Letaset Is a rather unimpressively packed, alternative character set library, usable on either the 16 or 48K Spectrum. What you get for your hard earned pennies is a standard cassette box adorned with a well below standard cover slip. (I realise manufacturers adore unusual presentations for their software but really, this cover is awful). It may be that Eclipse software are keeping the price low by cutting their overheads, but I find it hard to imagine a more miserable cover.
Unfortunately, this megacheap approach is also used on the instruction booklet. It is poorly presented and not particularly easy to read (although admittedly, I've seen worse). The actual explanations for use of the utility offer little help to the uninitiated, but patience should reward those who struggle on. 'So when will he stop griping and tell us what it's all about? Good point, that. Okay then.
The idea is that you can load up the Letaset program (with or without a demonstration mode) and all the different founts (ie text styles) stay hidden high up in memory, ready to be used as and when you want them. You call up the relevant fount by use of a poke, so there's no problem using them to brighten the presentation of a BASIC program. In fact, that's likely to be the main use of Letaset, however I shall discuss such things shortly.
The tape loaded without too many problems (I was using a slightly unfamiliar setup and the corruption errors encountered could have been because of errors on my part). When the program had loaded it went straight into a demo routine which displayed each of the eighteen character sets in upper and lower case, two at a time.
These are the founts you get: boldxz; italic; compact; knight; pump; ghost; logo script (1 and 2); futura; shadow; odysey (I can't tell whether or not that is a deliberate error); roman (1 and 2); stencil; dragon; rocket and cursor.
It was on seeing not just the number of founts, but also their high quality that the program did begin to seem more impressive than its poor packaging had suggested. Apart from being very clear on the screen, dumps to both an Alphacom and Sinclair printer yielded excellent results. The character sets, as some of their names suggests are very varied and anybody using the utility should be able to find a style to suit any context.
As I mentioned earlier, the main use of Letaset would be to brighten up self written software, perhaps a database or even a home made word processor. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the program, its authors cannot guarantee that it will work with commercially produced software, so one of Letaset's best hypothetical uses, say in Tasword, is unlikely to be successful in practice. It is possible to do screen saves and dumps, however, so some very quaint 'one offs' could be created with only the barest essentials of programming knowledge. Having criticised the manual for its presentation, its author must have certainly had some imagination. There are various 'useful' suggestions made as to how to get the best out of your Letaset. The most ambitious of these is the idea that by using a random pattern generator listed in the manual and overprinting it with various legible characters, you can create tickets or vouchers which are 'virtually impossible to counterfeit.'
All this talk of pretty patterns is very imaginative and good for the soul, but if used for little else, the program would soon be boring. Anyway, more variety could be gained by writing such a program from scratch, without any appreciable increase in difficulty. Perhaps Eclipse were being a little optimistic with some of their hopes for Letaset.
Just when I thought it was safe to come to some conclusions about the program, I discovered there was more to Letaset than I had anticipated. Side two of the cassette contains a modification program which allows character sets to be squashed, stretched, enlarged or any mixture of contortions you can imagine. The largest you are allowed to have a character is one full screen (3222) or alternatively 22 by 64 displays are possible when the character sets are at maximum reduction. These modifications to the size of the text, do increase the possibilities for 'domestic' use.
There are a few miscellaneous points which work to Letaset's advantage. First of all, no matter what fount or display type you choose, there is no restriction on the use of colour. Again this will make screen displays more attractive although, of course, the effect will be irrelevant if you are only dumping to one of the thermal printers. Secondly, the programmers have redefined so of the previously 'redundant' characters from the Spectrum's keyboard to create the symbol of a dragon and a damsel's facial profile! Okay it's totally useless but quite amusing nonetheless.
Despite the poor production and presentation, this was a simple utility which I found easy to use once I got going. I'm not too certain of its practical uses outside that of providing interesting title screens for programs but nevertheless, some of the possibilities did intrigue me. The real saving grace of Letaset is that it really is a time saver. This is all a utility can ever ultimately attempt to be. Incidentally, the authors have allowed the use of Letaset in commercially produced work, so long as the correct credits are visible on the finished product. That will always encourage the adventurous.