SIC 2791

This classification includes establishments primarily engaged in typesetting for the trade, including advertising typesetting, hand or machine composition, photocomposition, phototypesetting, computer-controlled typesetting, and typographic composition.

NAICS Code(s)

323122 (Prepress Services)

Industry Snapshot

In the late 1990s, the industry shipped $2.35 billion worth of goods, up from $1.81 billion in early 1990s. The industry employed 27,754 people, 74 percent of whom were production workers earning an average hourly wage of $16.05. California shipped $585.8 million worth of goods and employed 6,054 people, both high marks for the nation.

By the 1990s, the typesetting industry had been revolutionized by electronic technology, resulting in frequently upgraded equipment, redefined job functions, retraining of workers, and expansion of services provided to clients. New technology allowed faster turnaround on jobs, and typesetting companies were under pressure to continue to improve their equipment for even faster results.

The growing popularity of desktop publishing in the late 1990s allowed many of typesetting's traditional clients to produce their own newsletters, advertising, and other print materials instead of contracting with typesetters for the work. Many organizations and businesses, however, elected not to become their own publishers and continued to contract with typesetters and other preprint services. With the burst of personal computers at home and in businesses, many producers of printed materials used a combination of their owncomputer-based technology and outside typesetting services. Typesetting remained in the 1990s an essential service industry for book publishers, magazine publishers, advertising agencies, catalog companies, and other large and small businesses.

Organization and Structure

The typesetting industry includes large, multimillion dollar shops with several hundred employees as well as small shops with only a few employees. Many of the larger companies offer related services, including printing, bookbinding, development, and sales of custom computer systems for desktop publishing or typesetting to client companies. Many large typesetting companies have areas of specialization as well, producing catalogs for car parts companies, textbooks, trade paperbacks, financial reports, and so on.

Jobs that come into typesetting establishments must be compatible with the typesetting system. Creating this compatibility can be complex. Typesetting companies accept word processing disks from clients and convert them for use on their own systems. With the new flexibility—but potential incompatibility—of increasingly sophisticated systems, software, and hardware, the typesetting shop may enter the publishing process sooner than it has in the past. With electronic capabilities, the client and typesetting shop may test various formats and styles before actually doing the typesetting job to make sure that the two systems will work together without glitches and to be sure that the client's word processing control codes can automatically be converted to photo-typesetting control codes. Most of the code conversion can be done automatically, with the typesetting operator making few decisions other than those concerning hyphenation, justification, and final output.

Desktop systems offer "what you see is what you get" technology. That is, the screen displays the text and layout exactly as it will appear on the finished page. Commercial digitized typesetting equipment also offers this electronic pagination. Once material is input, the page can be automatically arranged according to batch page processing, or an operator can manipulate the elements on the page. Because the material can be altered on screen before any hard version has been produced, changes are less expensive and time-consuming.

Large companies, such as Black Dot Graphics in Crystal Lake, Illinois, have expanded their services to a point where they are considered "electronic prepress service bureaus." They provide technical assistance as well as typesetting to their clients. According to Publishers Weekly, these companies "are at the forefront of technical innovation in a field where technology is advancing at a breathless rate." When Black Dot began in the 1960s, it provided photocomposition services to book publishers. By the 1990s, Black Dot and other typesetters were providing a broad range of services for both color and black-and-white jobs, from initial input of data to output of printing plates or final page proofs, or any services in between, including illustration, pagination, and integration of words and graphics.

Background and Development

Typesetting changed drastically during the last 40 years of the twentieth century. For hundreds of years, type was set with metal printing elements; this was called "hot type" because molten lead was used to manufacture individual letters, which were then set into complete words, sentences, and paragraphs. At first, the molten lead letters were set by hand, one letter or space at a time. The letters were mirror images of actual letters so that, when printed, they would read correctly. The set type was locked into a frame and ink applied to it, and the paper was printed directly from the type.

In 1886, Ottmar Mergenthaler invented a typesetting machine, which became known as a Linotype machine. This was also a hot type method, but it sped up typesetting considerably. Typesetting machines became faster and more sophisticated for the next 80 to 90 years, but operated on the same principle as the one Johann Gutenberg used in the 1400s when he invented movable type.

Unlike hot type, which is three-dimensional, "cold type" is two-dimensional. Cold type is generally regarded as any of a variety of methods in which photographic principles are used to create an image on specially treated paper. It came into widespread use in the 1970s. As a typesetter keyed in the letters, the machine made photographic images of them and reproduced those images on photosensitive paper or film. The images were arranged on a layout sheet and the printer photographed it to make a film negative from which a printing plate was then made.

Cold type has undergone several generations of change in both data storage and output. They all begin with keying in the text on a keyboard like that of a typewriter. That data input may be done by a typesetter, but generally that is now done by authors as they compose with word processors.

The first phototypesetting equipment stored the text on paper tape. The tape was punched using a special keyboard, and this specially-punched encoded tape drove the typesetting equipment, sending instructions about typeface, size, and appearance of the set type.

