Digital Gutenberg
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The first useful publishing software came out just a few years ago. In 1985 Aldus Corporation in America -- following in the splendid tradition begun by Aldus Manutius of Venice -- introduced PageMaker. It worked in concert with writing programs and graphics applications, and included all the functions necessary for publication design and layout. It was followed by other products from other companies, equally powerful and easy to use -- all of which made the computer user increasingly self-sufficient. Nowadays it is commonplace to take your disk with fully laid out and typeset files to a commercial printing shop and have its contents printed directly to plates, thus saving the would-be publisher many hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in pre-press work. And for small editions of a few hundred copies it is not necessary to go to a commercial printer at all. It can all be done "in-house," on the computer user's desktop. The digital type foundries -- pouring laser light in the place of lead -- offer thousands of splendid typefaces in collections of about 238 characters, numbers, devices, and ornaments. And, of course, many offer typefaces in foreign characters for nearly every major language group. For special needs there is software that allows a person to design their own digital type, or to create special effects based on existing type (such as three-dimensional illusions, extruded text, or text attached to a path). No printer in history had these kinds of resources at his fingertips. Charles Bigelow, in his introduction for the 1989 edition of The Best of Fine Print on Type, said this:

"What has been noteworthy about the transition is that typography has remained an art, whether based on the casting of intricate sculptures by methods essentially unchanged since their invention or perfection by Gutenberg, or based on the painting of pixel patterns by beams of laser light controlled by algorithms of computer graphics."

As for image making and image manipulation, what has emerged are sets of programs that define images in different ways, depending on the objectives of the artist. There are draw programs which define everything as an object. There are paint programs which define everything as patterns of pixels (or dots). And there are CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs that plot the image from mathematical hints. Of the three types it is probably the paint programs that perform in the way most artists are accustomed to working. They have familiar tools and palettes needed for all the usual sorts of work with line, tone, and color. Improved electronic drawing boards and Zen-like pressure-sensitive pens can give digital art a look and feel almost indistinguishable from that produced by more traditional means. After much waiting, most of today's software for computer imaging is sophisticated enough that the tool -- the computer and its accouterments -- need not be visible in the final product. That is to say, computer-generated art does not have to look to like it was produced on a computer -- unless, of course, it is to the benefit of the work to let it all hang out.


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