Throwback gadget: Letraset

Back in school desktop publishing wasn’t common place in the way that it is today. If you wanted decent typography in your document the average consumer only had two choices: stencils and dry transfer letters.
rotring stencil set
Stencils (technical drawing equipment manufacturers like Rotring supplied these and whilst they were beautifully made they were creatively limited in terms of the types of fonts that they gave you. In fact, Rotring stencil-drawn text had a distinct look that was ubiquitous on technical drawings (it is actually the style defined by ISO 3098).
ISO 3098
However don’t let that stop you buying Rotring gear today, their stencils and pens are still wonderfully-made objects with a functional beauty.

The second alternative was Letraset dry transfer sheets. Because Letraset basically owned this market, their brand name became the short hand for dry transfer lettering sheets in general.
Letraset sheets Picture thanks to Wikipedia.

What Letraset brought to the table was a world of creativity because they published their dry transfer sheets with in so many fonts. Letraset came in boxes about a quarter of a ream in thickness and for the average school kid these where not cheap.The sheets themselves where delicate and you had to take care that whatever you transferred on to a surface like paper was not rubbed off again by accident. Storage of the sheets themselves required great care as they were sensitive to dust, heat or humidity; so using them in a school context was a nightmare. I am sure that I wasted more sheets than I used.

The second thing about laying out writing with either a stencil or Letraset is that laying them out was laborious. So writing a school project with Letraset would be impractical, but doing the title sheet to it or making a label were much  more manageable. This difficulty meant that there was a lot less informal signage. No A4 sheets with notices written in the Microsoft Impact font and a couple of stretching or shadow effects from PowerPoint applied to attract (or revolt) the eye. Giving people tools that make things too easy doesn’t necessarily make things better.

More information
Creative Pro blog post on Letraset