House Industries to Digitize and Sell Photo-Lettering Fonts

Written by Stephen Coles on February 9, 2005

When House Industries purchased the Photo-Lettering archives two years ago, there was much speculation about what exactly they were going to do with the film font goldmine. Today the picture got a bit clearer. Stuart Sandler discovered the following news on Linotype’s program page for the Typotechnica 2005 conference:

Photo-Lettering: Back to the Future House Industries purchased what remained of the Photo-Lettering display type collection in 2003. They have since partnered with Dutch type master and visionary Erik van Blokland and prolific designer Christian Schwartz to revive the collection and create a new portal for vending the timeless classics as well as new creations. Rich Roat describes how the PLINC partnership will combine the timeless creativity of the original PLINC contributing artists with a modern technology to make some of the more unique elements of the collection available again.

Exciting stuff, indeed. It’s difficult to imagine a better team for this project than Schwartz (one of the most skilled drawers and type revivalists alive) and Van Blokland (a technical wizard whose developments have streamlined and advanced the digital type design process).

Update, Feb 21 — It appears Pat Broderick’s suspicions (see comments below) are correct. According to Ben Kiel (whose TypoTechnica report will be up tonight) House will implement Van Blokland’s LetterSetter application to sell customers PLINC headlines by the PDF.


  1. Paul H. says:

    Okay, this is super-nerdy, but I couldn’t resist. In Dutch, the first letter of surnames starting with prepositions such as ‘van’, ‘de’ etc. is undercast when it comes right after a first name (so ‘Erik van Blokland’ is correct), but it has to be capitalized when the first name is missing. So it should be ‘…and Van Blokland…’ instead of ‘…and van Blokland…’ I know, it’s a really nerdy remark.

  2. Super-nerds are always welcome here, Paul. Appreciate the correction. Fixed.

  3. Giovanni Jubert says:

    Indeed this is a great news. That’s why i love typographica so much, and today, thanks to Paul and obviously to Stephen, I did learn two in one.
    Nice remark the one on Deutch correction.
    I’ll remember it.

  4. Anne Onney-Musse says:

    Sorry to comment so off-topic here, but you’re the best resource I know. Any idea what happened to Typophile or when it’ll be back?

  5. This happens every so often. The outages last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

    I think the discussion board software they use is a little fragile. They can’t switch to something else without figuring out a way to migrate several years worth of discussions from the old system.

  6. Troubleman says:

    It’s not so much the discussion board software as it is the hosting which is the real problem. Typophile will be switching hosts pretty soon and get a complete makeover for its fifth anniversary. A little more patience… ;-)

  7. Anne Onney-Musse says:

    Thanks, Mark & Yves! I wasn’t meaning to complain at all. I was just concerned that my drug of choice had disappeared, and I didn’t know why or for how long. There’s no denying that type is an addiction!

    I’m thrilled you guys are working on it, and glad to know Typophile will be back eventually. Thanks so much for all the good times you supply.

  8. nick shinn says:

    Mark, looks like ya broke it (Typophile). Must have been a heavy post.


    >will combine the timeless creativity of the original PLINC contributing artists with a modern technology

    Sounds like “Ed Interloc” (premiered at TypeCon in SF) — with gazillions of OT contextual alternates. And more of the same idea?

    I’m not sure “timeless creativity” is the best superlative for PLINC — a lot of their faces, especially Ed Benguiat’s, are iconic of the 60s and 70s, and while they might be due for a resurgence, they are more fashion items (as Phil Martin explained) than standards.

    What impresses most about those faces is the virtuoso craftsmanship.

  9. I asked Rich Roat in an e-mail discussion about the library a long while back (I noticed Photo-Lettering logo shirts for sale on the House site before they announced the buyout) if the “modern technology” in question was OpenType and he said no, but did not elaborate. I wonder if perhaps they’re not going to sell fonts, but rather custom headlines priced by the word, like used to be available on the Letterror site.

  10. Mark, looks like ya broke it (Typophile). Must have been a heavy post.

    Actually, it would be kind of nice to be able to do that sometimes. I’m so much more productive when it’s down. :-)

    Regarding PLINC, I tend to agree with you, but I do think there are some classic faces in there not available anywhere else, not just emblematic ones. It’ll be interesting to see what exactly they are up to.

