Printing methods have evolved and modernized. Five distinct types of printing have emerged to best meet the needs of printing customers everywhere. Each type is suited to its own specific applications. Understanding these types of printing methods can help you ensure you are using the right printing method for your business applications.
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Offset printing involves a metal plate being loaded with the image or text to be printed. The plate is then coated in ink, with the image part holding the ink. The plate is then pressed onto a rubber blanket, then directly onto the printing surface, leaving the image imprinted on the surface.
Offset printing can be used to print content on paper, cardboard, plastic, among other materials. However, it can only be used when printing onto a flat surface. Generally, offset printing is used for high-quality, sharper images. The rubber blanket will perfectly conform to the texture of the material. Therefore, you get a sharp, high-resolution image.
Digital printing is the term given to the reproduction of a digital image onto a surface. The most commonly used methods for this type of printing are inkjet and xerography. Inkjet printing makes up the image by spraying thousands of tiny ink droplets onto the material from a series of nozzles. It is often championed for its versatility. Inkjet printers can print onto paper, plastic, tile, canvas and wood.
Xerography is the term given to laser printers. These give tiny electrical charges to the atoms on the surface that needs to be printed on. These charged atoms then attract toner and the image is formed. These are the most common types of printers in offices and small-scale publications.
Flexography involves the image to be printed being imposed on a rubber plate. Once loaded with ink, the rubber holds the image and is transferred directly onto the printing surface. This medium is often used for packaging and labels because it dries quickly, facilitating high-volume production in a limited time period.
Screen printing uses a stencil to create a sharp-edged image on paper or fabric. A rubber blade ensures the ink is spread evenly across the stencil. This low-cost printing method is well suited to monochromatic designs and has applications in catering, fashion, and clockmaking.
It is possible to use multiple colors on a single design using screen printing; however, the design would have to dry before a second color can be applied, making other methods better suited for large-scale, multicolored designs.
Gravure printing is similar to offset printing but instead of using a rubber blanket to make facilitate the contact between the ink and the surface, in gravure printing, the metal plate (usually copper) applies the ink directly to the printing surface.
Because the image has to be etched onto a copper sheet, it is often more expensive than other styles of printing; however, it is one of the fastest methods available, making it well-suited for print magazines with a large circulation. National Geographic magazine, for example, uses Gravure printing methods.