October 8 2018 – October 28 2018

The exhibition tells the Letraset story from its early days as a difficult-to-use wet system, to its glory years as the first truly democratic alternative to professional typesetting.

Celebrating the launch of the Unit Editions book Letraset: The DIY Typography Revolution this exhibition is a comprehensive history of Letraset, the rubdown lettering system that revolutionised typographic expression.

The exhibition also celebrates Letraset’s present-day revival amongst a new set of admirers who recognise the typographic excellence of the system’s typefaces.

Adrian Shaughnessy writes:

In the pre-digital era, Letraset often functioned as a metaphorical lifeboat for graphic designers. The dry transfer, rubdown, Instant Lettering system
was often the only way to cope with last-minute text corrections and other typographic emergencies. Before the ubiquitous Mac, graphic designers were almost entirely dependent on typesetting houses.

All of this will be familiar to anyone who trained and practised as a graphic designer before the computer screen replaced the drawing board as
 the designer’s workbench. But Letraset was more than a back-up utility for designers. It offered instant professional-grade typefaces for use in making print-ready artwork and mock-ups, and of course, for many other purposes, especially the setting of display headlines for which designers elected to use a Letraset typeface in preference to ordering professionally set type from a typesetting house.

In the short gap between the end of hot metal setting and the arrival of desktop publishing, with its range of ultra-modish typefaces, Letraset offered designers – and crucially, non-designers–a low-cost passport to instant typographic hipness.

Letraset had a professional and cultural impact that few typographic innovations can match. Around ten million sheets of Letraset were sold from the beginning of the 1960s until the 1990s. In an article in Eye magazine Jane Lamacraft noted: ‘By 1963, Letraset had distributors in 70 countries and had floated on the London stock market; the following year annual sales increased to £750,000 – a hefty figure by the standards of the day — and some 75 per cent
 of production was exported (the company received the first of two Queen’s Awards for Exports in 1966) ... by 1974 Letraset’s international sales had climbed to £16 million, by 1978 £46 million.’

Register here for tickets to the free public preview


In association with Unit Editions. With thanks to St Bride Foundation and all our contributors

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