Letraset Dry-Transfer Lettering

JamesM's picture

Interesting article about Letraset dry-transfer letters:

For those too young to remember, dry transfer letters were often used by designers in the days before desktop publishing, mainly for creating mockups, adding artwork, and occasionally on the final artwork itself (for example on a temporary sign).

found via swiss-miss.com

Nick Shinn's picture

via Swiss Miss?
Why not directly thru CreativePro?

Type designers Colin Brignall and Dave Farey:

I used Letraset type from its earliest days (at my parents’ architectural practice) thru art school and then as a professional graphic designer. I stopped using it when I became an art director and got all my type from type houses; that would be around 1979. But I continued to use their other products, especially markers and paper, for comps. Then c.1990 I bought some of their fonts on floppies.

I submitted Letraset a lot of proposals for typeface designs in the 1970s and 80s, but they rejected them all.
Thanks goodness for the Mac and Fontographer!

Don McCahill's picture

> but they rejected them all.

That might be a good thing, Nick. If I remember the old Letraset catalogues, they had some pretty scary stuff, with a circus-y look on many of them. If you had started working for them, you might have evolved into a very different type of designer.

hrant's picture

I ran Fontographer on my Amiga (it ran faster). On one occasion I called for tech support (by my bad luck it wasn't Jim that time) and when I told the guy he yelled "You're not supposed to be doing that!" and hung up. Loser.


JamesM's picture

> via Swiss Miss? Why not directly thru CreativePro?

Swiss-miss.com (run by a Swiss graphic designer living in NYC) is where I found the link, and I'm glad to give it a plug as I like the site. But yes the article itself is at CreativePro.

Mark Simonson's picture

I was a regular "dry transfer" type user starting in high school in the early seventies pretty much up until PostScript fonts came along. Letraset was by far the best, but if I need a typeface they didn't carry, I sometimes used Chartpak, Formatt, Mecanorma, Zipatone, Prestype, and Artype (rarely).

I first encountered it when a friend of my dad's, who was the in-house designer where he worked, gave me some rub-down type sheets for me to use on model cars when I was about 12. I still remember what the typefaces were: Times Bold, Microgramma, Old Bowery, and Jim Crow. It was very bad stuff, almost like it was on wax paper. No spacing guides. Don't recall the brand.

The first kind I actually bought was Prestype. Terrible, cheap stuff, bought at a stationery store for use on my high school newspaper. Seemed like you could only get Caslon and Futura Bold. They also carried some Letraset sheets--Helvetica Medium, mostly in large sizes. $2.50 per sheet--expensive! I made the mistake of using a ballpoint pen to rub down the Letraset, resulting in a warped carrier sheet and cracked letters.

Somehow I got hold of a Chartpak catalog and discovered Bookman Swash, Windsor Bold and "Made By ITC" faces like Avant Garde, Serif Gothic, and Busorama. I got my dad to drive me 35 miles to the nearest art supply store to buy some "Velvet Touch" Chartpak sheets.

I wonder how many other type designers (or graphic designers, for that matter) in my generation got their first taste of type with rub down lettering. I bet it's a lot.

JamesM's picture

Prestype, Chartpak, those are names I haven't thought about for years.

I think my first use of it was in high school, making some graphics for a science project. Then in college a lot of us used it for our design projects as that was before desktop publishing and we couldn't afford professional typesetting. Once I turned pro I used it less often, but it still came in handy sometimes, especially for putting mockup type on colored surfaces or photos.

I kept my big folder full of transfer sheets for many years — fonts, rules, registration marks, etc. Never used it anymore but hated to discard it, but I finally tossed it away just a few years ago.

Nick Shinn's picture

It was cool that if you ran out of a particular letter, you could make it by cannibalizing others with a scalpel.

Mark Simonson's picture

I always thought that was not cool. You could always tell when somebody cheated. Although I suppose I wouldn't know if they were particularly good at it. Future type designer!

dezcom's picture

My first use was in the early 1960s in design school, soon after it was put on the market. PressType was the first one I used. It was sneered at back then but caught on quickly after better typefaces and quality came about--mostly by Letraset. My design school was Carnegie Mellon University. We had a very well equipped type lab run by Jack Stauffacher so we just hand set most of our work in foundry type. While I originally only used transfer type for layouts, after a few years, I used it for camera-ready art as well. It was way cheaper than Typositor output.

russellm's picture

our sign shop still has a couple of those Letraset drawers and a few sheets of custom-printed logos sitting in a back corner some place.

paragraph's picture

How about the Avant Garde sheets with only a few straight A, and lots and lots of left- and right-leaning ones? I had stacks of depleted sheets, with all the most common characters used up.

Té Rowan's picture

Somehow I get the feeling that once upon a time I could buy small sheets of 12pt Letraset Helvetica at the local co-op.

Nick Shinn's picture

I had stacks of depleted sheets, with all the most common characters used up.

Shame on you for being so unimaginative!

oldnick's picture

Mark mentioned Formatt which, instead of being a dry-transfer medium, had characters printed on a clear carrier sheet, which were cut out and positioned to create headlines or subheads or—if you were a real glutton for punishment and/or an inveterate cheapskate—body copy.

