Printing Methods – Introduction

To understand printing, one must understand the various printing methods used today to print a product. While there are many different printing methods used today, there are still four main methods:

  • Letterpress
  • Flexography
  • Gravure
  • Offset Lithography

Letterpress is the oldest and fastest diminishing method used today. Developed centuries ago by the Chinese it is still used to print newspapers, labels, etc. Its quality, however, is not that of the other main processes and tends to print mid to low quality.

Flexography is a newer printing process developed during the mid 1900’s. Flexography has found wide application in printing for food packaging with plastics and non-absorbent stock. It is also used to print envelopes, newspapers, pressure sensitive labels, etc.

Gravure is another old printing process used to print packaging, magazines, wallpaper, gift wrap, etc. The major advantage of Gravure is that it can print very long runs due to its confi guration. Sear advertising, for example, can count into the millions of printed pieces. Unlike offset, Gravure uses a metal printing cylinder can handle these types of long jobs without wearing out the printing cylinder. Money and postage stamps are also printed using a form of Gravure (Intaglio).

Distribution by Process
Printing, Publishing and Packaging
Offset Lithography47%30%
Screen & other Plate Systems3%2%
Electronic, ink Jet, etc (non-Plate)5%26%
* Projections by Mike Bruno, an industry consultant

Offset Lithography was developed during the late 1800’s in Germany and has become a very popular printing process. Offset Lithography is used to print newspapers, magazines, advertising, business forms, direct mail, etc. Offset is the most widely used printing process used today.

There are, of course, other printing methods such as screen, electronic, etc., but the four above mentioned processes dominate the printing industry today. This will, of course, change during the next 25 years as other technologies come into being. Let’s now start to explore the various different priting methods including the four main processes used today.