were more readily apparent to designers in the past than to those of us working with them today.”

Letraset enabled the designer to see “everything that was available in a design, and not just the characters shown in a specimen book” – and in doing so truly revolutionised the way people worked with type.

‘100% Lubalin Letraset’ was produced for Day 90 of and and was given away at Cooper Union's recent Typographics conference in New York. Letraset: The DIY Typography Revolution is currently available from the Unit shop. Unit also recently successfully funded a Kickstarter project to reprint its 2012 monograph on Herb Lubalin. All images courtesy of Newspaper Club.