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Learning from Letraset

Learning from Letraset”, a talk I gave at Cooper Union on February 22, 2016, as part of Type@Cooper’s Herb Lublin Lecture Series

Letraset and other brands of rub-down type literally put typography in the hands of the people. Rub-down type made it possible for students, professionals, and everyone else to design with real typefaces, without needing professional typesetting services. A cheap and easy way to experiment with typography and other graphic elements, Letraset put a lot of care into making type easy to use well, but it also resulted in a lot of ways to use type badly, but with interesting results. With some care and attention, however, it was a great way to develop an eye for typography.

This talk was a look at Letraset’s type and other graphic supplies, showing how they put the tools of professional design into everyday hands. It also looked at how people had to improvise with Letraset, and made the most of the materials at hand.

I started collecting batches of old Letraset in 2012 when I was working on Pink Mince #9 — Punk Mince. Once I started playing with it for the first time in 20 years, I really began thinking about the significance of this material: how it affected the practice of typography, how it democratized type and made it more accessible to non-professionals, and how it made new graphic aesthetics possible. Once I started thinking, the collecting turned into real research, which has been going on for a while now, and still has so much territory yet to explore.

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