I‘ve always wondered why more research hasn’t been done on alternative methods for creating movable type. Photopolymer plates have done a lot in the way of breathing new life into letterpress and giving printers more options. But at some point, the already limited amounts of wood type that remain are going to wear down or become so fragile that they have to be retired.
This fall I started research on possible methods of creating new movable type. The advantages of creating new blocks, as opposed to plates, would be the modularity of individual letters and the ability to set type without the need for a special base. The type would need to be durable and print at least as well as wood type. The solution I and my professor settled upon would be to use a thin material for the face of the letters, something that could be lasercut, and to mount it to a base that would bring the face to type height. We ended up using an acrylic for the faces, and a thick plywood for the slugs.
We started off trying to complete a set of Futura condensed that was missing several characters. We set up vector files with the reversed outlines of the characters we needed, then set up a separate file to etch into the plywood. To ensure that the letter would have an even baseline on the slugs, that there wouldn’t be an extraneous space on the sides, and the letters would be glued straight, we laser cut the outlines of each letter and cut the guidelines for the slugs into the plywood. The plywood was then sliced to create the slugs, then the acrylic was glued into the appropriate piece of wood.