A Beginner's Guide to Printing October 10 2014

Printing is a process for reproducing text and images. Within the scope of this web site, I am focussing on printing as an industrial process, where it is an essential part of the publishing process.

This blog covers:
  • What – the various products that get printed
  • Who – the types of printing companies
  • How – the printing technologies that are in use today
  • Why – the advantages of printed communication
  • Other sources of information about printing

What is Print?

Printing Market

Printing companies can be categorized based on the type of customers they serve, the types of jobs they print and the equipment they use. The printing market is often split into 4 segments:

Commercial printing – Commercial printers typically print a wide range of products, from stationery to brochures and magazines. Some companiesdo focus of specific markets, such as quick printers, forms printers, wide format printers, direct mail printers and companies doing security printing.
Packaging printing – Packaging printers specialise in printing all kinds of packaging such as boxes, cartons, bags, cans, tags and labels.
Publication printing – Newspaper printers, book printers, magazine printers or directory printers target the high volume work in a specific market.
In-plants – An in-plant is a printing facilities that is part of a company or institution and only produces print for its own employer.

Printing Processes

There is a wide variety of technologies that are used to print stuff. The main ones are:

Offset – The full name of this proces is offset lithography. It is the most widely used printing technique on the market, suitable for printing on paper, cardboard, plastic and other flat materials. Offset is used for printing books, newspaper, stationery, packaging, etc.
Flexo – In flexographya flexible (typically rubber) printing plate is used, which extends the range of substrates that can be printed on. Plastics, metals, cellophane and other materials can be printed on. Flexo is mainly used for packaging and labels and to a lesser extend also for newspapers.
Digital printing – A number of different printing technologies such as inkjet and xerography are often referred to as digital printing. These are the newest procesees and as such they are gradually replacing other processes. They also offer new possibilities such as variable data printing, in which each printed copy is different from the previous one.
Screen printing – This printing technique can handle a wide range range of materials and the printing surface does not have to be perfectly flat. Printing t-shirts or glass surfaces or on wood are some of the possibilities.
Gravure – Also known as rotogravure, this is a technique in which an image is engraved into a printing cylinder. That cylinder is inked and this ink subsequently transfers to paper. Gravure is used for high volume work such as newspapers, magazines and packaging.

The Advantages of Printed Communication

For some printed products, such as packaging, there is no substitute. For others such as magazines, newspapers, catalogs and books electronic equivalents exist. The internet, mobile communication and tablet publishing have already had a profound impact on the printing industry. Stating that print is dead overlooks many of the key advantages of printed communication.

Many types of print media (newspapers and magazines) still have a loyal readership. They remains a valuable part of the marketing mix of advertisers.

Print Allows for Easy Distribution to a Particular Geographical Region

Many printed publications have a reputation that is as yet unrivaled by on-line or electronic media.
Print media are often more engaging than their electronic counterparts.

Magazines and newspapers are tangible products with an often loyal followingMost people assume e-communication is more environmentally friendly than print.While this may be true in some cases, it is not always so.

The argument overlooks the environmental impact of producing reading devices, the storage and distribution of data and the electricity needed to power reading devices.

People incorrectly assume their home printer has the same environmental impact as industrial printing presses. In reality a commercial printing press can produce 100 A4 pages using the same amount of energy that a laser printer at home needs to print one single page.

The production of paper is becoming more energy efficient. Since 1990 the use of water has been reduced by over 60%. Energy consumption has dropped 20%.

Paper is increasingly recycled. In 2009 around 65% of all paper was recycled in Europe. The US paper industry hopes to recover 55 percent by 2012.

Once a publication is produced long term storage and re-reading require no additional energy.