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Relief

Relief is an artistic technique in which the subject extrudes from a flat surface. Printing blocks and plates often use relief to define type, illustrations and photographs. Fonts for typewriters are stored in the same way. Negative relief, or intaglio, where the the subject is encised or etched into the surface, is also used for printing.

Printing

Type is something that you can pick up and hold in your hand.
—Henry Carter, A View of Early Typography, 1969

In relief printing, the graphics to be printed are held by raised surfaces from which the rest of the surface has been removed using etching or carving. Ink is applied to those surfaces and the block is pressed against paper, cloth or some other substrate. Printing with designs carved in wooden blocks originated in China in the 3rd century. Movable type was also invented in China in the 11th century. But it wasn't until Guttenburg developed the printing press c. 1450 that a machine entered into the process. He adapted an existing technology: the screw mechanism in wine and paper presses. Individual pieces of type cast in metal could be assembled, placed in the press, inked, then pressed against paper to produce readable text. Different fonts and typefaces were represented by collections of metal type, each of which stored the shape of a character in relief. Over time, numerous variations of the process appeared, including offset printing, typewriters and computer printers. Graphics could be represented in a similar manner and used in the same press. Eventually, photographs were printed using half-tone and other techniques.

Negative relief, or intaglio, could also be used to store text and graphics. In intaglio, the design to be printed is cut or etched into a metal plate. The plate is coated with ink. The plate is wiped off, leaving ink in the incisions. Pressing paper against the plate transfers the ink and prints the design.

Movable Type

Gutenberg did not invent movable type. It was invented by the Chinese in the early 11th century with wooden and ceramic characters arranged in a frame. In 1250 AD, the Korean Choe Yun-ui invented a process for creating metal type. It's possible that the technology eventually made its way to Europe with the Mongol invaders, but there is no evidence that Gutenberg was aware of this earlier work. What Gutenberg did invent was the printing press.

  • Wooden Letterpress

    c. 1827–present
    Headline font

    Wooden Letterpress

    c. 1827–present
    Headline font

    Wooden Letterpress

    c. 1827–present
    Headline font

    Wooden Letterpress

    c. 1827–present
    Headline font

    Wooden Letterpress

    c. 1827–present
    Headline font
  • Metal Letterpress

    c. 1440–present
    14 pt Univers Light

    Metal Letterpress

    c. 1440–present
    14 pt Univers Light

    Metal Letterpress

    c. 1440–present
    14 pt Univers Light

    Metal Letterpress

    c. 1440–present
    14 pt Univers Light

    Metal Letterpress

    c. 1440–present
    14 pt Univers Light
  • Linotype

    1884–1980s
    10 pt Greek alphabet

    Linotype

    1884–1980s
    10 pt Greek alphabet

    Linotype

    1884–1980s
    10 pt Greek alphabet

    Linotype

    1884–1980s
    10 pt Greek alphabet

    Linotype

    1884–1980s
    10 pt Greek alphabet

Impact Printing

Business depends on exchanging text. Before the late 19th century, that meant pen and paper. Printing with movable type was a painstaking process that made sense only when many copies were desired—not typically the case for business correspondance. The first commercially successful typewriter, the Remington 2, appeared in 1878. Over the next 40 years, inventors produced a variety of different solutions, until the basic design of the modern typewriter was arrived at in the 1920s. A typewriter was easier to use than a printing press, but it still required some skill to operate efficiently. That need was largely filled by women, who were beginning to enter the workforce in larger numbers.

Standard typewriters provided only a single font. Printers and typewriters with interchangeable type elements allowed the use of multiple fonts.

  • Varityper Font Shuttle

    1880s–c. 1980

    Varityper Font Shuttle

    1880s–c. 1980

    Varityper Font Shuttle

    1880s–c. 1980

    Varityper Font Shuttle

    1880s–c. 1980

    Varityper Font Shuttle

    1880s–c. 1980
  • Blickensderfer Typewheel

    1893–1928

    Blickensderfer Typewheel

    1893–1928

    Blickensderfer Typewheel

    1893–1928

    Blickensderfer Typewheel

    1893–1928

    Blickensderfer Typewheel

    1893–1928
  • Teletype Typebox

    1951–1981

    Teletype Typebox

    1951–1981

    Teletype Typebox

    1951–1981

    Teletype Typebox

    1951–1981

    Teletype Typebox

    1951–1981
  • IBM Selectric Typeball

    1961–1986

    IBM Selectric Typeball

    1961–1986

    IBM Selectric Typeball

    1961–1986

    IBM Selectric Typeball

    1961–1986

    IBM Selectric Typeball

    1961–1986
  • Smith-Corona Changeable Type

    early 1960s–early 1970s

    Smith-Corona Changeable Type

    early 1960s–early 1970s

    Smith-Corona Changeable Type

    early 1960s–early 1970s

    Smith-Corona Changeable Type

    early 1960s–early 1970s

    Smith-Corona Changeable Type

    early 1960s–early 1970s
  • Teletype Typewheel

    1963–1981

    Teletype Typewheel

    1963–1981

    Teletype Typewheel

    1963–1981

    Teletype Typewheel

    1963–1981

    Teletype Typewheel

    1963–1981
  • Wang Daisy Wheel

    1976 –mid-1980s

    Wang Daisy Wheel

    1976 –mid-1980s

    Wang Daisy Wheel

    1976 –mid-1980s

    Wang Daisy Wheel

    1976 –mid-1980s

    Wang Daisy Wheel

    1976 –mid-1980s
  • NEC Print Thimble

    1977–mid-1980s (?)

