How do you determine the best way to print a job? The following criteria can determine which printing process (offset, flexo, digital, gravure, screen printing, etc) is the best suited for a particular job.
The table below lists some of the main criteria and how well printing techniques lend themselves to these. The text gives a more nuanced description.
How many copies need to be printed? Some printing processes such as flexo or gravure have a very high startup cost. They are economically only viable for very large jobs. In most cases a run length of 1 – meaning that each print is different – makes digital printing the only available or affordable technology.
When does the printed job need to be delivered? Digital is difficult to beat when you need something urgently. The startup time is fast and there is no need to wait while press sheets are drying. On the other hand the very large web presses used for printing newspapers have integrated folding and cutting machinery. This is also done to cut down the time needed to deliver a finished product.
How large is the document that needs to be printed? Obviously there are physical constraints to the size of the sheets that move through printing presses. For some types of jobs such as posters, the printer can get around this limitation by tiling – splitting up the artwork into smaller parts that each get printed separately.
Substrate & subject
What does the job need to be printed on? All printing techniques can be used to print on paper but not all of them can print on cardboard, glass, metal, ceramic tiles or some other material. Sometimes the work-around is to first print a coating on the substrate that allows the ink to adhere. Whether the surface of the subject that is printed on is completely flat or not is also an important consideration. Offset, for instance, can only be used to print on flat surfaces. Pad printing on the other hand was developed for printing on curved surfaces.
What needs to be printed? The goals of the designer or the way a document has been laid out can also help determine which the most suitable reproduction technology is.
What still needs to be done after the job has been printed? Some printing system have integrated finishing options. Digital presses, for example, may have a binding unit and large web offset presses. Some types of finishing are easier to do with some printing processes.
Which printing systems are available? Even though a job might be ideally suited for xerography, a printer might still print it using offset, simply because that is the equipment that he has at hand.
Which budget is available to print the job? Many of the above criteria do not rule out that there is a choice between various printing processes. Each process will however have a certain cost associated with it which may or may not fit within the budget that is foreseen.