I often get the question, “do you offer digital printing?” The question usually comes from people who do not truly understand the meaning of the term “digital printing” and thus everyone has a different interpretation of it, and as a result using their “unique interpretation” for digital printing are assuming by requesting digital, that it will fill some specific requirement that they have.
So, let’s take a look at what digital printing really is. The answer to this question is that it is in reality several forms of digital printing and not just one. The general assumption of most people who ask “do you do digital printing” is that it is file to paper and in many cases that is not true, as the wider use of the term implies. Let’s then talk about all of the forms of “digital printing”.
Most presses today are “so called” digital printing presses and that encompasses a wide area of printing. Our L.A. facility has “digital” web presses. Our Docutech Facility has “digital direct to paper” presses. Thus, how do they all differ is the real question as well as how the consumer can take advantage of each type of press based upon their requirements, time schedule and budget.
The existing technology for digital printing is as follows:
1-Ink Jet Printing – This method encompasses anything from your desk top inkjet printer, through the standard roll fed inkjet printers as used in most copy shops and the higher end Giclee printers with higher line screens and fine art papers. The ink is sent directly to the paper from a digital file by propelling droplets of ink onto the paper.
2-Laser Printing – This digital printing technology is based on using toner and not ink. It uses a dry photocopying format that actually goes back to the late 30’s and perfected by Xerox with the Docutech and iGen for color. This is the same technology that is in your desktop laser printer for your computer and with the iGen or the Canon or other equivalents the color versions can successfully print on gloss paper as well as uncoated stocks. The Docutech does not print well on gloss coated paper. One thing these digital printing presses cannot do well is print on any paper that is not smooth and that has ridges. The problem with papers such as linen, felt, wove or other non smooth surface is that the toner does not lay down well. You would spend more money on wasted paper and man hours experimenting to find one that works, that it would be cheaper to print on offset.
3-Indigo Printing – This technology, which is now a bit dated due to cost of operation, can use many forms of paper, but still limited by only paper that is processed with a special coating which allows the inks to adhere. This process is similar to offset in that the ink transfers from plate to blanket to paper and can even use many Panton colors and Fluorescents. Generally speaking, for standard commercial digital printing this is not a cost effective solution and lends itself more to prototypes for ad agencies, and the like.
4-Offset Digital Printing – With either web or sheet fed offset presses, the use of the term “digital printing”, while in standard usage, is not totally appropriate, if you compare it to the full digital technology of file to paper of the above technologies, but rather the burning of the plates directly from the digital RIP (processed digital file) to the printing plates, without the use of film. The advantage here is that film was an intermediary process, set between your file and the plates. When the file was used to create film, and then the film was utilized to burn the plates, you many times had uneven surfaces created by the film, so that when the plates were burned sometimes the registration of the four CMYK colors was not perfect. Thus when setting up the press, you required the pressman to manipulate the plates in order to make up for this deficiency. When this process was not working well you would see dots of one color peeping out from another color, or white lines around an image or box in the printed piece. With “digital direct to plate” printing, there was no film to warp and registration became almost a non issue on a well maintained printing press.
Hopefully, this will allow you to understand that the term “digital printing” is a generic one, without a specific definition that will be of benefit to you and that you need to consider which of the forms of “digital printing” best suit your needs. For long run magazine or catalog printing, your only bet is the web offset press. For short run book printing, you would be best served with the Docutech and iGen for color printing and for that high end prototype, if your need and budget allow, then the Indigo is for you.
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