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Friday, 15 May 2015

They still Make Letraset!

When I got involved in politics back in the eighties, one of the jobs I'd end up with was putting leaflets together: typing up the copy, then printing it off and sticking the individual pieces down onto an A4 sheet of blue graph paper. Blocks of text would be interspersed with cartoons and headings. The cartoons were photocopied from pages of stock art or previous leaflets; the headings you painstakingly constructed from Letraset®.

The end result looked like a school project by a primary school pupil, but at the printers it magically transformed into something that frequently looked semi-professional. The blue of the graph paper disappeared during the production process (though yellow turned dark black—not a mistake you made more than once), as did the edges where you'd cut out pieces of paper, and you got back 6000 copies of your leaflet. Next you had to stick them all through letterboxes, but that's a different story.

Letraset was transfers: sheets of letters and digits that you transferred onto paper by gently but firmly rubbing them with a ballpoint pen. The graph paper was especially useful at this point, to help you keep the characters in a straight line.

It might sound easy, but when you were trying to finish off a leaflet late in the night, it was all too common to miss a letter out or misspell a word, or be forced to admit that the letters were too crooked and you'd have to do it all again. Worse still was suddenly realising you'd run out of a crucial letter. "Cambridge City Council" was a real bugger for using up Cs, I remember. And Letraset was not cheap.

Eventually I got my first laser printer. Oh, the bliss. I could type anything I wanted and just print it out. No missing letters, no wobbly lines, and for next to nothing.

That was in 1995. Since when laser printers have come crashing down in price, and desktop publishing has made blue graph paper a thing of the past. So it was with some amazement that I discovered yesterday that you can still buy Letraset. Who uses it? And Why?

I could google it, but I suspect it's very much a niche market nowadays. I imagine council election re-enactment societies, where groups of hobbyists lovingly reproduce election literature of yesteryear. The hard way.