Linotype’s Future, or Lack Thereof

Gutenberg ushered in a printing revolution with movable type, and Merganthaler ushered in a second printing revolution with the invention of the Linotype machine. Just as printing with movable type was much quicker than a scribe, the Linotype was much quicker than setting type by hand.

Linotype

Both lead to the same result, however—letterpress printing—as does printing with photopolymer plates. This is why Linotype has no real future. While digital printing has displaced older methods for the vast majority of applications, relief printing stills has a niche due to the physical texture it can produce in certain papers. Those who are just after this effect will likely choose the fastest, easiest method to achieve it, which is using photopolymer plates created from digital files, and those who want to use traditional methods will likely set type by hand. The Linotype meets neither of these criteria; it is like a twenty-year old car that no one wants—too new to be an antique and too old to be nice. While it will continue to be used by a handful of enthusiasts for the foreseeable future, its complexity will likely be its undoing. The Linotype was and is a mechanical marvel, but as time goes on, fewer and fewer people will know how to use it and, more importantly, fewer still will have the expertise and experience to repair it. In the end, the Linotype will go out with a mechanized whimper as the last machine breaks and no one knows how to fix it.

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