    NEC Print Thimble

    1977–mid-1980s (?)

    NEC Print Thimble

    1977–mid-1980s (?)

    NEC Print Thimble

    1977–mid-1980s (?)

    NEC Print Thimble

    1977–mid-1980s (?)
  • IBM Wheelwriter

    1984–mid-1990s

    IBM Wheelwriter

    1984–mid-1990s

    IBM Wheelwriter

    1984–mid-1990s

    IBM Wheelwriter

    1984–mid-1990s

    IBM Wheelwriter

    1984–mid-1990s
  • Charga-Plate

    c. 1928–1950s
    A forerunner to the credit card

    Charga-Plate

    c. 1928–1950s
    A forerunner to the credit card

    Charga-Plate

    c. 1928–1950s
    A forerunner to the credit card

    Charga-Plate

    c. 1928–1950s
    A forerunner to the credit card

    Charga-Plate

    c. 1928–1950s
    A forerunner to the credit card
  • Printer Chain

    1959–early 1980s

    Printer Chain

    1959–early 1980s

    Printer Chain

    1959–early 1980s

    Printer Chain

    1959–early 1980s

    Printer Chain

    1959–early 1980s
  • Printer Band

    1950s–1970s

    Printer Band

    1950s–1970s

    Printer Band

    1950s–1970s

    Printer Band

    1950s–1970s

    Printer Band

    1950s–1970s

Label Maker

  • Kroytype TypeChip

    1980s

    Kroytype TypeChip

    1980s

    Kroytype TypeChip

    1980s

    Kroytype TypeChip

    1980s

    Kroytype TypeChip

    1980s
  • Kroy Typewheel

    1978–1980s
    Microgramma Bold Extended

    Kroy Typewheel

    1978–1980s
    Microgramma Bold Extended

    Kroy Typewheel

    1978–1980s
    Microgramma Bold Extended

    Kroy Typewheel

    1978–1980s
    Microgramma Bold Extended

    Kroy Typewheel

    1978–1980s
    Microgramma Bold Extended
  • Dymo Label Maker

    1958–present

    Dymo Label Maker

    1958–present

    Dymo Label Maker

    1958–present

    Dymo Label Maker

    1958–present

    Dymo Label Maker

    1958–present

Image

Images stored in relief on transparent or reflective substrates can be projected or otherwise viewed due to refraction or diffraction. Even though the two slides below are uniformly transparent, the path of light is modified through refraction by the variable orientation of the surface. As a result certain areas will appear lighter or darker than others. In the case of the hologram on a vinyl record, tiny points etched into the surface record diffract incident light to create a floating 3D image.

  • Brenograph Glass Design Slide

    late 1920s–early 1930s
    For the Brenograph theater effects projector

    Brenograph Glass Design Slide

    late 1920s–early 1930s
    For the Brenograph theater effects projector

    Brenograph Glass Design Slide

    late 1920s–early 1930s
    For the Brenograph theater effects projector

    Brenograph Glass Design Slide

    late 1920s–early 1930s
    For the Brenograph theater effects projector

    Brenograph Glass Design Slide

    late 1920s–early 1930s
    For the Brenograph theater effects projector
  • Molded Glass Effect Slide

    early 1900s
    For a traditional magic lantern

    Molded Glass Effect Slide

    early 1900s
    For a traditional magic lantern

    Molded Glass Effect Slide

    early 1900s
    For a traditional magic lantern

    Molded Glass Effect Slide

    early 1900s
    For a traditional magic lantern

    Molded Glass Effect Slide

    early 1900s
    For a traditional magic lantern
  • Hologram

    2016
    Hologram etched into vinyl record

    Hologram

    2016
    Hologram etched into vinyl record

    Hologram

    2016
    Hologram etched into vinyl record

    Hologram

    2016
    Hologram etched into vinyl record

    Hologram

    2016
    Hologram etched into vinyl record

Data

Marks embossed on a deformable surface are semi-permanent and have been used to store information occasionally. Edison's first phonograph embossed an analog of sound waves on tinfoil, although extracting that information destroyed the recording after only a few plays. The dots and dashes of Morse code have also been stored as embossed marks—in fact, Edison was working on a recorder for Morse code that used embossing, which became one of the inspirations for the phonograph. Early flight data recorders stored data as instrument traces embossed on durable metal foil that could survive high temperatures and mechanical stress.

  • Flight Recorder Foil

    1953–1990s
    Flight data recording

    Flight Recorder Foil

    1953–1990s
    Flight data recording

    Flight Recorder Foil

    1953–1990s
    Flight data recording

    Flight Recorder Foil

    1953–1990s
    Flight data recording

    Flight Recorder Foil

    1953–1990s
    Flight data recording
  • Master Teleplex

    1930s
    Morse code practice

    Master Teleplex

    1930s
    Morse code practice

    Master Teleplex

    1930s
    Morse code practice

    Master Teleplex

    1930s
    Morse code practice

    Master Teleplex

    1930s
    Morse code practice