Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century

Featuring: Jim Rimmer
Director: Richard Kegler 
Studio: P22 Type Foundry
DVD release: 15 April 2011 
Runtime: 90 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English), Subtitles (English), 
bonus features on making metal type and the tools needed to make 
metal type, "The Creation of a Printing Type from the 
Design to the Print" by Frederic W. Goudy (silent film from the 1930s), 
A metal "k" from the Stern typeface, Rimmer Type Foundry 
catalog of digital faces
Reviewed by Brian Charles Clark, and rated 4.5/5 stars

making-faces

Jim Rimmer was a British Columbian printer and type designer who cast metal type using the now nearly lost pantographic technique. If that’s all Greek to you (or, if you’re a graphic designer, maybe it’s all greeking to you, too), you need to watch this film by book artist and P22 founder Richard Kegler.

Time was when type was neither virtual nor selectable from a drop-down menu but rather made of tiny bits of metal and set in mirror image, so that when it was inked and pressed against a sheet of paper it read correctly. Time was when “font” meant the whole collection of faces – for instance Times Roman – with italic and bold variations, and in all their myriad sizes.

Change is inevitable, but it’s terrible to think of losing the art of letterpress, that is, of printing with metal type. A letterpressed broadside or chapbook feels and smells very different from a page run through an offset press or a laser printer. If you’ve never experienced letterpress, seek it out: the tactile experience alone could change the way you experience the printed word.

This wonderful documentary captures Jim Rimmer in the process of designing and casting a typeface called Stern, named for a printer who died young. Stern is the only typeface ever designed to be both cast in metal and deployed as a digital font. Rimmer was a master of both techniques, and we see him adjusting the curves of a “k” in an old type-design software called Ikarus. Named after the mythical figure who flew to close to the sun and fell into the sea, the software got its name because it crashed so often.

We also see Rimmer casting metal type using an early 20th-century technology called the pantograph. The pantograph takes letter form patterns and cuts them into metal templates, which in turn are used to cast the actual type used for printing.

Designing type was and remains a laborious, detail-oriented task (at least if it’s done well; there are plenty of typefaces out there available for free download but they are crap and cause trained typographers to projectile vomit). With metal type, though, the labor doesn’t end with the design. There is an entire suite of related mechanical and hand skills needed to actually realize the design in material form.

Richard Kegler and his colleagues at P22 deserve our thanks for making this wonderful film. It’s beautifully photographed and documents technology that is of enormous aesthetic value, especially in a digital world. P22 has been making beautiful digital faces for years now, while Kegler has worked as a bookbinder and letterpress printer and, most recently, as the founding director of the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative in Buffalo.

Anyone interested in the mechanical arts, and especially typographers and designers, should add this film to their library.

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