The Quadritek 1200 Phototypesetter

Itek's Quadritek 1200 photo typesetting system.

Back to the Future: 1977

The Quadritek photo typesetting system was an early solution to
"affordable" professional typesetting. Built by the Itek
Corporation (which no longer exists), the machine was geared
toward the small business and educational market to fill their
publishing needs.

This was one of several typesetting machines that were supposed
to make the craft more affordable. Starting at a whopping
$17,000 this machine found its niche in markets where the cost
of an even more expensive machine such as a Compugraphic photo
typesetting system could not be justified. However, a machine
like this was the ideal step up from setting type on archaic
machines such as the IBM Composer, which was similar to the IBM
selectric typewriter.

Now folks, we are not talking 1990s technology here. No sir.
The Quadritek came to the market in 1977 and lasted through
most of the 1980s before the personal computer and desktop
publishing eventually killed it and all the other
phototypesetting machines not so long ago.

What made this machine so neat?

If you were setting type by hand or on an IBM composer, the
benefits of having a Quadritek in your work area were immense.
First of all, the IBM composers could only set type up to 12 or
14 points. Anything else larger required you to use either
press on lettering or a headlining machine, which took time to
do. The Quadritek 1200 allowed you to set headline type up to
36 points large! Wow! (Later models pushed the range up to 72

The Quadritek allowed users to have 4 fonts online at the same
time. Compared to having only one font online with the old IBM
composer, this indeed was a huge step forward. A typical job
being set on the Quadritek would include the weights of bold,
regular, italic and compressed for a single font family to a
particular job. Like the composer you had to stop the job if it
required a change of font to something different like a script.
Unlike the composer you could set type from as small as 5 1/2
points to 36 points all on the fly without stopping as long as
you used the same 4 fonts online at a given time. The Quadritek
was supported by the ITC type library for many years.

Quadritek fonts came on glass wafers which would spin on a fast
moving carousel inside the machine. As you entered your text or
if you had the machine print the text out later, the photo
light beam would rapidly shoot an image of each letter of the
font to photo sensitive paper that came out from the other end
of the machine. The type output would then be run through a
photo chemical process, dried and later pasted up the old
fashioned way to a layout board. Needless to say the type
coming out of these machines were very beautiful and yielded a
very high DPI resolution.

Compared to the early 300 dpi laser printers that people used
on early Macintosh and PC computers, nothing could come close
to the Quadritek.

Secondly unlike the old IBM composer, whatever you typed into
the Quadritek could be saved to tape... yes... cassette tape,
which came before the advent of floppy discs to these machines
and early personal computers. So like if you needed to edit a
job or start a new job, the file you were working on could be
saved to tape and retrieved later (line by line) on tape for
editing, updating or whatever. If you were stuck with an IBM
composer, well you had to finish the entire job, run it out and
then move on to something else. The old IBM composer never had
a data storage system, and what little was stored was only in
the machine's miniscule amount of RAM. Needless to say, if
something went wrong like a power outage while you composed
text on the IBM, all of your work would be lost. Not on the
Quad... if you remembered to store your keystrokes on the tape,
jobs could easily be recalled, fixed, changed and run out

The Biggest Drawback

Perhaps the biggest drawback in using the Quadritek or any
other computerized phototypesetting unit of the time was
mastering the complex, command line interface. This was not a
"What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)" system common to
today's graphical interface computers. No sir. Setting type on
the Quadritek required you to memorize common mnemonic code and
key combinations in order to get the type set at the right
size, style, length, width, etc. Every action along the way had
to be coded using commands to tell the machine to turn type
attributes such as bold, regular or italic on and off. Needless
to say, if you forgot to put in a cancel code for bold on one
word, your entire paragraph or possibly entire job could end up
being all bold.. without you knowing it until after the job was

In this case you would have to go back over the job and check
to see where the unending bold started, and then go back
through the tape one line at the time to key in the cancel bold
sequence. Because of this you really had to concentrate and be
a master of the machine.

Similarly manually coding HTML webpages is kind of like setting
type on the Quadritek. One thing goes wrong and your whole page
can be shot... it could take a few minutes to a few hours to
figure out where you went wrong, depending on the complexity of
the job.

I was lucky to have good teachers at the time I learned how to
use the Quadritek. I learned the basics and got so interested
in the machine that I learned most all of the other archaic
commands so that I could practically format complex forms,
tables, newsletters with columns, etc. in a totally command
line, what you see is not what you get environment until the
thing was printed out. People who could do this commanded big
dollars if they found the right place to apply their skills.

The Macintosh killed the Quadritek

However as time would have it, Apple introduced the Macintosh
computer and in time the entire graphics industry gravitated
toward it and later PCs making the Quadritek and its kindren
all obsolete.

I don't know of anyone using a Quadritek or similar typesetting
equipment for work today. In the end, the machines I worked on
were either given back to the dealers who sold it to them, or
donated to schools where they were probably left in some side
room as a mere curiosity once computers like the Macintosh took