It’s probably no exaggeration to say that the invention of the printing press was one of the most important inventions in history, making it possible for books, newspapers, journals, and all varieties of reading materials to be produced quickly and in great numbers – promoting literacy throughout the world and providing incalculable pleasure to an incalculable number of people. Tempting though it is at this point to delve into topics like favourite books and best opening lines and best books ever (marvellous topics all of them!) we’ll stick to printing this time (and perhaps return at a later date).
Most people will have heard of William Caxton, who somewhat fortuitously visited Cologne in 1446 and saw first hand the emerging German printing industry originally set up by Johann Gutenberg. He set up his own printing press in Bruges, on which the first book in English was printed in 1473. And back in England he set up a press in Westminster and in 1476 produced the first book known to have been printed in England, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Things have come on quite a long way since then. Today there are several different printing techniques in widespread use, including silk screen, letterpress and gravure, and more commonly digital, litho and web offset. We’ll now take a quick look at each of these three in turn.
Digital is suitable for shorter runs – up to around 500 copies (more if black and white only is used) and will print a complete collated copy of a file. Digital runs are very easy to set up – no plates (see Litho printing below) – but are slightly more limited in the types of medium onto which they can print. Although digital prints are considered slightly lower quality than litho prints (notwithstanding the fact that it’s often nigh on impossible to tell the difference!) they can produce good quality from images with resolutions as low as 150 dpi (dots per inch) whereas Litho requires higher resolutions.
Litho is generally considered more suitable for longer runs, and will print the number of copies required of each page before collation takes place elsewhere. This type of printing requires an intermediate, such as a plate. The printing medium range for Litho presses is wide, and the quality is excellent. Additionally, if there is a requirement for a high level of accuracy when matching pantone colours and/or the use of metallic inks or UV varnishing, Litho is probably best.
Web offset printing
This is a type of offset printing in which a continuous roll of paper is fed through the press, and the pages are separated and cut to size after they have been printed. This technique is ideal for high-volume publications such as newspapers, magazines and catalogues.
So which method do I choose?
Essentially it’s “horses for courses”, with each of the different techniques having advantages in different situations. Here’s a short list of some of the things that you need to be thinking about:
- quantity – digital is usually best for short runs, while the other techniques become more cost-effective the higher the quantity
- printing medium – Litho offers the most flexibility (e.g. special paper, canvass, unusual finish or size)
- colour – digital can be very good indeed, but Litho uses pantone matching for very high accuracy
- proofing – Litho can be more expensive as the plates must be produced and the press prepared, whereas with digital you can see a sample
- timescale – digital, with minimal set-up, will be quickest
Clearly you need a print supplier who knows all these techniques inside out, can provide you with all of them depending on your requirements, and can offer you impartial and pragmatic advice. And the good news is – you’ve found one!
Click here for a reminder of the key printing processes, here for general information on our print services, or here for our home page. Alternatively call us on 01737 458 124 and we’ll be delighted to give you the benefit of our experience and help you select the right printing process for your needs.