The next development in phototypesetting brought equipment with powerful software, photo fonts, and magnetic data storage. This was actually the first true photo-typesetting machinery, and in the 1990s, was still in use in many typesetting operations.

The next generation of cold type created characters from digital information instead of a photo negative. Output is produced on photosensitive paper or film. This equipment became the standard in the 1980s. Subsequent generations of equipment employed various laser technologies for output. This is not phototypesetting since it does not employ photographic technology and output is on regular paper rather than photosensitive paper.

Current Conditions

The application of electronics and computers moved the industry to digitized imaging in which material is printed directly from the computer to paper or a printing plate. More typesetting companies are offering extensive preprinting services, including digital color scanning with electronic dot generation, electronic color page composition, electronic page layout, and off-press color proofing. Although many typesetting shops were still using traditional phototypesetting equipment in the early 1990s, digital typesettingwas predicted to make such methodologies obsolete early in the twenty-first century.

Digitized typesetting opened up a world of possibilities for interface technology, the ability of two computers to communicate with one another. Some experts in the typesetting industry were predicting that by the early 2000s, 50 to 75 percent of typesetting would be accomplished via interface technology.

Data may be transferred through direct or remote interfacing. Direct interface includes a cable connection with other computers such as word processors or personal computers; optical character recognition by means of scanners; media conversion (conversion of word processing program on disk to typesetting software; or reading magnetic or paper tape). Remote interfacing refers to telecommunication through a modem.

Interfacing, regardless of the method, however, requires appropriate software for conversion from word processing to typesetting equipment. Not all word processing programs and typesetting equipment, however, are compatible, requiring client and typesetter to coordinate their work in advance of transmission. Typesetters do not ordinarily have the capability to convert all of the hundreds of word processing programs to their typesetting programs; however, a third-party service bureau can handle most conversions.

Such varied technological advances, however, allowed publishers to transmit manuscripts to keyboarders or typesetters in other countries with lower wages, thereby cutting publishing costs. Use of satellite and other technology is expected to further expand publishers' options.

The role of typesetting is expected to expand to include some layoutor "paste-up" work as well. Desktop publishing systems offer this capability, and its use in commercial typesetting is growing. While in the past, typeset copy was passed on to an artist who arranged the various graphic and textual components on the page and then pasted them onto a layout sheet, components can now be arranged on the computer screen and corrections made before anything is printed out on paper or film. Even photographs or illustrations can be inserted on screen by use of digital scanners. Once thelayout is complete, it is transmitted for reproduction onto paper, film, or even directly onto a plate for printing.

Industry Leaders

The typesetting industry was led throughout the 1990s by Merrill Corporation, a public company based in St. Paul, Minnesota, that boasted 1999 sales of $509.5 million. The company had 34 U.S. offices and employed 3,933 people.

Other typesetters of note include the Black Dot Group, headquartered in Crystal Lake, Illinois; York Graphic Services Incorporated, based in York, Pennsylvania; and Composing Room Incorporated, based in Pennsauken, New Jersey.


There were 2,069 U.S. typesetting establishments as of 1997, more than half of which had fewer than five employees. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a 26 percent decrease in the number of employees in this industry between 1987 and 1997—from 37,600 to 27,754. However, while it may be true that technology tends to reduce the labor needed to attain the same results over time, the typesetting industry may see improvements in their employment statistics as typesetting needs arise for electronic publications such as Web sites. Adobe Systems, for instance, a leader in providing software to the typesetting industry, began in the mid-1990s to offer software for creating Internet documents. Indeed, several of the typesetting software leaders, such as Corel Corporation and Microsoft Corporation, began to incorporate Internet publishing tools within their already popular typesetting packages.

Electronic technology changed the nature of work that typesetters do, requiring knowledge and familiarity with computers and a multitude of software programs. In typesetting, as in other prepress functions, technology required constant upgrading of skills and retraining of the work force as more and more functions become computerized.

Further Reading

"Computers: Software." Standard & Poor's Industry Surveys. New York: Standard & Poor, 10 October 1996.

Dun's Census of American Business 1996. Bethlehem, PA: Dun & Bradstreet, 1996.

Hilts, Len. "Avoiding Potholes in the Desktop Publishing Road." Publishers Weekly, 18 October 1991, 34-36.

Hoover's Company Capsules, 20 March 2000. Available from .

McCollum, Tim. "In-House Publishing, Professional Results." Nation's Business, November 1996.

Perenson, Melissa. "Do-It-Yourself Publishing." PC Magazine, 21 January 1997.

Rosenberg, Jim. "Technology Progress '95." Editor & Publisher, January 1996.

Sucov, Jennifer. "Invested Interest." Folio, 15 October 1996.

U.S. Census Bureau. 1992 Census of Manufactures. Washington: GPO, 1996. Available from .

——. 1997 Economic Census—Manufacturing. Washington: GPO, 1999.

——. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Department of Labor. Employment, Hours, and Earnings, United States, 1990-95. Washington: GPO, 1995.

Ward's Business Directory of U.S. Private and PublicCompanies. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1997.

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