Commercial printers offer a range of different print processes suitable for different types of jobs. Each process has advantages and disadvantages over the others. In this article I look at each of the print processes and examine how they work and what their advantages are.
Lithographic press (litho)
Printing hasn’t really changed a great deal since Gutenburg gave us the printing press in 1468. Technology has allowed modern printing presses to produce millions of copies of a page in a single day, but the principle of applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon paper, thereby transferring an offset of an image, remains the same.
These days a printer creates a set of ‘plates’ which are used to press the image onto paper. There are initial costs involved in creating the plates and setting up the press. This means a litho job can be expensive and take time, but for large print runs it remains the most efficient process and also boasts superior quality and finish.
- Most cost effective for large print runs (500+)
- Unrivalled print quality
- Most flexible in terms of printing stock, inks and finishes
- Can print up to A1 size
- Long turn around time
- Expensive for short print runs
Digital print press
Digital print presses are essentially very big and very fast colour laser printers. They can handle some heavier papers and cards but offer nowhere near as much flexibility as litho print. Digital is good because it is instant. Jobs can be turned around in a day if need be and there are no setup costs which means you pay for what you print.
These days the top of the range digital print presses offer very high quality - almost comparable to a litho print job. However, not all printers have the latest top of the range digital presses. In fact unless you are very lucky, digital will give you a noticeable drop in print quality and colour will almost certainly not match.
- Most cost effective for small print runs
- Print on demand
- Very fast turnaround times
- Noticeable drop in print quality (but technology is improving)
- Less flexibility than litho print
- Can only print up to A3 size
Other print processes
Large format inkjet
See that inkjet printer sat on your desk? Imagine one of those as wide as your room printing on huge rolls of paper or cloth - that’s a large format inkjet. This is an excellent solution for printing things like one-off exhibition banners and translucent window graphics. However, large format printing can be expensive.
Screen printing, as made famous by Andy Warhol, is a highly versatile printing technique. It can be used to print on all sorts of materials from plastic to metals to cotton t-shirts, and many methods can be used to print special colours such as metallic colours or suedes or glosses.
When you are creating any kind of material that is going to be printed, you should speak to a good local printer before you start designing. If you have a good relationship with a printer they will be more than happy to advise on what type of print process best suits your needs, and you can therefore tailor your design accordingly.
What advice can you offer for choosing the right print process? If you have any hints and tips or words of wisdom, please leave them in the comments below.