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Why Print is Alive and Still Kicking

Colour printing image

(Image Source: iStock)

Wherever, however and whenever you wish to demonstrate your enterprise in a colourful way, there is a print format to fit the bill.

Print is not dead. In fact it is more important than ever. Despite the ease in which content can be published and the amount of information available online, print provides a unique opportunity to really distinguish yourself in a specific, extraordinary and creative way.

Colour printing - the process for all seasons.

Full colour printing is extremely versatile. Bringing to life the mundane and the pragmatic with an essence of quality and status. The richness of colours along with the choice of uncoated, coated and textural papers is abundant. An admixture that literally adds to the feel of a piece as you touch it.

Digital colour printing the choice for individual and expansive promotions.

If you are looking for the economical choice for your printed, leaflets, postcards or stationery, the digital revolution is making it possible to print high quality colour sales literature, marketing material, promotional pieces and business stationery in smaller quantities at reduced cost.

Digital colour printing is the best option for those jobs calling for customized or variable data such as personalized invites, cards or mailing. For short run prestige printing, digital colour technology is an ideal solution for producing manuals, personalized books and course materials with nominal waste.

Printing pre-press costs are minimal and from the set up of your digital artwork file, printing starts almost immediately. Digital images can be reproduced at virtually any size. For extremely large work, prints can be tiled and assembled in situ.

The simplified process and quick turnaround of digital printing makes short runs much more affordable. Crucial for reducing waste and providing for a faster proofing cycle when meeting tight deadlines and quick response times.

And for limited archival storage and just-in-time delivery, digital fits the bill perfectly.

Digital cmyk image

Colour lithographic process printing.

Lithography is still the most widely used colour process for commercial and trade printing today. Lithographic colour printing works on the principle of grease attracting ink and water repelling it. The printing master or plate is made up of clear areas that attracts ink to adhere to type and image areas.

Origination, the separation of artwork and images into their four process colours of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) is carried out digitally to create films made up of dots, placed at different angles, that when combined will define all the subtle tints and shades that make up the final colour litho print.

Films are photographically transferred to plates which are then inked as they run on the press. Litho printing inks are translucent and the overprinting of the four colours produces a wide range of colours that renders a clear impression on a variety of papers with a smooth even finish.

Poster and large format printing.

Poster advertising and marketing envelops us. From A3 displays in shop windows to the huge billboards that dominate the urban landscape, they are aimed to catch the eye of viewers on the move and communicate quickly. Attracting attention in colourful pop-up and display stands, exhibition and retail point of sale graphics, internal and external signage, or simple pavement signs.

Adapting to this diversity has meant the continual development of specialist processes that can print to an extreme width, on virtually any material. Screen printing technology has been the standard for larger runs, but now digital printing systems which produce in excess of 100sq metres per hour and offer superior print quality are the norm.

With widths up to and in excess of two metres, flatbed printers will print onto almost any substrate including wood, paper, glass and metal up to 40mm thick. And as the print is UV cured during the actual process, there is no drying time, so the final item can be immediately available.

Specialized printing techniques.

More than just putting something down on paper.

  • Screen Printing is ideal for promotional materials such as T-shirts and mugs.
  • Embossing and thermography applications that leave a raised impression on the surface.
  • Gravure printing delivers a high-quality image for large print projects from copper plates. Commonly used for magazines, greeting cards, wallpaper and large marketing campaigns.
  • Flexography because of the versatility of rubber or plastic plates it uses is the ideal format for printing directly onto jars, bottles and other packaging.
  • UV Varnish is a liquid coating applied to a the surface to add a clear glossy, matte, satin or neutral finish. It's especially effective when used in isolation on images or large text.
  • Special inks - metallic and many other colours have no close equivalent in the four-colour process. For elaborate and exact colour matching of original artwork it is not uncommon to print in six or more colours. With presses capable of printing eight different plates in a single run, truly unique results can be achieved.

Paper and ink.

Magenta ink splash image

The choice of paper for print is as much an integral part of the design as every other aspect. Generally paper types are grouped according to the printing process that is to be employed. Of each group or classification there are hundreds of different qualities. Manufacturers may produce several different qualities of paper for the same specific use.

Every designer should have a basic knowledge of the common types of paper and their suitability for various projects. Good quality halftones for instance would be printed on on a coated art paper to reproduce the best effect. Conversely rough surface antique papers, though they reproduce text well are not suitable for halftones. But the use of premium uncoated papers for full colour reproduction can produce some satisfying results.

As uncoated papers absorb more ink than coated papers, the "dot gain" has to be compensated for and as most pre-press matchprints have been developed for coated stock, colour proofing direct from the press is advisable. As the density of the ink reduces as it dries, a denser ink film is required to enhance definition.

Reproduction and scanning basics.

Reproduction requires the duplication of text and images from artwork to the final printed process. Obtaining good quality colour reproduction takes an experienced and expert eye.

As most artwork for print is now produced on-screen, monitors have to closely resemble colour as it will be printed. This colour calibration is sufficient for design composition and "soft proofing" but it is limited in rendering printed colour as actually seen. A computer monitor displays additive colours by projecting red, green and blue (RGB), whereas printed colour is perceived in a subtractive way, with light bouncing from the ink. So for situations where precise colour matching is important, a pre-press proof or matchprint is essential before beginning any print run.

When outputting artwork to film, direct to plate or straight onto a surface as in the case of large format ink jet printers, careful attention has to be paid to the reproduction process. Ink is transferred to a substrate in a uniform density. This is fine for solids, but where graduations of tone are needed, the original image has to be broken down into a pattern of dots. These vary in size to give the impression of a continuous tone and printed so small as to be unseen by the naked eye.

Under inked images will look washed out. Too much ink and detail is lost. Where there is an unbalanced saturation, colour looks "muddy". The art of talented reprographics lies is in being able to make these decisions in order to match proofs to the original images as quickly and closely as possible.

Binding it all together - the finishing touches.

Centaur catalogue image

(Image: Centaur Catalogue Design by Studiografik)

For printed publications the final stage of the production process involves trimming, folding and fixing the final pages. In order to fold a printed pages without splitting the substrate, the paper or board has to be scored or creased. How sharp or soft the fold depends on the direction of the grain. Several different methods are available depending on weight of paper. The most common is a rounded edged tool locked into a forme on a printing press.

Saddle stitching is the most widely used method of fixing lightweight publications up around 24 page capacity. The cover and pages are held open over a "saddle" and stapled along the back fold. For larger printed items, such a catalogues, books and magazines, the are several binding methods available. According to the nature and material binding methods vary.

Edition binding and perfect binding are the conventional forms of binding for hardback and paper back books.

Ring binding allows for the literature to opened flat and loose leaf pages of ready drilled paper can be inserted. Ring binders can vary from two or four spring or multiple spring. As material can be added or discarded quickly and easily ring binders are ideal for holding a collection of brochures or part works.

Mechanical binding utilizes a plastic or metal spiral comb to collate and grip the pages. As the pages lie flat this binding method finds favour with reference material and reports.

Why print? Still amongst the most popular means of visual communications, print is firmly fixed in the mainstream. And a bit of colour always brightens any day.

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