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Typesetting technology in the 80’s – and keeping up!

October 15, 2019
In the 80s there were no computers available for typesetting. I did all my translations using an IBM Arabic typewriter. I translated the document using pen and paper first to avoid errors in the typed copy. Then I made any changes or corrections using pen first. Then, when I was happy with the translation I would start typing it on my typewriter. Obviously, one can’t avoid type errors, so I used Tipex for any corrections which I still use to this day.

Then in the late 80s I heard of Linotype CRTronic machines. You wouldn’t imagine how happy I was. The machine is complicated, you didn’t any layouts. You simply typed the commands for the width of area you want to type on, using what is called a “Pica” instead of “mm” or “inches”. So you open a command “<” and type m/20 and close the command “>” and “F” for font and “L” for leading” space between the lines. You had to keep changing the commands depending on the width of your text and type of font you want to use. You had to guess which words ends the first line and second line in order to get the layout as perfect as possible. All this is saved on a floppy disk called “DataLife” by Verbatim. At the time the machine had no capacity to store your text and for the time being! forget about images. That didn’t exist in the imagination at that time.

When you finish you press the button for the text to be transferred to “Bromide”. Bromide! There was no film at that time. You will then take your bromide to the dark room to develop it. Obviously, the layout is not as you wished and that is where the “Pasteup Artist” would come into play. He would fix the problem by cutting the bromide in strips and paste on a board in position. This goes to the printer who will add the images and make the film, ready to print.

It was extremely frustrating not to be able to see the layout, especially when clients are nudging you all the time in a hurry for their job. Wow! We were young and work for 12 to 15 hours a day, on the expense of our young families, all for the sake of succeeding and providing them with good standard of living. Alas, if the clock goes back in time, I would have reduced the hours by a quarter at least.
One day I saw an ad selling a “Typeview”. I asked someone about it, they told me that the Typeview shows you the layout but only in green pixels on the screen. Who cares?! as far as I can see what the layout looks like, and the shape of the blocks of text. That will save time and money.

I went all the way from Shoreditch to Brighton to buy and bring the typeview. What a move?! Boy, that was great. I remember dancing in the office of excitement and happiness. True!

Mind you, not long after that I heard of Linotype moving on from CRTronic 300 and CRTronic 360 to some new technology called “Macintosh” and they developed a Software called “Al Sahafi”. Arabic Software for typesetting, and as being one of the first companies to provide Arabic Translations and Typesetting in the UK, they used us as “Guinea pig”. And although it was a fantastic move, obviously because of the advancement and flexibility in playing with the layout, fonts and colours in seconds, the software was full of problems that caused us long delays in getting jobs to how we want them.

I remember the Pasteup Artist, obviously upset due to this technology taking over his job, saying: “I told you these machines are just rubbish, they can never do a job as perfect as I do”. I agreed of course!! 

Technology moves on and we move on with it. We have always acquired the latest in typesetting technology to give our clients the highest quality they expect. We are confident because of our experience and knowledge in our field of Arabic translation and typesetting.

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Arabic Chamber of CommerceYounis Hammali - ITI Qualified member (MITI) - Translator
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