If you are considering printing high-quality flyers, brochures, or sales literature, there are three main types of printing techniques available: photo copiers, digital and offset.
- Photo copiers include Kinko’s and Staples and provide quick and inexpensive short runs. Documents are usually printed on a laser printer, and are of far lesser quality than digital or offset. You might use a photo copier if you are looking to print 1-sided 8.5″ x 11″ fliers or sales presentations where you need 10-20 multi-page spiral bound books.
- Digital printing has seen vast improvements over the last few years, and its quality now only slightly lower than offset. With digital printing, the image or document is taken directly from a computer file and printed.
- Offset printing is the best quality of all of the printing procedures, but it tends to be expensive for printing smaller quantities due to the initial set up of the press, which entails: washing the rollers from the previous job, removing old plates, filling the ink wells, attaching new plates and getting the press up to optimal speed and color. This process can take up to an hour to complete. For larger jobs, however, economies of scale tend to make offset printing a lot less expensive per piece.
If you need a document printed fast, photocopying is the way to go. If you want high-quality for a small quantity of documents, consider digital printing. If you need thousands of high-quality documents printed, offset printing is a good option.
How Offset Printing Works
Offset printing works in three stages.
- Pre-Press Production – Before your job can be printed, it must be converted to printing plates created from the digital files submitted. If you print a full color brochure, you will print with 4 inks (called 4-color process or CMYK) – black, cyan , magenta, and yellow. If you print in 2 colors, your job will only have 2 inks – the colors you specify. Offset printing also offers the option of up to 6 color jobs, whereby 4 plates are reserved for CMYK and the other 2 can be used for additional inks such as a PMS color or a special ink such as a metallic.
The printer creates 2 proofs, a position/content (spin jet) proof and a contract color (Epson) proof before the plates are made. The printer will then will schedule a meeting to go over the blue-lines and have you sign off on the final documents. If there are any major changes, they can be made at this point. However, keep in mind that it is expensive and time consuming to change the document at this point.
- The Press Run – Once the blue-line is approved, the printer will run the job. This involves running individual sheets of paper through the press and inking it with your design. Once inked, the paper is left slightly wet from the ink and water that is applied. It is then passed through an oven and then immediately cooled so the ink sets into the paper.
- Bindery – After the ink dries, the sheets of paper are cut, folded, and assembled into the correct size and order. They can also be bound by staples or glue at this point.
Offset printing is a popular commercial printing choice for high-volume jobs because it produces top-quality documents at an affordable rate.