The Printing Process

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- Thursday, June 27, 2013

This blog is courtesy of our paper peeps BJ Ball Papers.

Photography by Tobias Black

There are many different commercial printing methods and sometimes it's difficult to know which method to use in which situation. There are various factors that will influence your choice - time, cost and quality, but if you have an understanding of the most common methods and their economies it does make the decision a little easier.


Offset Lithographic

By far the most common form of commercial printing. Offset Lithographic, often referred to simply as Offset, is used to produce almost all volume based printed paper materials — including brochures, magazines, newspapers, letterheads, business cards, direct mail — the list goes on. There are two main sub-categories of Offset Lithographic printing;
    Sheet Fed: Uses paper that is pre-cut into sheets that are then run through the offset printer.
    Web Fed (both heat set and cold set): uses a continual roll of paper that is fed at very high speed through the printing press.

Digital Printing

Digital Printing is fast becoming a major sector within the printing industry. As a term, Digital Printing encompasses many different types of technology from Toner based solutions such as Laser Printing to Ink based solutions such as Inkjets. Digital Printing ultimately allows for the economic printing of short run material (usually under 500-1000 units) and material which requires individualising (such as address labels feeding off a database). There are also high speed digital printing solutions such as the Ricoh Digital printer which rival Offset for both speed and image quality and are used for printing medium volume material.

Screen Printing

Screen Printing is employed for a variety of uses including branded apparel and signage. More recently screen printing onto paper has been superseded by wide format digital printing technologies.


Flexography or Flexo as it is often referred to, is a form of letterpress printing that is used mainly for packaging or printing onto non-paper substrates (such as plastics, food wrapping etc) and is also used in printing reel fed labels. An alternative to Flexo is Gravure which produces a higher quality printed image, but due to the high set-up costs is usually reserved for very large print volumes.

Which Process?

Looking to do a print project? Not sure what print process you should be using based on the quantity you are producing?
Use the Print Process Chart to choose the right print process for your project:

Printing Onto Paper

Printing Onto Non Paper Substrates