The Lost Art of Paste-Up (video)

Back before we used computers to lay out the text of a book, magazine, or newspaper, publishers used various methods to manually lay out text before sending it to the printers. The NY Times and other newspapers used what was known as the “hot metal” method of laying out each page. (I thought I had a video of this, but do not.)

Some magazine publishers used that process, which got its name from how the lead type was recycled after it was used, but others would print out the text, and then get out an exacto knife and rubber cement and lay out each page one block of text or one title at a time.

If they had to correct a flaw, they would trim and move the words and  sentence fragments one at a time.

This brings back memories of school. While this technique is before my time, I am old enough to remember using similar tricks to lay out titles on dioramas and for science fair projects.

In fact, it brings back all sorts of memories. Does anyone else remember having to learn how to use dry transfer?

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. Bruce16 October, 2019

    I started just when real pasteup was coming to an end. I think I did a year (maybe two at some of the smaller, less wealthy publications) of pasteup before switching entirely to desktop on an old Mac classic. I still teach the basics of this whenever I do talks just so people can understand the evolution of the dtp metaphors used by the industry.

  2. MP16 October, 2019

    We used wax instead of rubber cement in the newsrooms of the 80s. Much easier to move articles and snippets around.

  3. davemich16 October, 2019

    When I studied journalism and wrote pieces, I would write and then cut my written work up and lay it out on another piece of paper, not for layout purposes but to rearrange the content more logically. Additional work could be scribbled in and deletions just scribbled out. The whole thing might get cut up and laid out a second time until “what I want” was achieved. The result was copied afresh. It worked.

  4. Gordon Horne17 October, 2019

    I have a single copy of an old, out of print workbook from the 80s I’m using in class. I photocopied the pages. Then, because it’s a different size and shape than standard copier paper, I cut and pasted those pages to make new masters. The next time I used the book I scanned the pages as images and cut them up in Photoshop. That let me not only move elements around, but resize them individually.

    As an old fogey, literal cut-and-paste was my automatic go to, but it didn’t take me long to remember we have better ways nowadays.

  5. Patrick15 May, 2020

    I set type, did paste up, used scissors in my first job to put together a double-truck food spot that took me hours to do. Then I would drive the proof to the store and let the manager circle changes that he would call in. Once that was done, it was Friday at 3:30 and as a teenager, it was drinking time.
    Worked for a daily paper and did we ever drink. That stereotype was real. There, I worked on a Compugraphic AdVantage. It had a light pen, 8″ single-sided floppies and a green screen that cranked out dangerous levels of RF. The smell of developing fluid, hot wax, cigarette smoke in the composition room–that would bring back memories. I had a “pica pole” an “E Guage” (a thing Compugraphic gave out to size type and it had E’s on it) and my exacto.
    What a great art that was.


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