SIC 2791

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

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.

Industry Snapshot

In 2008, the U.S. prepress services industry, including typesetting, had revenues of $3.0 billion, according to Supplier Relations US LLC. This was only a slight decrease from sales in 2007, which totaled $3.1 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The value of U.S. exports was nearly double that of imports, with 2008 shipments totaling $61.5 million and $30.9 million, respectively.

By the late 2000s, 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 enabled 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 own computer-based technology and outside typesetting services. Typesetting in the late 2000s remained 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. Large typesetting companies may also specialize in certain markets, such as 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 had 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 phototypesetting 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 Dot Black 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. When Dot Black began in the 1960s, it provided photocomposition services to book publishers. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Dot Black 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, which 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 over the next 80 to 90 years, but operated on the same principle as the press 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 it is generally 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 phototypesetting machinery, and in the 1990s, was still in use in many typesetting operations.

Cold type's next generation created characters from digital information instead of a photo negative. Output was 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 considered "phototypesetting," however, since it does not employ photographic technology. Output is placed on regular paper rather than photosensitive paper.

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 offered 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 typesetting was destined to render such methodologies obsolete.

The role of typesetting expanded to include some layout or "paste-up" work as well. Desktop publishing systems offered this capability, and its use in commercial typesetting grew. Prior to this, 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. This changed, allowing components to be arranged on the computer screen and corrections made before anything was printed out on paper or film. Even photographs or illustrations could be inserted on screen by use of digital scanners. Once the layout was complete, it could be transmitted for reproduction onto paper, film, or even directly onto a plate for printing.

Before the 1980s, most typesetting for publishers and advertisers was performed by typesetting companies. These companies formed a large part of the graphic arts industry. However, this industry segment had shrunk by the early 2000s. Publishers more often integrated their typesetting with graphic design on their own computers. Typesetters were replaced by people who could do more than just type. According to an article in Quick Printing, more than 50 percent of work sent to typesetters in 2005 was customer-created. In other words, a customer typed the document on his or her own computer and sent it in as an electronic file.

In these cases, the challenge for the typesetter was not to typeset the material, but rather to format the text attractively and prepare it for print. Often these workers were also responsible for formatting a document for placement on a CD or on the Internet, a task that required knowledge of special codes and SGML or XML tagging. The need for this kind of "typesetting technician" continued to grow with the introduction of newer technology and tools.

When Adobe Systems Inc. created the Portable Document Format (PDF) system and accompanying tools, the typesetting environment was changed even more. A document can be converted immediately after composition into a PDF file and sent to a printing company. The PDF can be then dropped into a "hot" folder, and automatic scripts performed many of the functions once done manually.

Some companies sent the work out to smaller typesetting companies or self-employed individuals rather than hire an on-site typesetter. Outsourcing continued to be a major trend in the industry in the mid-2000s. Moreover, with the world becoming more global, foreign-language typesetting was on the rise. Companies often offered translation services to translate documents and typeset them in the foreign language. Companies who do this must have the fonts necessary to make all the characters in a certain language, such as Japanese or Russian.

Current Conditions

According to Dun & Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, 1,323 employed 9,672 workers in the typesetting industry in the late 2000s. Almost 93 percent of businesses were small, employing fewer than 25 people. Annual sales for this sector of the prepress industry were $632.9 million. California accounted for the highest percentage of the nation's sales, with $95.5 million, followed at a distance by New York ($46.9 million), Pennsylvania ($46.7 million), Virginia ($33.3 million), and Michigan ($32.4 million).

Digital technology had a significant impact on the prepress industry in the 2000s. "Entire aspects of graphic arts and marketing have been wiped out in the last 15 years," said Robert Fleming, president of the eMarketing Association. "Paste-up artists, typesetting companies, prepress stripping departments and other skilled professionals are all but obsolete today. Digital technology has changed the tools that they use and will continue to do so at an ever increasing rate."

Industry Leaders

One of the leaders in the typesetting industry in the late 2000s was Merrill Corporation, a private company based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Merrill, founded in 1968, employed 5,676 workers at 70 U.S. and 15 international locations. The company posted sales of $1.0 billion in 2008. Other typesetters of note included the Dot Black Graphics Inc., headquartered in Crystal Lake, Illinois; York Graphic Services Inc., based in York, Pennsylvania; and Composing Room Inc., based in St. Louis, Missouri.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the prepress industry employed 23,532 people in 2007, about 65 percent of whom were production workers. California had the most establishments, but Pennsylvania employed the most industry workers, according to figures from Dun & Bradstreet.

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 functions become computerized.

Research and Technology

Digitized typesetting opened a world of possibilities for interface technology with the ability of two computers to communicate with one another. Data may be transferred through direct or remote interfacing. Direct interface includes a cable connection with other 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 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 allowed publishers to transmit manuscripts to keyboarders or typesetters in other countries with lower wages, thereby cutting publishing costs.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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