The Printing Processes

By | April 27, 2015

There are a number of different methods and principles used in printing, though they generally fall into five different categories: Planographic, Relief, Recess, Stencil and Digital, within these categories there are a number of different technologies that are used in industry, and over time there have been a number of technological improvements. This allows for a wide variety of processes, all with their own pros and cons and specialisms.

Most print companies will tend to use only one or two different methods, for example a copy shop printer may have a small Offset-Litho press and a some digital equipment, where a wallpaper manufacture may use Gravure and Flexography. You will most likely have a good knowledge of the particular process that you work with, however it is important to have a basic grasp of all the different processes when working in the overall print industry.

It is also worth mentioning that printing equipment is often improved and adapted to meet a particular need, such as a particular product like plastic tubing, or to fit in with their finishing equipment such as in newspaper production. Not only that, equipment is improving all the time, and many companies invest in technological advancement to help them get ahead.

Read through the presentation then answer the questions below to test your knowledge. This lesson should take approximately 30 minutes, however you might want to take longer research some of the individual topics. You can revisit this lesson at any time.

In-line and Off-line Machinery

Most machinery or tools can only do a single process or step in the overall production of a product; one process will be performed on one machine, then the product is moved to another machine or tool for the next stage, and so on and so forth, this type of machinery is called off line machinery. Examples of this include machines like guillotines, platens, laminators and heat presses, etc.

Some machines can perform multiple processes all together in one go, these machines are often made up of modules that are connected in-line to each other, hence they are called in-line machines. For all the benefits of this type of machinery, they often take up a lot of space, and all that extra machinery comes with a price. One example is a newspaper press that can print and cut, then put all the pages together in order before folding and bundling. Another example might be a digital printer that can print, fold and staple a booklet together. Another example might be an in-line stitching trimming machine that gathers/insets book sections before binding them together and trimming off the edges.

In-line Machine example

Label printing and finishing machine; capable of flexographic printing, laminating, die-stamping, slitting and re-reeling labels.

Label printing and finishing machine; capable of flexographic printing, laminating, die-stamping, slitting and re-reeling labels.

Off-line Machine example

Off-line label slitting and re-reeling machine.

Off-line label slitting and re-reeling machine.

Sometimes off-line machines can be modified and positioned to become partially or fully in-line machines. For example in this diagram below; two guillotines have been positioned and connected to a paper lift, jogger and packing area by air transfer tables set at the same height as the guillotine. Modification formats like this are popular time saving methods used by larger print companies.

guillotine paper conveyor

Test yourself with this quiz:

Which printing process fits the statement?

1. Which printing process would be able to print on a wide variety of different products, such as: cloth, ceramics, paper and metals.


2. Which process would be best suited to printing short runs or variable data onto paper and card.


3. Ink squash is a characteristic that can often be noticed on which printing processes


4. Which of the below products would not be associated with Offset Lithography


5. When an image carrier that has been etched or engraved, then uses a doctor blade to scrape off any excess ink, the printing process is know as:


6. A printing process with an image carrier that is completely flat, with no raised or recessed areas, is known as:


As mentioned above; printing technology is constantly developing, an interesting recent development is the invention of a new digital printing technology known as Nanography. For more information, please watch this video following Nanography’s release at Drupa 2012: or for more videos see: 

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