A Graphic Designers Guide to Printing

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In today’s digital world, designers have become synonymous with software experts. As the latest and greatest programs continue to emerge or evolve, graphic designers must maintain vast knowledge bases in order to remain relevant to client expectations. Even with a more do-it-yourself culture than ever before, the stage in which designs become physical, printed objects remains fairly ambiguous.


Litho Process – By Tina Floerch

Of all the printing methods available, lithography reigns. Used primarily to produce high-quantity orders of posters, books, maps, newspapers, and packaging, lithography has long been the traditional process for complex printing requirements. Offset lithography in particular uses malleable aluminum, mylar, polyester, or paper plates for printing. Brushed or rough surfaces define most modern plates, which are then coated in a photosensitive emulsion. Once the negative is produced and cured under ultraviolet light, a duplicate of the original image is created, ready to make multiple copies.

Digital Printing

The Numbers Poster – By Michael Spitz

Digital printing is another popular process which allows an assortment of media to have a digital image printed directly to them. Digital printing is commonly associated with desktop publishing where low-quantity print runs are accomplished with laser or inkjet printers. While the cost of this process is higher per page, the financial burdens even out do to lithography’s use of expensive plates. While miniscule, there is undoubtedly a loss in quality that must be accounted for when choosing which process to utilize. Still, benefits such as on-demand print capabilities, quick turnaround, and labour savings are undeniable. Digital printing continues to evolve, having become a true competitor to offset lithography.

Relief Printing

Reduction Woodcut – By Harry Diaz

A relief printing technique, letterpress printing has a long history in the world of graphic design. Typically a technician builds and arranges movable type onto a press bed, applies ink, and presses paper against it to transmit the ink. The process also encompasses wood engraving, zinc cuts, and blocks of linoleum combined with metal type.

There are a few specialty letterpress shops in operation today. These businesses survive through niche markets such as fine edition book printing or high-end stationary.

Electrostatic Printing

Electrostatic printing technology was a pioneering endeavour which led to the development of digital printing for large formats. While competitively priced on a per unit basis with inkjet printing, Electrostatic processes do have some negative aspects such as an extremely high investment cost for equipment. Still the method remains widely used for its incredibly quick printing abilities, complete with outstanding resolution and color reproduction. Electrostatic printing also happens to be the favoured process for fade resistant and lightfast images.

Thermographic Printing

Finally, thermographic printing is a method available to designers which actually incorporates two types of printing. Both create images and letters on paper by utilizing heat. The least complicated uses color changing material to coat paper. The change occurs when heat is applied and was most often used in early model fax machines. Thermal ink transfer printing, meanwhile, is more complicated. Heat is applied to a ribbon which then melts print onto a paper sheet. While both methods have been largely left behind, there are some areas like direct-receipt applications which have a need for the service.

Graphic designers should be fairly knowledgeable of all their printing options and must chose a good quality printing services to get the best end result. No two projects are exactly alike and each should be carefully evaluated to determine the best print solution.

Sarah McGrath is a freelance graphic designer and blogger based in Dublin, Ireland. She writes on a number of topics including graphic design, freelancing and social media marketing.