  11. Hrant says:

    Indeed, it would be exceptionally nice to have a mechanism to temporarily stop all of you from making so many interesting posts during the times I’m too busy to keep up!


  12. paul hunt says:

    has this commenting section become the default typophile forum while it’s down? I hope not for Mr. Cole’s sake. ;^D
    Are there any good web resources where i can find out more about PLINC? Somehow I haven’t been acquainted with them. How’d i miss it? 60s 70s display typography–sounds right up my alley!

  13. Paul, there’s a nice little article on the history Photo-Lettering and other similar operations on the St. Bride site.

  14. Miss Tiffany says:

    Pat’s suggestion is very interesting. But I hope they license the type too. As a child of an advertising man I’ve been looking at annuals and the like since I was a little kid. I really do think I owe my career choice to Herb Lubalin and Ed Benguiat (among others). Their style–I admit it is now a style–is so precise without being sterile. I’m excited to see how they start releasing.

    I have often wondered if foundries offered “type by the inch” would they have more luck? Is luck the right word? Would it put even a tiny kabosh on illegal downloads?

  15. nick shinn says:

    >�type by the inch�

    A lot of what was paid for was “contextual massaging” — not just kerning, but also, for a top-end setting, snipping and even redrawing bits of letters.

    That’s stuff that can be built into a font now (and I’m working on some type designs that do it using OT contextual alternates), but the question is, where’s the market?

    The goosing that gets done to headline type in ads now is generally of the photoshop variety, not about subtle placing and shaping of letterforms.

    However, it is possible to create demand for the unusual and new through excellence, rather than just giving shoppers variations of what they already know, and if anyone can do that, it’s House industries.

    As close to “type by the inch” as I get is designing nameplates/mastheads, though often the client ends up asking for it in font format — even when the character set is incomplete!

  16. Miss Tiffany says:

    Excellent point, Nick, and thanks for clarifying that for me. I wasn’t trying to dumb-down the concept of “type by the inch”. Couldn’t the market be for people that don’t realize how much more affordable it is to actually license the type in the first place? Or perhaps people whom aren’t actually designers but are creating their own brochures? Seems with applications such as Apple’s new iWork that this is demanding more of the “stock art” market. However, I can see where I’m off by a mile.

  17. So I was right! I think it makes a lot of sense for House to sell the PLINC faces by the word. Besides being historically correct (that’s how Photo-Lettering sold them in the first place) it makes the fonts accessible to people who can’t justify a $200 font package purchase when all they need are a couple words set in the display face of their choice. Ironically, it also keeps them “exclusive” in that there are not a million pirated copies of the same font circulating among less-scrupulous designers and students.

    I am curious, though, if these will be locked PDFs, or will the type be outlined (editable)?

  18. Ben Kiel says:

    Pat, from the presentation it seemed as though the PDFs would be editable. All vector, and editable. One thing that I don’t think I mentioned in my TypoTechnica report is that they are going to try to give suggestions for layered colors in the settings, and that Rich showed a face, yet to be released, by John Downer that was a layered display face. Very nice in the right hands.

  19. Ben – Did that layered face look anything like this?

  20. Ben Kiel says:

    Yup, just like that.

  21. Hrant says:

    What happened to Downer’s Paperback?


  22. Ben Kiel says:

    I should clarify that John Downer’s face isn’t part of the PLINC project, it was just shown as an example.

  23. Hrant says:

    So just for the record, could we please put the “just want to preserve it” stuff where it belonged in the first place? I’m not stingy with slack, I simply prefer to “sit crooked but talk straight”, as the Armenian expression goes. Oh, and let’s do beware of Anonymous Reliable Sources…


  24. John Talbott says:

    Eons ago, when AMVarityper was big in the typography business, they bought the antique typeface collection of an elderly gentleman so they could convert it for their use. The gentleman had a three-name name like “T. Rowe Price.”

    Does this ring a bell with anyone? If so, does anyone know what happened to the collection?

    Thanks from John Talbott

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