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U&lc Online Issue: 25.3.2

You Can't Touch This



Dig We Must

It was advertised as a revolution in typesetting, but, when I first saw it, I thought it was wrong, misguided, and verging on the blasphemous. And I’m usually an open-minded sort. What was it about Adobe TouchType, a now defunct typesetting program for the now defunct NeXT machine, that prompted my feelings of outrage and intolerance?

Though I’d only switched from a “real” typesetting system (a Compugraphic phototypesetter) to desktop typesetting a few years earlier, I’d gotten used to a certain way of working. And TouchType was different.

Most desktop typesetting programs – then and now – feature some sort of special tool for selecting text. It might be called the “Text” tool, or the “Content” tool, but the idea is the same: it’s a tool you use to enter a kind of “word processing” mode. Click the tool in some text, and you get a text cursor. The rest of the time, you use a selection tool (called a “Pointer,” or “Item” tool) to select and format objects, transform them (i.e., rotate, scale, or skew), or move them around on your page. After you select some text, you apply formatting using palettes, menu selections, dialog boxes, or keyboard shortcuts. It’s really quite a bit like the codes we used to use in the days before PageMaker.

In TouchType, by contrast, you manipulate characters directly – you click on characters to select them, and then drag to adjust their kerning, baseline shift, size, and other formatting. You could even rotate and skew characters in the line. Almost everything in TouchType was done “by eye” – no need to enter numbers or choose options from a pop-up menu. I call this “direct” type manipulation, in contrast to the “indirect” methods used by every other desktop typesetting program.

We can do this in many programs today – XPress, Illustrator, FreeHand, and CorelDraw come to mind – provided we convert our text characters to graphics first. But, in TouchType, the characters remain text – you can always edit it, enter new text, delete text, or move a text cursor through it.

Just as I overcame my original negative reaction to the Apple Macintosh (I think I stayed contemptuous for almost thirty seconds), I found I enjoyed setting type with TouchType. One feature I particularly liked was its ability to enter pair kerning values in the current font based on an example pair on your page – I don’t know of any other program, then or now, that can do that.

The next generation

TouchType, and the NeXT, came and went. I’m amazed that no other desktop publishing program, since then, has added similar “direct” type manipulation features. The spirit of TouchType lives on, however, in FingerType, an interesting Xtension for Quark XPress from A Lowly Apprentice Productions. FingerType works with XPress versions 3.3 and 4.02 (or higher), and is currently available for the Macintosh.

FingerType is a floating palette containing nine tools and an Undo button (see Figure 1). The palette also displays the current tool selection, and provides feedback as you use the tool – it’s something like XPress’s Measurements palette (when you use the Size and Scale tool, for example, the FingerType palette displays the type size as you drag the tool).

This last is a good thing, because the XPress Measurements palette doesn’t usually keep track of the changes you make using FingerType tools. The Measurements palette will display the formatting values as you move the cursor through text or select text, but you don’t need to select text to use FingerType.

To use a tool, click one of the buttons in the FingerType palette, point the cursor at a character in your XPress layout, and drag. As you drag, FingerType changes the formatting of the text. When you want to change more than one character, select the text using the Content tool, then hold down Control as you drag.

FingerType’s tools make extensive use of modifier keys. When you’re using the Kern & Shift tool, for example, dragging the tool affects the kerning, or you can hold down Command-Shift to apply a baseline shift, or Command to move the character in any direction. Select a range of text and press Control as you drag to apply tracking to all of the characters in the selection. Press Command-Control and drag, and you can move the entire selection in any direction (see Figure 2).

There are some limitations – you can’t, for example, move characters a greater horizontal distance than XPress’s maximum kerning amount (200% of an em), or shift the baseline farther than you can using the Measurements palette (36 points).

Remember – no matter what crazy things you do using FingerType, you’ll always be able to select and edit the text with the Content tool. Which also means that you can always make typesetting corrections or changes using any of XPress’s tools.

FingerType goes beyond TouchType in that it can manipulate paragraph, as well as character, formatting. Leading, in XPress, is a paragraph attribute (unlike PageMaker and FreeHand, where leading is a character-level attribute), and FingerType’s Leading tool can apply leading values to a range of selected paragraphs. What’s more surprising is that FingerType also features tools for changing the indent (left, right, and first line) of the selected paragraphs, for changing the space before and after paragraphs, for applying drop-cap formatting, and even for adjusting paragraph rules (see Figure 3).

The Textbox Inset tool changes the margins of the text box – and you can change the left, right, top, and bottom inset values independently (something you can’t do in “stock” XPress).

Finally, you can use the Magic Wand tool to copy attributes from one paragraph to another. For longer projects, of course, it’s better to use character and paragraph styles, but the Magic Wand might come in handy. Hold down Command and click the Magic Wand on a paragraph containing the formatting attributes you want to record, then click the tool on another paragraph to apply the formatting.

I’m touched

The “direct” approach to setting type won’t work for everyone, or for all publications. I can’t see using it for longer, more structured projects, such as books or manuals, but it’s great for setting “freeform” display type (a web-influenced design fad reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters’ collage poetry – I’ve seen enough of it, but your clients probably haven’t).

I don’t know of any other “direct” type manipulation products on the market – which is a shame, because working with type this way is a heck of a lot of fun.

Figure 1
Dig We Must


Figure 2
Dig We Must
Even a character pair as ubiquitous as “Kv” is not defined as
an automatic kerning pair in most fonts, and so needs manual


Figure 3
Dig We Must
The temptation to turn to the Dark Side may be too strong for
some FingerType users.

Olav Martin Kvern is a software developer, graphic designer, and writer, and lives in Seattle.




Dig We Must








Dig We Must - kerning