What print process should I choose?

There are a number of different commercial print processes, suitable for different applications. In this document, Geoff explains what they are, how they work and which is the most appropriate for your job. If you’re a Premonition client you can be sure we’ll help you find the best and most cost-effective process.

Conventional Offset Lithographic Press, or ‘Litho’

This is how most printed things you see have been produced.

What it’s good for Litho is good if you need a large number of copies of the same thing, and allows you a lot of flexibility in the sort of paper and inks you can use.

How it works ‘Films’, special high resolution printouts on acetate are made and the printer uses them make a set of ‘plates’. These ‘plates’ are mounted in the printing press and impressions of the image on the plates are made in ink on paper. (actually, the plates lay ink onto special rubber rollers, which in turn put the ink onto the paper, hence the term ‘offset’) It is important to realise that there are initial costs involved in setting up a press – making films and plates, cleaning the press of inks from the last job, mixing and loading the inks etc. This makes litho unsuitable for very short runs, but it is usually the most cost-effective method for a long run. Most presses are A2, but a few large presses are A1 in size, these are often used for printing a large number of different pages together.

Digital Print (Indigo Turbostream)

What it’s good for Digital print is a cost effective way of printing small quantities of full colour material. Business cards are a classic example – 250 business cards can be made out of less than 20 sheets of A3 card – this would cost far more on a litho press. Typically, runs that consist of up to 200 A3 sheets are more cost effective to run digitally. But digital presses use the four colour process, so the colours on your business cards won’t match your 2 colour letterhead! (See my article on colour matching)

How it works Digital presses are rather like large, fast, high quality laser printers. They can also handle quite heavy paper, unlike real laser printers. Files are output directly from a computer, and can be personalised – your customer’s name in full colour right in the flow of text. This makes it a powerful solution for direct mail. They can go up to A3 in size.

Large format inkjet

What it’s good for Large format inkjet printers are an excellent solution for short-run or one-off posters and for clothing exhibition display and point-of-sale stands. Using different materials to print on, you can make custom full-colour cloth banners, translucent window graphics, printed mirror-like wall hangings – even those plastic ribbed pictures that wink at you as you walk past. None of this is cheap, however.

How it works An inkjet printer, just like the one you’ve probably got on your desk, is modified so that it can print quickly on wide rolls of paper. Special inks may be used which can survive long-term exposure to weather. Any number of different ‘substrates’ can be printed on, from glossy paper to cloths. It is usually priced per copy, with no volume discount. Electrostatic prints, now dying out, are a cheaper, lower quality alternative.

Screen printing

What it’s good for When you need a number of copies of a large poster, or need to use ‘special’ colours like silver, screenprinting may be your solution. It has the added advantage that you may print onto solid plastics, even metal.

How it works Just like the silk-screen machine you probably had at school, or saw when you watched that Andy Warhol documentary. Once screens are made, making multiple copies is cheap – unlike inkjet prints where each copy costs.

Up to A3 A3 – A2 Over A2
Short run Digital Print Large Format Inkjet
Long run Litho press A1 Litho press or Silk-screen