Typesetting phases and outputs

12 February 2010

For the last two weeks, I have been blithely discussing what typesetting is and the issues relating to it but without actually describing what is produced. Time for a short overview before we move on a new thread of posts, on the proofing process.

A duet

Typesetting is not a single event in the production of the book pages; rather, it is a multi-phased process and one interwoven with that for the proofing of the book. In a sense, one could look at typesetting and proofing as a duet sung by a tenor and soprano.

Their ‘performance’ looks somewhat like this (but note that approaches do vary between presses):

  • Initial typesetting
  • Output of first proofs
  • First proofing
  • Completion of typesetting
  • Output of second (often the ‘final’) proofs
  • Second (or ‘final’) proofing and indexing
  • Output of print-ready copy
  • Final-copy check
  • Delivery of print files to the printer

Let’s look at the initial typesetting, its completion and briefly at how the proofs are output. More detailed descriptions of each of the proofing phases shall follow in my next thread of posts on proofing.

In addition, also required (and not mentioned above) is typesetting of the cover/jacket (more about that in my next post).

Initial typesetting

Practices differ between typesetters and another major factor is which typesetting software is used. However, likely steps are as follows:

  1. Finalization of the page design (as discussed here).
  2. Creation of typesetting documents meeting the design specification.
  3. Conversion of those input files not conforming to the page design/software requirements (e.g. image files changed from colour to monochrome and from JPEG to TIFF format).
  4. Marking up of text files with consistent paragraph styles that match those defined in the destination typesetting documents.
  5. Import and placing of text files in the typesetting documents.
  6. Assignment of paragraph and character styles to the text and any tables (or, if already done at step #4, then fine-tuning of styles).
  7. Import and placing of any image files in the typesetting documents (often this step is left until completion of typesetting).
  8. Generation of first proofs.

Proofing output

Not too many years ago, when typesetting was done on specialist machines, the initial proofs were output in galley form, i.e. as continuous text without any page breaks marked and printed out on what looked like giant-sized toilet paper. As the layout was finalized, the book would be paginated, subsequent proofs clearly showing the page breaks. These proofs, too, could be printed on long galleys or guillotined into their individual pages.

The output of today’s PC-based desktop publishing systems is utterly different, being based on the industry-standard PDF format (though other output formats are possible). Galleys are gone; everything is either printed on ordinary (A4 or US Letter) paper or output as PDFs. Moreover, there is little difference in the appearance of (say) the initial set of proofs and the final print files sent to the printer (not least, all proofs are paginated).

The shift to PDFs has been a revolutionary development for authors. This, however, is something I shall take up next week in a new section of posts detailing the proofing and indexing process. Proofing outputs are discussed in greater detail here.

Completion of typesetting

Just what is needed to be done to complete the typesetting process depends of course on if step 7 above was done during the initial typesetting or has been left until now. If the latter is true, then likely steps are as follows:

  1. Keying of any text changes from the first proofing.
  2. Import and placing of any image files in the typesetting documents.
  3. Re-evaluation of the likely extent of the book including space for the index (not yet prepared, of course).
  4. Possible adjustment of the page design (especially of the font size and line spacing) to meet the final extent set by the production editor.
  5. Pagination of the book (including subtle adjustments to line spacing, to the placement and size of tables and illustrations, etc. to save on – or add – a few lines here and there so that the target page count is indeed reached); the ideal is that each double-page spread has even page bottoms, its composition is evenly balanced and the overall effect is aesthetically pleasing.
  6. Finalization of any page-specific cross-references.
  7. Generation of second (often ‘final’) proofs.

After the return of any changes resulting from the final proofing and delivery of the index, typesetting concludes as follows:

  1. Keying of any text changes from the final proofing.
  2. Typesetting of the index.
  3. Generation of print-ready copy for checking/approval by press staff.
  4. Delivery of print files to the printer.

Time then (almost) to move on to the proofing and indexing of your book but first let’s return to your cover and its finalization.

(Post #21 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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What is typesetting?

