Riverside adopted mechanical composition in the 1890s. Instead of arranging premolded blocks, a typesetter would sit at a large keyboard and produce a perforated paper ribbon, like a player-piano roll, that directed a machine to cast letters from scratch, in hot metal. As before, the raised metal characters were inked and pressed to paper to create an impression.
In the 1960s and 1970s many magazines switched from this relief printing process to a chemical one: offset lithography. Offset, as its name implies, transfers an image from plate to paper by means of an intermediary surface, and is still the method of choice for most print runs. In the same era magazines began to set type by means of phototypography, a much quicker, cheaper, and more accurate alternative to the hot-metal process. The new technique used televisionlike cathode tubes to expose an image of the type on photosensitive paper. Galleys of the type were then cut and waxed into place on a cardboard dummy page. It was from film of this dummy page that a plate was prepared.
With the issue now in your hands The Atlantic completes its first year under yet another typesetting regime, in which type and other graphic elements are positioned on a desktop computer screen to produce magazine pages. We have yet to receive a letter commenting on any of the barely visible alterations that ensued willy-nilly—and that’s fine with us.
Technological transitions, unlike artistic and editorial ones, often don’t (and usually shouldn’t) call attention to themselves. Unfortunately, the people responsible for them may also remain in the shadows. Preparation of the new digitized typefaces was overseen by Judy Garlan, The Atlantic’s art director. The task of setting up the computer system was the work of Jan Morris and Michael Jones. Betsy Urrico, Leslie Cauldwell, and Lowell Weiss then taught themselves how to use it and produced the February, 1992, issue without a trial run.