In a clear out over Christmas I threw away the sheets of Letraset that I accumulated when I was a graphic designer. Letraset was transfer lettering that revolutionised graphic design in the 1960s and it had a good run for thirty years. When I was at school we were taught what they called “book design”, which included hand-drawn lettering, but Letraset made that unnecessary. There had been some good lettering artists in the book trade – notably Edward Bawden and Berthold Wolpe – and their covers had a quality that you could say was lost when artists started using Letraset.
Letraset accompanied the offset revolution in printing, which replaced metal type with lithographic plates that were produced photographically. The process was quick and simple. You could originate a design, take it to the printer and have the final product in an hour.
You never used all the letters on a sheet of Letraset – perhaps they made their money like Colman’s mustard, from what was left behind – and you sometimes had to buy four sheets to produce a piece of short text.
When I worked in the publicity department of North East London Polytechnic, we combined text produced on an IBM golfball typewriter, Letraset headings and graphics, as in this poster (above). The artwork was put together with Cow Gum and a scalpel.