Way before computers came into the picture, graphic designers would have to “spec the type” manually to layout an advertisement. This was done by figuring out your designated area where the copy would go and fit specific fonts and columns to the width of your area. A printer would compose and lock movable type into the bed of a press, ink it and press paper against it to transfer the ink from the type and creates an impression of the paper. In practice, letterpress also included other forms of print presses, such as wood ingravings, photo etched plates and were used along side the metal type in a single operation. Until the second half of the 20th century, letterpress remained the primary way to print. Then we switched to typesetting companies that prepared the text for the graphic designer.
Before the 1980s, practically all typesetting for publishers and advertisers was performed by specialty typesetting companies. These companies performed keyboarding, editing and production of paper or film output, and formed a large component of the graphic arts industry. The typesetting companies would send out a representative and help you achieve this. The rep gave the graphic designer special rulers (see illustration). These rulers aren’t quite obsolete, but it seems as though no one ever specs type anymore. The reps would return with the paper output of text to put onto boards to layout your design. Waxing and pasting this text output was an art in itself. If there was a misspelled word, some times you would cut out the word and re-paste it. This was also an art as a large camera would scan the final piece. Type on a curve was done manually too. As the computer arrived on the desktops of artist, the letterpress craft disappeared.
Luckily, computers do this automatically today, but composition, placement of text is still important and takes a graphic designer to arrange this to maximum readership.