The End of Two Eras: Hot Metal Typesetting, and Phototypesetting (Video)

Getting a book printed in 2015 is such a simple task that it is easy to forget that the printing process used to require a staff of dozens, if not hundreds. The New York Times, for example used to employ more than one hundred typesetters solely for the purpose of laying out each edition of the daily paper.

Open Culture posted a video yesterday that details just how much work used to go into printing that daily paper. Originally shot in 1978, the video is a documentary which focuses on the NYTimes’ printing operation as it switched from the obsolete hot-metal typesetting process to the phototypesetting.

As you can read in Wikipedia, hot-metal typesetting was nearly a century old by the time this film was recorded, but phototypesetting was still new. The latter process was still cutting edge when the film was recorded, but it too has fallen by the wayside. Thanks to modern computer tech, both printing methods are now equally redundant.

You can in fact design and lay out a newspaper today and have it printed, all without leaving the comfort of your own office. There are several vendors who offer this service, including HP and The Newspaper Club.

Isn’t it a shock just how much work used to be required to print a newspaper, and is now all done by computers?

image by stiefkind

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Meryl Yourish14 August, 2015

    I worked for the largest type house on the east coast in the early 80s when Harper’s Bazaar switched from hot lead to phototypesetting. It was a huge score for us.

    Within ten years, the desktop publishing revolution pushed typesetting off the cliff. It started in the mid-80s.

    That’s why I went into web publishing. Still there.

  2. Muratcan Simsek15 August, 2015

    I do miss letterpress.

  3. Gary15 August, 2015

    I watched the video and I was fascinated by the detailed work and the teamwork that went into building each page of the newspaper. There were so many steps, and each step had to be done right, and on time, or the entire process failed.

    I was also struck by how much safety in the workplace has taken precedence today. In the video, despite a very noisy work environment, not one person was wearing hearing protection. Note the reference to workers using sign language on the job due to the presence of “many deaf printers”. I also believe that any machines for casting molten lead would be equipped with exhaust air ducts and fume hoods today. Not so in 1978.


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