22 January 2010

With the design phase now completed, your manuscript and the design brief will be sent to a typesetter, who will take your text and illustrative material, setting it out on the page ready for printing.

An art and process

There is a lot more to typesetting (and its sister, typography) than you would think. Both have their origins in the Gutenberg revolution and each, in their different ways, were concerned with the presentation of textual material in type format ready for printing. In earlier times there was a big difference between them. Typography was the art of designing, setting and arranging type whereas typesetting was the process (or craft) of actually setting the type.

Note the class difference: typography wore a beret and twirled a designer’s pen, typesetting wore an apron, punched type and had ink on its fingers. As we shall see, however, the differences between the two have blurred in recent years.

Together, typography and typesetting combine an art and process that only really succeeds when invisible. In many respects, the layout of your book is comparable to the background music added to a film. Its primary duty is to make your text clear and accessible, but ideally it should also enhance the meaning with mood and style. Though stylish, the layout must also be durable (indeed timeless), transcending fashion. Much creative energy goes into this art, which is the subject of passionate debate among its practitioners.

At the forefront of the publishing revolution

The differences between typesetting and typography have narrowed (even blurred) due to the digital revolution and advent of desktop publishing (DTP), which has virtually obliterated other forms of typesetting in recent years.

At the sharp end of publishing – in the production of books, journals, etc. – the old, quite laborious and expensive process of producing print-ready material by hand-setting individual lines and pages of type (a job for well-paid tradesmen) has given way to on-screen, WYSIWYG page composition using personal computers and (usually) lower-paid semi-clerical staff.

In parallel with (and a precondition for) this transformation was the development of things we all take for granted today (everyone, not just publishing professionals) – the personal computer, DTP software, new digital fonts (see below), laser printers using the Postscript programming language, and PDF (which renders Postscript into a viewable, WYSIWYG format). An even more recent addition has been the arrival of text mark-up languages like XML; originating from the old pre-DTP typesetting systems, these are still esoteric, even for many publishing people.

For a while, typesetting came in-house for most publishers and many of the old, specialist typesetting firms went bust. In recent years, however, further cost-cutting by publishers has seen this typesetting work move out to local freelancers and further afield to places like India. (I have described this development elsewhere in greater detail, if you are interested.)

At the same time that the process of page layout has been transformed, a parallel transformation has been seen in typography. Here, there have been huge advances in typographical design, not least the development first of scalable, digital fonts followed by an explosion of new designs and more recently the digital capture and standardization of all the world’s varied alphabets and scripts in the form of Open Type fonts.

These advances have been an essential feature of the digital revolution in publishing. Without them, there would be no #e-publishing, no e-readers like the Kindle, probably no iPhone or other smart phone, and indeed even the PC, Web, etc. would be far more limited things than they are.

Key concerns and tools

According to Wikipedia, ‘Traditional typography follows four principles: repetition, contrast, proximity, and alignment.’ The same could be said for typesetting; they are classic requirements of a good design and layout. In essence, then, when laying out your book, your typesetter will be concerned to:

  • Fit your text and illustrations into the agreed page extent.
  • Place text and illustrations in an effective and appropriate combination.
  • Apply a layout that is uniform and predictable.
  • Implement a design that is elegant but also clear and readable.
  • Deliver the print-ready PDF files on or before the agreed date.


Given the sophistication of today’s DTP software (programs like Adobe InDesign, for instance), the typesetter of your book will have a vast array of tools at his/her disposal to ensure these goals are met. There are too many to list here but among them will be:

  • a selection of appropriate fonts in different sizes and styles;
  • paragraph and character styles, assigning uniform values to text (font, size, colour, alignment, etc.) that can be globally changed in an instant;
  • hyphenation, character spacing (kerning) and line spacing (leading), allowing fine adjustments to how much space an amount of text actually fills; and
  • much more (e.g. alignment and rotation, linking to external files, layering, use of colour, etc.)

Such is the world of the typesetter. But, as shall be seen in my next post, this esoteric world about to impinge on your own.

(Post #8 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)