François-Ambroise Didot (1730–1804), introduced a highly finished, smooth paper of wove design modeled after the paper commissioned by Baskerville in England. The Didot type foundry’s constant experimentation led to maigre (thin) and gras (fat) type styles similar to the condensed and expanded fonts of our time. Fonts issued from 1775 by François-Ambroise Didot possessed a lighter, more geometric quality, similar in feeling to Bodoni’s designs evolving under Baskerville’s influence.
Around 1785 François-Ambroise Didot revised Fournier’s typographic measurement system and created the point system used in France today. He realized that the Fournier scale was subject to shrinkage after being printed on moistened paper, and even Fournier’s metal master had no standard for comparison. Therefore, Didot adopted the official pied de roi, divided into twelve French inches, as his standard. Then each inch was divided into seventy-two points. Didot discarded the traditional nomenclature for various type sizes (Cicero, Petit-Romain, Gros-Text, and so on) and identified them with the measure of the metal type body in points (ten-point, twelve-point, and so on). The Didot system was adopted in Germany, where it was revised by Hermann Berthold in 1879 to work with the metric system. In 1886 the Didot system, revised to suit the English inch, was adopted as a standard point measure by American typefounders, and England adopted the point system in 1898.
François-Ambroise had two sons: Pierre Didot (1761–1853), who took charge of his father’s printing office, and Firmin Didot (1764–1836), who succeeded his father as head of the Didot type foundry. Firmin’s notable achievements included the invention of stereotyping. This process involves casting a duplicate of a relief printing surface by pressing a molding material (damp paper pulp, plaster, or clay) against it to make a matrix. Molten metal is poured into the matrix to form the duplicate printing plate. Stereotyping made longer press runs possible.
After the Revolution, the French government honored Pierre Didot by granting him the printing office formerly used by the Imprimerie Royale at the Louvre. There he gave the neoclassical revival of the Napoleonic era its graphic design expression in a book series, the Éditions du Louvre. Lavish margins surround Firmin Didot’s modern typography, which is even more mechanical and precise than Bodoni’s. Engraved illustrations by artists working in the neoclassical manner of the painter Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) have flawless technique and sharp value contrast. In seeking to imitate nature in her most perfect form, these artists created figures as ideally modeled as Greek statues, frozen in shallow picture boxes.