Printing is a process for reproducing text and images. This website focusses on printing as an industrial process, where it is an essential part of the publishing process.
This page describes:
- Print products – the various products that get printed
- The print market
- The printing technologies in use today
- The advantages of printed communication
- Other sources of information about printing
This site contains other pages that have to do with printing:
- The history of printing & pictures from printing museums
- The dictionary of printing terms
- How to do a press check
- The ISO 12647 quality control standard
- Print trivia – very large, small or otherwise remarkable printed products
The chart below is from a presentation by Frank Romano, professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It lists the various applications of industrial printing and dates from 2008.
Printing companies can be categorized based on the type of customers they serve, the types of jobs they print and the equipment they use. The printing market can be split in segments:
- Commercial printing – Commercial printers typically print a wide range of products, from stationery to brochures, catalogs and magazines. Some companies focus on specific markets, such as quick printers, forms printers, wide format printers, direct mail printers and companies doing security printing. Web-to-print printers are companies whose entire print volume is generated by selling print products online. In-plants are printing facilities that are part of a company or institution and only produce print for their own employer.
- Publication printing – Newspaper printers, book printers, magazine printers and directory printers target the high volume work in a specific market. Many of these companies are both publisher and printer.
- Packaging printing – Packaging printers specialize in printing all kinds of packaging such as boxes, cartons, bags, cans, tags and labels. Many companies specialize in printing on specific substrates such as metal (e.g. drinking cans) or plastics (e.g. in-mould printing)
- Industrial printing – When printing is only one of the steps in a manufacturing process, it fits in this category. This includes printing on textiles, panels, floor tiles or wallpaper. Decorative or functional printing on products like watches, dashboards or cooktops are also in this category. Printable electronics is seen as a major new field.
- Home and office printing – Both inkjet and laser printers are used for printing personal and business documents. Other machines such as thermal and dot matrix printers are still used in some places.
Globally the USA is the largest producer of printed products. China is second in value but it is larger in volume. The overall trend for the coming years is a decline of the print market in North America, Western Europe and Australasia while growth is expected in the other regions. The data of the graph below are from Pira International and estimate print production in billions of dollar for 2010 and 2016.
For a more detailed overview and a list of major global printing companies, check out the printing industry page.
There is a wide variety of technologies that are used to print stuff. The main ones are:
- Offset – The full name of this process is offset lithography. It is the most widely used printing technique on the market, suitable for printing on paper, cardboard, plastic and other flat materials. Offset is used for printing books, newspaper, stationery, packaging, etc.
- Flexo – In flexography flexible (typically rubber) printing plate is used, which extends the range of substrates that can be printed on. Plastics, metals, cellophane and other materials can be printed on. Flexo is mainly used for packaging and labels and to a lesser extent also for newspapers.
- Digital printing – A number of different printing technologies such as inkjet and xerography are often referred to as digital printing. These are the newest processes and as such, they are gradually replacing other processes. They also offer new possibilities such as variable data printing, in which each printed copy is different from the previous one.
- Screen printing – This printing technique can handle a wide range of materials and the printing surface does not have to be perfectly flat. Printing t-shirts or glass surfaces or on wood are some of the possibilities.
- Gravure – Also known as rotogravure, this is a technique in which an image is engraved into a printing cylinder. That cylinder is inked and this ink subsequently transfers to the paper. Gravure is used for high volume work such as newspapers, magazines, and packaging.
The image shows a sheetfed offset printing press. There are more printing techniques besides the ones listed above. These include pad printing which is used to print on 3-dimensional surfaces and intaglio – nowadays mainly used for printing stamps and paper currency.
For some printed products, such as packaging, there is no substitute. For others such as magazines, newspapers, catalogs and books electronic equivalents exist. The internet, mobile communication, and tablet publishing have already had a profound impact on the printing industry. Stating that print is dead overlooks many of the key advantages of printed communication.
- Many types of print media (newspapers and magazines) still have a loyal readership. They remain a valuable part of the marketing mix of advertisers.
- Print allows for easy distribution to a particular geographical region.
- Many printed publications have a reputation that is as yet unrivaled by on-line or electronic media.
- Print media are often more engaging than their electronic counterparts.
- The argument overlooks the environmental impact of producing reading devices, the storage and distribution of data and the electricity needed to power reading devices.
- People incorrectly assume their home printer has the same environmental impact as industrial printing presses. In reality, a commercial printing press can produce 100 A4 pages using the same amount of energy that a laser printer at home needs to print one single page.
- The production of paper is becoming more energy efficient. Since 1990 the use of water has been reduced by over 60%. Energy consumption has dropped 20%.
- Paper is increasingly recycled. In 2009 around 65% of all paper was recycled in Europe. The US paper industry hopes to recover 55 percent by 2012.
- Once a publication is produced long-term storage and re-reading require no additional energy.