Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Visit to the Aisle of Obsolescence

The work of graphic design has changed a lot during the decades I've been doing it. Most of the changes happened from the mid-1980s to the early '90s. It used to be a very manual business, but it later became almost completely virtual. I also had a bit of training in cartography during the precomputer days, and that has changed even more than graphic design.

So on a recent trip to an art supply store (Art Materials on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis), I was surprised to see a whole aisle of nostalgia. Yes I was on my own trip to the Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.

First, the ones I know from cartography:

Just as it says, you could use this thin bit of steel to protect the parts of your map that didn't need to be erased while you erased the part that did. What the package doesn't tell you is that the erasing was being done with a utility knife blade -- scraping away a layer of the vellum to remove the ink on the surface.

Oh, French curves, how I lusted after you in my map-making days. At some point I bought a set of smoky-gray Staedtler Mars curves and in about 1985 bought one of those flexible curves you can see in the bottom row. Mine was blue.

Then there are the obsolete paste-up supplies (or, as they call it in Minnesota, keylining):

Wax. Pounds and pounds of it. We usually bought the Portage brand shown on the right.

You would put the solid wax into either one of these:

Once melted, you applied it to the back of your typeset copy and then burnish it down on the layout boards. The tabletop model at left — which had electric rollers in the back to dispense the wax in an even coat — was common in publication offices, while the hand waxer at right was for smaller-time operations.

Really fancy shops disdained wax altogether in favor of rubber cement. Wax was a quick and dirty adhesive that I first encountered at my college newspaper.

A proportion wheel was handy in the days before calculators. You would find the size of your photo on the outer wheel, then rotate the inner wheel to line it up with the finished size needed in the layout. The needed percent of reduction or enlargement would appear in the little window.

These rulers aren't quite obsolete, but it seems as though no one ever specs type anymore. You would lay one of these transparent E gauges over the typesetting you were trying to match and find the E that matched in height. It also had a pica ruler down one long side and a point ruler across the short side. I used the point ruler all the time to spec leading (line spacing).

Oh, and the extra special bonus item: Down in the bottom right of the photo there are several different halftone screen finders. Inside that elongated oval shape, there is a row of thin lines that aren't quite parallel, but converge toward the bottom. If you take that gauge, lay it over a printed halftone photo, and rotate it a bit, you'll soon see a wicked moiré pattern develop that points at a little number printed along side the oval shape (click the little gauge at right to enlarge and see the moiré). That number is the number of lines of dots used in the halftone screen. Common screens were 85 and 100 lines (in newspapers) and 133 and 150 (in magazines and books).

These look like disks or magnetic tapes or something, but they're rolls of border tape. Hard to believe they still have this much of it. My favorite was always hairline, which was transparent and about an eighth of an inch wide, with a fine black line printed down the center. I loved that stuff after trying, once, to lay down a thin line that didn't have any clear backing. You could never get that stuff to go on straight.

Thanks, Art Materials.


Pete Hautman said...

Cool. I loved that stuff, and I still have some of it, including a box full of 30-year-old pantone markers that still work.

Michael Leddy said...

Holy cows: one cow for the great art supplies, the other for your casual aside about mapmaking. (I’d like to read more about that.)

I’ve loved eraser shields from childhood and never knew they were meant to work with something other than an eraser.

Would a halftone screen finder work with 2014 newspaper images? (You can guess why I’m asking.)

Daughter Number Three said...

Pete, we still have a bunch of Pantone film -- did you ever use that?

Michael, a halftone screen finder should still work on a 2014 newspaper. They still use halftone screens, I believe. It possibly wouldn't work on a color laserprint and definitely wouldn't work on an inkjet printout.

Pete Hautman said...

I have foggy recollections of Pantone film. More vivid memories of Letraset rub-on type and Zipatone cut-and-stick halftone screens. Ugh! Also, fond memories of Rubylith! I just loved the color.