Digital versus metal type…

Assuming producing a photopolymer plate using some computer font versus using metal foundry type.

What qualities does the computer type have that makes its quality less desirable? Please try and explain in some detail.

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Any good suggestions for digital fonts that letterpress particularly well?

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Digital Font for Letterpress

I have completed an ongoing four year project of Barry Moser’s limited edition book “PORTRAITS” with 161 hand printed engraved block prints with accompanying text set in dfTYPE’s Rialto font released in 1999. I can attest to this digital font’s superb attributes in the photopolymer medium for letterpress. Counters and swells within the font’s metrics allow for slight shifts in ink choke or spread when printed on a variety of hand produced papers available to today’s printer.

Vance Studley

Does anyone know of a site where this typeface is sold? I cannot seem to find it.

As far as I know dfTYPE does not have a site. Their email address is [email protected]

It is a great typeface for letterpress. We have a PDF of the prospectus up at

Files>Reference materials>

see also
in regard to your questions about digital type,
go to the Articles & Opinion page.

ps. By the way, Rialto is very expensive as far as digital fonts go.

Some further notes on Rialto. If you are a flickr member, here is a showing of it printed letterpress on a large format broadside:

Note that only the Rialto Pressa font (not the entriety of the release) was configured for letterpress and tested for performance on a flatbed cylinder press. It has built ink traps and other modifications but is only designed for printing at smaller text sizes.

Even though released in 2000 it is still the only digital typeface designed for letterpress that is available on the market. There are now a couple of others, but they are proprietary.


“What qualities does the computer type have that makes its quality less desirable? “

Coming back to this I realize it is a loaded question. Anyone who has printed with metal type understands that many metal faces are not as useful or functional as others.

But, the problem with digital type, with notable exception, is that it was never conceived it would be printed via the letterpress process. Nor should it have been. Compensation can be made for this, but quite frankly, that up to the user, not the foundry, but it is available information. It’s up to you.


To reinforce and flush-out what Bielerpr said, metal type makes an impression into the paper. When the type was drawn, this third dimension was taken into consideration by the punch-cutter. Ascenders and descenders were narrowed slightly, the apeture was increased, cross strokes were thinned.

When old faces were digitized, many times this third dimension was not accounted for so some typefaces do not have the weight or the balance that they do in metal. A classic example in the Monotype’s Van Dijck. However, some who redrew the old faces, in particular Robert Slimbach at Adobe, who were sensitive to the visual impression of the letter and took it into account. Adobe’s Garamond is a good example of this.

On the other hand, many type faces were never intended for typesetting in letterpress; since I mentioned Slimbach, let’s take Minion into consideration. Minion’s drawn for digital typesetting only. One of the things that sets Minion apart is that its narrow set width and crisp lines evoke the Humanist type faces that influenced it, i.e., Bembo and Garamond. When you output something set in Minion digitally onto polymer for letterpress, you’ll see that all of a sudden your letters seem close set and of a heavier weight—you have lost that narrow set width to this third dimension of depth and thus you lose the qualities which make Minion so harmony and economy of the typeface.

Also, some details in metal are lost when digitized. I noticed that my Perpetua cast from a Monotype matrix has an elegant tail to the lower-case R that is missing from my digital version.

Can anyone think of anymore details that are in the metal version of a type and not the digital?

Updated. shsims, whoever you are

Yes, I can think of a great many more details that are in metal versions. I can also think of a great many more details that are in digital that are not in metal as well, primarily that of expanded character sorts.

The most significant loss in the conversion from metal to photofilm was that of size optimization. This is a practice that carried over to digital. There were some early attempts to rectify this, most notably that of Adobe’s Multiple Master fonts, but, unfortunately, the latter were discontinued for lack of interest, which follows the photofilm practice rationale.

Lanston Typography did fairly accurate renditions of the Lanston Monotype line and occasionally Monotype Typography did fairly accurate rendering, particularly that of Monotype Pastonchi. But these were limited to one pattern size only.

Beyond that, at the microtypographic level, there are attributes such as ink traps, which appeared in some metal type in the later years and carried over in concept to the photocomp years. The only digital typeface that I can think of where these have been utilized in a functional manner was the aforementioned Rialto.


see also the article “An Affinity by Design: Digital Type Foundries Respond to Letterpress” at