Eyeballing the E Scale

Right after I got out of college (with one major in Film Making and one in English), I moved near Los Angeles and took a job at a small printing franchise.

Every day I scanned the classifieds before I headed to work, looking for that elusive never-advertised film director’s job, never dreaming that the printing industry would end up to be more appealing than the bright lights of Hollywood.

Before the print shop owners hired me full-time, they sent me to a class to learn the basics of design, layout, typesetting, daylight camera work, plate burning, and printing on a duplicator.

Flash forward.

My husband and I are cleaning the basement. “Do you still want this?” he asks. Inside a musty box are two volumes and a notebook with dividers: my training manuals for the little print shop.

Needless to say, I wanted to keep them.

As I perused the notebooks, I came across a plastic organizer filled with my old supplies: a pica pole, a proportion wheel, a halftone exposure chart, my set of Exacto knives, non-repro blue pens, typesetter codes and commands, and my trusty E scale.

Seeing the E scale took me back instantly (oh no, now we’re having a flashback within a flashback!) to memories of my neighbor at the time, a bubbly actress who spent a lot of time at auditions and little time on screen. I won’t say she was ditzy, but you get the idea.

One day she picked up my E scale and held it at arms length. “What are you doing?” I asked. She squinted at the scale.

“This eye chart is easy,” she announced. “E . . . e . . . e . . . e . . . ”

I tell that to younger people in the industry, and they don’t see the humor. I guess I should explain that an E scale is a transparent sheet with a whole bunch of letters on it — all being the letter E — ranging from very big to very little. It helps you gauge what size type you need to match. An anachronism now, for sure.

When I look back at everything that little shop did to take a customer’s job from idea to printed piece, there were definitely some steps that we don’t have to worry about today. Camera work has evolved into customer-provided files; typesetting is a breeze these days; fonts issues are (almost) a thing of the past; and options for plateless printing are many.

Yet most of the concepts I learned in that course still serve me.

I still use a proportion wheel and a pica pole. I still use design principals for determining leading, headlines and white space. I still know how to copy fit, so when a writer submits hard copy for a story, I can quickly calculate how much room I need to allocate on the page.

As far as the E scale . . . I haven’t used one in years. But, then, I already know I’m nearsighted.

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Filed under Letterpress Craft and Hobby, Printing and Publishing Industry

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