Photo-Lettering: A Lost Art and Forgotten Fonts Resurrected

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May 2, 2011
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Photo-Lettering: A Lost Art and Forgotten Fonts Resurrected

Design, typography, photolettering

House Industries purchased the rights to and physical affects of Photo-Lettering, the go-to photographic type and headline service from 1936-1997.

Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering

Known as PLINC to art directors, Photo-Lettering was a mainstay of the advertising and design industry in New York City. In the days before digital, telephone conversations and couriered direction fueled the desks of Photo-Lettering designers who meticulously designed headlines with custom alphabets and settings. The letters were stored on film and exposed through a process that made each headline a first-run, crisp print.

Design, typography, photolettering

Each of the alphabets took more than 200 hours to complete and were drawn with pen and ink by lettering artists. "These alphabets were originally exposed on glass plates, but eventually were converted to film. Photo-Lettering films are approximately 28 in (71 cm) wide by 5 in (13 cm) tall."

Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering

Now, Photo-Lettering moves away from film—the reason for its demise—and into the digital world, with House Industries collaborators digitally and diligently translating the expansive collection of fonts from specimen books and samples.

Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering

It's an extremely affordable option for designers who want a special, custom headline but don't need to purchase an entire font. The company offers subscriptions, which bring the cost of a setting to about $2, and without a subscription lines run about $7. Designers choose the alphabet, colors and setting options, checkout and purchase the headline which comes with liberal usage rights, with a few specific limitations.

Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering
Design, typography, photolettering

If you have some time to do a little reading, I'd encourage you to visit PLINC's History Page and take a visual and text tour through the three drawers. The first details the foundations and amazing but forgotten process of photo-lettering, and the second and third showcase the type specimen books and marketing materials of the original PLINC. Amazing work.

Some other posts you might enjoy on our design blog:

Bibliophobia Book Type by Matthew Young
LetterMpress: A Letterpress iPad app Sharing Letters with All
Numbers in Action: Music Video Design Directed by US

Ward Andrews

Ward Andrews

Hi, I'm Ward Andrews. I started Design.org in 2009, you can read about why here. Thanks for participating in the Design.org Community. I also run an interactive agency called Drawbackwards. I love basketball, electronic music and creating experiences that improve daily life. You can follow me on Twitter @wardandrews.

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