When I started work in the printing industry in 1977, type was still set using the ‘hot metal‘ process, and the job of compositor was key to the way words appeared on the page – in much the same way as they had for the previous 400-years.

Within a few years, however, type was set onto film or photographic paper (called ‘photo-setting‘). This proved to be short-lived, due to the arrival of computers and typesetting software, which allowed text to be made ready for printing in a fraction of the time taken by even the most skilled compositor.

Domination of the art by computer-based typesetting also met a swift decline with the advent of SGML, XML and HTML mark-up languages. The advantage here being that text ‘captured’ within the tags used for each of these processes can be used in print or online without having to be re-typed.

But, and it’s a big ‘but’, there is still a role for the hard-pressed typesetting compositor of yore. XML capture requires words in bulk, but some texts are destined for print that do not warrant the creation or in-depth application of XML etc tagging. There is, thankfully, work for the typesetter yet. Wonder how many apprentices are being trained in this essential work?


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