Although Formatt's typeface offerings weren't quite as bleeding-edge as Letraset’s, the medium itself offered some distinct advantages. First, providing you didn't burnish too vigorously, individual letters could be repositioned; and, perhaps more important, the letters were not subject to compromise by errant bits of rubber cement—always an occupation hazard of dry-transfer type.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

the letters were not subject to compromise by errant bits of rubber cement—always an occupation hazard of dry-transfer type.

Rubber cement was my best friend for many, many years. The above dates 1969; that was just one step of many in preparing the artwork for this:
The book (Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy) had not been published in Russian back then… Its content was considered too controversial for a book edition (it had been published in Novy Mir literary magazine in 1966).
dezcom's picture

The best thing about transfer type was that it was great training for letter spacing.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

So was photo lettering (Typositor, Staromat, Starsettograph).

Chris Dean's picture

Letraset was one of the first things that got me into type. I love watercolour painting, and one day about 25–30 years ago, while I was looking for porcelain mixing trays at the locat art supply store, I noticed a stack of these “Letraset” catalogues. I was bored, so I picked one up, leafed through it, and noticed page after page of different types of letters. I had no idea there could be so many. And that was it. From that day on, I pretty much took it with me everywhere I went. I had to cover it in clear packing tape to stop the wear, and I even wrote my name and telephone number on it in case I lost it, so kind soul would return my valuable book to me. Believe it or not, I was a little awkward and nerdy as a kid. True story.

And don’t forget about Letraset Omnicrom Film.

.00's picture

My first job out of grad school was an AD position with an arts magazine that was put together with CETA funding. The publisher had decided that the name of this publication was "Vector". I think I showed him a hundred comps, mostly made with Chartpak transfer lettering. He rejected all of them.

One day in the art supply store I saw a Chartpak sheet of a typeface named "Vector". It looked great, so I bought the sheet and comped the word "Vector". The publisher loved it.

I found out later that Chartpak's "Vector" was really "Neil Bold"!

paragraph's picture

Here is a sheet of 36 pt Avant Garde for the younger typophiles. You're right, Nick, often I tried to fake some missing letters with a scalpel and a Rotring pen, but it never looked quite right. With hindsight, that would be the smallest of my youthful typo-transgressions ... oh, the heady days of looking at catalogues with Shatter, Sinaloa, Good Vibrations. Calypso, anyone?

oldnick's picture

oh, the heady days of looking at catalogues with Shatter, Sinaloa, Good Vibrations. Calypso, anyone?

Ah, yes: a time when it was possible—with due diligence—to know on sight virtually every typeface available…

HVB's picture

Letraset also made some specialty packs, including one for movie and slide titles, and holiday sets. Here is one sheet from a holiday rub-on set. The sheets are approximately 185mm x 125mm

There were many other vendors as well. I have some leftover sheets and remnants from Kutsuwa, Qik-eez, and Deca-Dry.

Mark Simonson's picture

Tool of choice for the pros:

Nick Shinn's picture

Call yourself a pro?
This is what the big boys used :-)

Bruce's picture

In the early 1970s I worked at Charrette, the art supply store based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at that time the largest reseller of Letraset in the world. As someone already passionate about type, I took a special interest in this product (and in Chartpak and Normatype, which we also sold) and in 1975 had the enormous good fortune to be sent on a trip to England to visit Letraset, Chartpak, Winsor and Newton (paints, brushes), and Blundell Harling (measurement tools such as scale rulers). What astonished me about the Letraset plant was the fanatical cleanliness of the place. (And by hilarious contrast, parts of the W & N plant seemed almost mediaeval!) The sheets were produced on what was basically a web press, with an endless roll of polyethylene being spooled into an area with a very acurate silkscreening rig, then sent onward to be waxed overall.

I began using Letraset in my architect dad's office in the 1960s, then later as a graphic designer in the 1970 used it a lot. One could often get far better spacing in titles and headlines doing this oneself with Letraset rather than buying Typositor output from someone who was generally working in tight-no-touch spacing mode. Wish I had a nickel for every line of Typositor type — allegedly ready to go — that I had to wax and then cut apart to respace letter by letter . . .

What's amazing is that I still have many, many sheets of Letraset, stored in boxes marked Serif, Sans, Decorative, and Symbols, and they are still usable, even though the newest ones probably date from 1980. The wax doesn't hold as well as it once did, and the burnishing tends to make the polyethylene warp and wave a bit more, but I think it is a testimony to the extremely high manufacturing standards of Letraset that these objects are still viable forty years later. I doubt very much that Presstype would still be that way. Certainly Normatype had a tendency to separate from the backing sheet even in the days when it was freshly-manufactured.

rs_donsata's picture

I saw my father use letraset to make some letterings for his business in the early 80's... seemed quite hard to get it right.

5star's picture

Coolio, I've seen these in the art supply stores. Looks like a great way to create some distressed letter shapes and funky whatever.


Té Rowan's picture

*blink* *blink* I found an old rub-down sheet in a box with qsn replies. Not Letraset, though, but edding ref. 2013, 12pt Grotesk Schmalfett minuscules. No idea what the hey I used it for.

Letterpress1964's picture

16 May 2012 — 11:38am

I saw my father use letraset to make some letterings for his business in the early 80's... seemed quite hard to get it right.

Hi - yes it used to take ages - enough to drive you mad - and then my little boy sometimes ripped up the finished a/w for a "joke".

- David

dezcom's picture

Like any other skill, it took practice to use Letraset well. I had plenty of practice, using it from ints initial release in the 1960s until the mid 1980s, when the Mac took over.

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