Whether you’re printing your business cards or your product’s packaging, printed collateral is a key part of bringing your brand to life. But even the best designers break out in a cold sweat when it comes time to send a project to a printer; there are many different printing methods and options and it can be overwhelming to decide which printing method to use for your project. It’s important to keep a few key details in mind to ensure that your print collateral is ready for commercial printing and will turn out exactly the way it looks on screen.
But don’t fret! Whether you’re a designer or a client, arming yourself with knowledge is an important place to start. To transition smoothly from the digital design stage to printing, it’s important to have an understanding of the common commercial printing methods available, to ensure you’re choosing a technique that best highlights your product or service.
So what are the different types of printing and how do they vary from each other? Which printing method should I use for my project? Let’s explore.
Digital printing is a process that uses toner (as opposed to ink), which sits on top of the piece of paper instead of being absorbed by it. This method includes inkjet and laser printing, like the type of printers used in offices and small print-shops. In digital printing, images are sent directly to the printer using digital files such as PDFs. This type of printing allows for quick turnaround and allows businesses to print on demand. It’s also great for small-run jobs since requests can be made for as little as one print. If you choose digital printing for the right job, it can make for a cost-effective method that still produces high-quality prints that are similar to that of the other, bigger-scale options.
While the quality of digital printing has improved dramatically over the years, it still can’t match the quality of offset printing, especially when it comes to small details and color-matching. Offset printing uses plates generated for each color used in the printing process. Offset printing is most often used for projects that require high quality, such as magazines, books, brochures, and stationery. While this printing method is generally too expensive for simple projects like flyers or business cards, it is perfect for high-quality printing with a variety of finishes and options, as well as lower cost and faster turn-around time for high volume jobs.
Flexography (also sometimes referred to as “surface printing”) is a similar process to offset lithography, but instead of using plates, it uses rubber plates and water-based inks that dry quickly and allow for faster production times. Faster drying times also allow for more effective results on materials like plastic which does not absorb ink as paper does. While this process can be used to print on paper, it is commonly used for plastics, metals, cellophane, and other materials. Flexography is great for fast drying times, high-volume jobs, and allows you to print on a variety of materials, which is perfect for packaging and label projects.
Woodblock, Silkscreen, and Letterpress
Sometimes old-school is the way to go! Woodblock, silkscreen, and letterpress printing are still alive today, although they exist on a much smaller scale and are usually only available at specialty shops. Each of these methods involves tactile printing methods that have beautiful results. Nowadays, digital design can easily be translated for use with these vintage presses and techniques. These methods have seen a revival of success in recent years (like Hatch Show Print here in Nashville) in the fine art and design worlds, and are often used to create wedding invitations and posters. If you have a specialty project that would benefit from one of these traditional methods, they can provide a fine-art approach that will make your print piece stand out.
The Fine Print
With all of these different printing methods, the very best way to ensure your project can be printed correctly and look beautiful is by connecting your design agency with your chosen printer (we use TruColor Litho) to help coordinate your project’s needs with the printer’s capabilities. At Proof, our number one priority is that the design you fell in love with is translated exactly to the final product; and something as simple as communication between all parties can make all of the difference.