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What is a Typesetter?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A typesetter is a person who creates text on a machine to be stored and transferred to a printing mechanism that produces bulk materials, such as newspapers and magazines. The process used to be done by hand, with each letter and symbol painstakingly placed in a grid that was placed into a manually operated printer. This method was replaced by a letterpress with movable type used with an electric printer. In modern times, a typesetter commonly uses typesetting software to create documents for printing projects. She typically works for a small press company as their sole typesetter or for a major publishing company as part of a team of typesetters.

Skills in typesetting are required by a wide range of companies and industries. Besides the typical jobs at book publishing houses and printing companies, a typesetter is often hired by firms that produce specialty items such as memory books, family histories and one-of-a-kind pamphlets and brochures. Some typesetters choose self-employment and work from home offices as well.

Besides knowing how to utilize typesetting software, a person with this job also has to be knowledgeable about printers, scanners and photo production and enhancement equipment. Since most type is accompanied by graphics, drawings or photographs, a typesetter’s marketability is normally dependent upon her expertise in all these applications. It is also helpful for her to be educated in the different types of printers. Depending on what brand and type of printer that will be used for final production, she may have to make technical adjustments in her type and layout to achieve the best results.

A successful typesetter normally has an acute eye for detail and a flair for artistic presentation. She is regularly required to visualize a page before the type is set. Her skill in envisioning how the text and images will merge on the page is important in choosing fonts and font sizes for the body text, captions and headlines. Clients regularly require several versions and styles of the project for review before making their final determination. Their decision typically takes aesthetics as well as budgets into consideration.

Some employers require a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, computer aided design or fine arts to apply for a typesetter position. Others are open to hiring a candidate with a high school diploma or equivalent if the applicant has industry experience. Background in applying page layout, design or graphics software is a plus. A portfolio of diverse and quality work is highly recommended for a person seeking a position as a typesetter.

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Discussion Comments
By JackWhack — On Aug 12, 2012

I studied art and graphic design in college, and I have been looking for any job in those fields lately. I have seen several typesetter job descriptions and lists of requirements, and though I meet most of those, I don't meet them all.

I do have the desired level of education. Most that I've seen have asked for applicants to have at least a two-year degree in graphic design. I have a four-year degree, so that works to my advantage.

However, I've only ever worked with a computer. I've never had the experience of manually setting type. This is the area that gets me every time.

By Perdido — On Aug 11, 2012

You don't really see a whole lot of typesetting jobs up for grabs anymore. Usually, employers are looking for graphic designers, and by that, they usually mean website designers.

My friend is a freelance typesetter, and she has been having trouble finding work. She is at an advantage in one aspect, because not a whole lot of people have the skills that she has. However, the jobs are few and hard to find.

By wavy58 — On Aug 10, 2012

@cloudel – I don't envy those people who held typesetter jobs long ago! I also am a graphic designer, but I am thankful to be able to do all my work on the computer.

All the text is shaped and set by the software. I don't have to worry about getting letters out of alignment, because they are automatically lined up.

If I want a perfect square or circle, the software will allow me to draw one that is based on mathematics. Perfection is handled for me, and I only have to be good at putting everything together in an artistic way.

By cloudel — On Aug 10, 2012

I am a graphic designer, but I have never worked with manual equipment when setting text onto a page. I work for a newspaper, and they still have some of the old typesetting equipment lying around, so I got to get a glimpse of what life as a typesetter used to be like.

There were several reels of narrow black material that had to be used to frame the ads. The typesetter could choose from various thicknesses, depending upon the desires of the customer. There were sharp knives lying around that were used to cut the strips, and there was a giant light table.

I know that typesetter jobs in the newspaper industry had to be really stressful. The typesetter would have been expected to achieve perfection while working with these physical materials, and he or she would have had to meet deadlines, so the pressure was on.

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