If say, by the late 70s or early 80s, you found yourself in a band, putting on gigs or writing a fanzine, chances are at some point, you would have become very well acquainted with Letraset. It was the one simple thing that would make your flyer or poster more readable, and also stand out in the soup of other similar looking flyers. Letraset fitted in perfectly with Punk’s DIY ethos, form the band, write the songs, and then make the posters. If you were no good at hand-drawn lettering, or if you wanted to go one step further, then dry transfer was the way to go.
Having some Letraset seemed to elevate your own amateurish designs into something more professional, and of course there was the added benefit in that it added more than a whiff of “playing Post Office” while you were actually using it.
Like most things in the 70s, it was a slow process, at least compared to now, as each letter had to be rubbed down separately. Spacing had to be worked out and measured beforehand, and fine pencil lines could be drawn to keep the lettering straight, or not. The large designer’s sheets of actual Letraset were out of pocket money range, but smaller sheets of the same kind of dry transfer lettering could be bought from art shops and High Street stationers, the only downside of which was that they only came in a limited range of sizes and typefaces. No matter, a brand new sheet of lettering held all the promise of something wonderful. The flip side of all this was that an old, partly used sheet of lettering was filled with dread – some of the letters you needed would have already been used up, and the sheet had got crinkly with age and distorted and lumpy by repeated rubbings. Without admitting defeat or wanting any further outlay, it was possible by using a scalpel blade or Tipp-Ex, to make up missing letters by using the remnants of what was left. An upside down V could become and A, an R trimmed or Tipp-Exed could become a P, or a P could be come an R using the bottom half of an unused K and so on.
With your typeface in order, you could use a photocopier to enlarge the image, giving you two or more copies in different sizes to cut and glue to make your final artwork.
This was another thing Punk Rock taught us.
Letraset the company, was founded in 1959, and was based in Ashford, Kent, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that they had perfected their “dry transfer lettering”. Up until that point transfer lettering had been applied using a wet process whereas the letters or symbols would be cut from the backing sheet and soaked in water before being transferred onto the finished design, like the transfers for model aeroplanes.
By 1961 Letraset developed their dry transfer system, and it was this which made it popular with designers, architects, and artists.
By the 1970s even amateurs could produce professional looking designs, and the word Letraset became the word for dry transfer lettering, in the same way as Hoover was used with reference to vacuum cleaners.
Until computers, or early desktop publishing, Letraset was the go-to lettering of a generation.
Letraset is now part of the Winsor and Newton group.