Mergenthaler’s first phototypesetter, the Linofilm, came out in 1954, but by 1970 they produced a phototypesetter called the VIP which held six fonts at a time (one reserved for punctuation and special characters like the asterisk, etc.), and selected sizes from 5 to 35 points with a moving zoom lens.
(Special font strips could be used to set type from 35 to 72 points.) It would set a page of type in about four minutes.
The type fonts for the VIP were on film strips a little larger than a business card, and cost hundreds of dollars each.
They were not priced as families of light, medium, italic, bold, & bold italic; such a list would require five separate purchases.
Phototypesetters nearly always had well equipped dark rooms, and a special punch was soon on the market to duplicate the registration holes in the original font strips, so that anyone could make copies of these fonts.
Since they could be easily damaged in cleaning, and frequent changing, it was a good idea to keep a copy or two as backup even if you had only one VIP.
But then a company named “Storch,” started offering font strips for the VIP at very low prices. Mergenthaler of course filed suit, and dropped its prices. The font prices went from $100 or $200 to $30 or $40.
These affordable fonts made the VIP the dominant electromechanical phototypesetter, and was probably the best thing that ever happened to Mergenthaler.
The VIP was followed by a hybrid machine, the 408, which used an image tube to scan the characters on a film master, and a CRT to place them on the output copy.
It found considerable use in newspapers. The 202 family (about 1980) were truly digital typesetters with fonts stored as digital data in memory, in its minicomputer controller (marketed as the Naked Mini) or on a disk drive. The firm introduced the concept of the “imagesetter” with its 300 in about 1985, recognizing the change from “typesetting” to “graphics.”
That machine’s descendants were still a dominant output source in 1995.
It really began shortly after the end of World War II, when two Frenchmen, Higonnet and Moyrou, developed a viable phototypesetter that used a strobe light and a series of optics to project characters from a spinning disk onto photographic paper.
They licensed their patents to a Massachusetts firm called Photon, which began producing a series of very expensive phototypesetting machines in 1945.
Photon grew to be a major firm, with sales and service offices all over the country.
The machines made by Photon, and the competitors who began to appear, were operated by punched paper tape produced on special “perforators,” that had been used for some lead casting machines since 1932.
The paper tape used a 6-level code called TTS (teletypesetting).
Because you can only represent about 36 different characters in six bits, it had to use shift, super-shift, and “bell” characters to get upper and lower case alphabets, numerics, punctuation and special characters.
They had large keyboards with all of the special typesetting commands like “quads”, em-space, en-space, en-dash, em-dash, open and close double and single quotes, and some pi characters like bullets and stars.
At first the skill required to prepare these tapes was little changed from the lead casting machines; the operator controlled the line breaks, based on line lengths shown on a line width counter and his knowledge of hyphenation rules and conventions.