Chromatic Type

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When we think of the past, we often imagine it in black and white. Seeing early color photos or ones that have been realistically colored often jars the way we perceive historic events. The same is true with type and printed works of the past. We think of 19th century and earlier letterpress-printed works as being largely in a single color, and that color is black, sometimes with accents in a second color. Occasionally we’ll see a fancy example of multi-colored printing, but it stands out from that period. Any full-color images typically would have been printed by lithography and added later (“tipped in”) on blank pages reserved for the purposes.

Chromatic specimens.png

But type could be parti-colored! (I’m sneaking in a favorite word, somewhat out of fashion: parti-colored means having or being made from two or more colors.) Printers relied on chromatic type, which was designed as sets of interlocking pieces for each letter or character. Each set could be printed separately in a unique color. When all the overlapping pieces of letters combined in a final print, you had the individual colors plus additional colors created by overprinting.

In a world of largely black-only printing with splashes of color, chromatic type could look spectacular.

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