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Category Archives: print process


Offset Printing

In my endeavor to explain as many printing processes as possible I have now come to the most common method – Offset printing or Offset Lithography Printing (Lithography meaning the process of printing from a flat surface treated so as to repel the ink except where it is required for printing).

Here’s an attempt to explain it in detail: Offset printing is a technique during which an inked image is transferred, or “offset” from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to a printing surface. Offset printing is often combined with lithographic printing, which uses the repulsion of oil and water to produce a flat image carrier. This is often referred to as offset lithography.

Offset lithography is the most common type of color printing for high-volume jobs.

Each of the primary colors used in printing – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – have a separate plate.

The ink gets to the paper through a process that uses oil to repel ink. The ink is dispersed to the plates by a series of rollers. On the printing press the plates are dampened by water rollers, and then ink rollers. The rollers disperse the ink onto the plates.

The plate’s image area picks up the ink from the ink rollers and the water rollers keep the ink from transferring to the non-image areas of the plate. Each plate transfers its image to a rubber blanket that in turn transfers the image to the paper.

Offset printing presses are made up of printing bays – each bay prints 1 colour, so the one colour GTO press pictured below only prints one colour, the one beside it has 12 bays and prints 12 colours. Typically, printers will have 5 colour presses, the 4 process colours of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black and the ability to print a fifth colour which can be an addional spot colour or a machine varnish. These days though, with press time being paramount for printers, they are opting for larger presses, like the 12 colour below – these are known as perfecting machines – they are able to print the 4 process colours + 2 specials on the 2 sides of the paper in one single pass.

Advantages of Offest Printing

  • Consistently high quality images. Offset printing makes images and lines sharper more easily than other printing methods because the rubber blanket is flexible and therefore can conform to the texture of the printing service.
  • Production plates can be made quickly and easily.
  • Longer printing plate life. The plates last longer because there is no direct contact between the plate and printing surface.
  • High speed and high volume printing.
  • Costs less the more you print. Most of the price of printing is wrapped up in the preparation of the production plates and anything else that happens before the first page is printed. Once everything is prepared, the more you print will only cost you the price of paper and ink, which is minimal compared to setup costs.

Letterpress to impress

Through this blog we will also be talking about the other passion we have – print! Some may think this as weird as a passion for Vista Sans, but no design can sing without the means to present – like looking at a website with 16 colours as apposed to millions – if that analogy works!

I’m sure most have heard of offset printing and digital printing – but what we intend to do in this blog is to discuss the types of printing out there and also give a little insight into how it works and the benefits and limitations of each process.

For this entry I’m just going to jump to one of my favorite printing methods – “letterpress” – also referred to as “relief printing”. If only we could apply this to more jobs – it’s such a beautiful tactile effect that brings dimension and light to the flat surface of paper.

The process uses the left over technology from the birth of printing where movable type was used for printing (typically metal but were also wood). The surface of these letterforms would be inked and the pressed into the paper – the more pulpy the paper and with enough pressure you get an embossed appearance.


These 2 videos help explain the process of letterpress – excuse the American reporting droll

Silk Screen Printing

The popularity of screen printing does not appear to have waned – with the advent of new technology that seems to be making old technologies redundant, screen printing still thrives as a very flexible printing method.

Screen printing (also known as photomechanical serigraphy) is one of the oldest forms of printing, first seen used in China. It is a versatile printing process that allows a printed image to be applied to many substrates that no other printing process can achieve. Today it is well know for it’s use of applying graphics to T-shirts but is also used for printing posters, textile fabric, product labels, printed electronics, including circuit board printing, balloons, plastic packaging, manufactured products – and the list goes on.

Screen printing: A printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A roller or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil forcing or pumping ink past the threads of the woven mesh in the open areas – wikipedia

The advantage of Screen printing is the density and viscosity of the inks used – they are opaque and rich in colour, flexible and adhere to a vast number of surfaces. there are about 5 types of inks used in this process: solvent, water, and solvent plastisol, water plastisol, and UV curable.

Screen printing is a printing method that is a truly hands-on process, and a potentially messy one at that. It is a relatively simple process that can be done from a home studio or be done by large automated machines.

Here is a video that goes into depth about the screen printing process, including finishing the job at the end with guillotining

A rough guide to screen printing

A recent graduate of design has put together this rough guide to screen printing – a nice insight into the process of taking design to screen printing on a small scale – despite the overpowering music track!

A pretty rough guide to screen printing from Andrew Bell on Vimeo.

Think ink, making ink

Here’s an insight into the making of printing ink from The Printing Ink Company

Making a book

A short vignette of a book being created using traditional printing methods.

Bookbinding insight

Doco on the skill, art, craft of bookbinding – Don Taylor bookbinder



Here we are again in our endeavor to give you an insight into common printing processes that are often taken for granted but understanding them in detail can help appreciate their capabilities and limitations.

Die-cutting (also known as forme-cutting) is the process of cutting or punching shapes from sheets of paper or card by pressing a shaped blade into one or more sheets.

The process uses sharp blades that are folded and cut to shape either by hand or by computer controlled machinery and then knocked into a laser cut plywood backing board – this is known as the die-cutting tool. The tool is then inserted into a press, sometimes an old letter-press machine, and under pressure is pressed into a pre-printed sheet of paper or card and the shape cut out – also known as blanking.

The blades can be sharp for cutting, dull for creasing or toothed for perforating.

Some of the better videos we found that demonstrate how the die-cutting tool is made.

You could watch this machine run all day – mesmerizing! But this video will give you a good understanding of the relatively simple die-cutting process – the blades are pushed against the paper under force, and like a cookie cutter, cuts the paper.

Diecutting TagsA funny movie is a click away

Foil stamping Moleskin

The art of print

Continuing the insight into the mechanics of print and behind the scenes – Mr Smith’s Letterpress Workshop gives us an insight into the hands on approach to creative letterpress print.

Digital printing

Digital printing will soon out perform other means of printing on speed, volume and cost within the near future and is already making big advances in print quality that is comparable to the common offset printing process.

A process that has been around for many years and continues to improve is HPs Indigo with its print quality that is indistinguishable to that of offset by most people.

For the geek in you here’s an animation illustrating the process of Indigo digital printing.

Digital print is typically economical for print runs of <500 and even up to 2000 with new machines – larger quantities are still the domaine of offset printing for now.

Digital is certainly the way of the future and machines like this are already here to show the way.