The art of printing things has been recorded to be around since before 220 AD with the woodblock printing being the earliest of all. From then on, a variety of printing processes have evolved over time in the most revolutionary way. The technology of printing has had a significant impact on the development of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. Eventually, it has laid the innovative foundations of technology for the modern-based economy where businesses rely greatly on printing processes.
Today, a number of printing processes are popular among the industrial sector. Some are available with the most advanced technology yet some continue to evolve. But each type is suited for a specific need. Hence, businesses need to choose the printing process that best highlights their products and services.
From the variety of printing processes available in the market, the most popular ones are listed here. The list should help businesses to understand how the processes differ from each other and which one should meet their printing requirements in the most effective way.
1. Offset Lithography
Offset lithography printing is an indirect printing process that is based on the principle that water and ink do not mix. In this process, the content or the image that needs to be printed is transferred from a printing plate (generally made from aluminium) onto a flexible intermediate carrier which is a rubber blanket or a roller. From the carrier, the content is then finally transferred onto the print media. The metal plates are dampened by the blanket or the rollers with water and ink ensuring that only the oil-based ink is transferred onto the content area on the print media.
Offset lithography is a versatile printing method as it can print on any flat surface including smooth material like paper and plastic or rough materials like fabric, cardboard, wood or canvas. Lithography gives out excellent quality images and photographs that are lucid, rich in details and vibrant in colour. An additional benefit of this type is that the more you print the cheaper is the cost involved. Hence, it is widely used in mass-production printing for an extensive range of products such as newspapers, stationery, corrugated board, posters, books etc.
Unlike lithography, flexography is a direct printing process where the content that needs to be printed is on a relief plate made from natural or synthetic rubber. The relief plate with a slightly raised surface rotates on a cylinder, transferring the content or image onto the print media. The plate is dampened with water-based fast-drying inks of low viscosity that allow printing to be done on any type of absorbent or non-absorbent material including paper, metals, cellophane, plastic, foil, acetate film and even floor tiles. The fast-drying inks ensure a high-speed printing required for bulk products.
Traditionally, flexography is used in product packaging and labels and to a lesser extent for newspapers. It is a highly cost-effective process if used in mass-production and printing products with continuous patterns. The quality of prints is accurate with no room for irregularities. It also gives a great level of chromatic balance and colour constancy. If you are in food products business, flexography is an ideal option. The printing adheres to the packaging surface firmly ensuring the safety of the product.
3. Digital printing
Digital printing is the most popular method due to its high-quality prints and quick printing process from a computer directly to the printer. There are a number of different digital printing techniques used today, but the widely accepted ones are:
Inkjet – An inkjet printer uses ink cartridges that ooze out in the form of tiny droplets from the nozzles of the print head onto the print media. Inkjet machines can print on a wide variety of media such as different types of papers, canvas, doors and even floor tiles.
This type is popularly used in printing posters and signage due to a wide range of colours and high-quality end results. Mostly, the inkjet technology is deemed to be excellent for printing photographs.
Xerography – Laser printers work on the principle of xerography. The image or content to be printed is created on the print media by selectively applying a charge to a metal cylinder called drum. The electrical charge attracts the toner particles from the toner cartridge and transfers it onto the media.
Laser printers are mostly used in offices and small-scale printing of books, labels, newsletters, menus, letters and other types of documents. It is also used in banks for transactional printing such as bills and bank documents. Laser printing is popular for its accurate and high-quality printing of graphics.
Both inkjet and laser printing are used in business for fast turnaround times, instant printing, and on-demand requirements. Both are highly cost-effective if used to print in low volume (for example 100 brochures or flyers).
4. Gravure Printing
Gravure printing is also known as intaglio or rotogravure printing. Here, the design need to be printed is cut, scratched or etched into the printing plate. The ink is transferred from tiny cells to the print media by using high printing pressure. Typically, a media printed by gravure is identified through serrated edges on the letters and lines.
Gravure printing is frequently used for bulk printing in the packaging industry, newspapers, magazines, wallpaper, gift wrap etc. Besides, printing technologies that produce exclusive printed items like stamps and banknotes work on the principle of gravure printing.
5. Screen printing
Screen printing is a common method that uses a screen to transfer the ink onto the print media. The screen which is generally made of fine fabric like silk or nylon, plastic or metal fibre is stretched and fastened over a wooden or aluminium frame. Next, the ink is placed on the top of the screen and with the help of a squeegee, the ink is pushed evenly into the screen pores and onto the print media. To avoid the transfer of ink on the non-printing areas, a stencil is placed over the screen to block the particular space.
The advantage of screen printing is that it can be used on any type of surface, be it smooth, rough, flat or uneven. This is why it is used on a wide variety of materials including paper, textiles, glass, ceramics, wood, and metal. Screen printing is popularly used in printing graphics on clothes or pieces of fabric. Screen printing is feasible only if a repeated item is required to be printed in bulk. It is not cost-effective if used for a small number of orders.
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