color printing varieties and choicesThere are many different color printing techniques in the world of commercial printing today and the biggest problem print buyers face may be simply how to understand and then choose which of these printing press techniques best suits your requirements. By understanding this and directing your print work to a printing company that offers specific equipment that best suits your needs, ultimately gives you the print customer the best quality and the best pricing.

It all comes down to this: If you want a perfect fit that affords both, “don’t try and cram a size 8 foot into a size 7 shoe”. The shoe will not fit comfortably and probably not wear as well, insuring the wearer of a short and economically poor lifespan. It is the same with commercial printing or as that gold commercial on TV at the moment, with a bit of a twist, “the right press, at the right time, right now”.

As I stated in my opening, if possible choose a printing company with a press that is best suited to produce your magazine, catalog, poster or whatever the item is you require to be printed. Therefore let’s take a look at the varying technologies that a printing press may have at its disposal in order to produce your print job.

Sheet Fed Color Printing:

Sheet Fed printing as the name implies, sends one sheet at a time through the printing press. The ink is transferred from the ink fountains to the four plates for CMYK process printing and then from there to a rubber “blanket”.  It is the blanket that makes contact with the paper ergo the name “offset” printing. Many of the modern sheet fed color printing presses are so called “digital printing” presses, in that they no longer use film and the printed material is transferred by laser directly onto the plates. Sheet fed presses can be four color printing in CMYK, as well as five or six colors, should you require a “spot” Pantone color or a varnish as opposed to Aqueous coating that is a separate unit from the print hubs.

Sizes vary, but the standard press sizes are 14 x 20”, 19 x 25”, 20 X 28” and 28 x 40”. Packaging manufacturing printing presses can be upwards of 80-90 inches or more, but these are very costly to run and unless you are producing boxes, this press is not an everyday machine for standard print items.

The question then remains, how do you know which one is best for your job? The answer is dependent on the size and page count of the print job you need to be produced. If you have a 12 page booklet, the 28” press is very efficient, especially if our quantities are not too large. If so the 40” may offer you better pricing. With a 16 page document of letter size, the 40” an print that on a single form, thus beating out the smaller press competition. Sheet fed presses are fine for items that generally do not require more than 2-3 forms/signatures and print not more than 5-6,000 pieces of a multi page document. For single page forms or those items that can print multi up on a sheet, the sheet fed quantity may go well into five figures and still be cost effective.

Web Printing:

These presses are built for speed and volume. There are two types, based on the paper they run: Cold Set web printing utilizes uncoated papers because as the name implies it does not have a heater to set the inks required for coated stocks. The other is Heat Set web offset color printing and is used for printing coated paper stocks as the name clearly implies. If you require a higher line screen than a Cold Set press can offer, some printing companies will print uncoated stock on the Heat Set web press. Do not count on them printing on any uncoated stock that is not a quality offset paper. Like sheet feed, there are a variety of sizes, based on printing signatures for web printers. Full web is 16 pages on average, half web, as the name implies can produce 8. Large run documents of 8 pages or less may produce more cost effectively on a half web as the start up costs are well less than on a full. There is also a quarter web which produces an 11 x 17 form. Didde is the brand most recognized for these smaller machines. High volume label printing is also done on a very narrow roll stock web printing machine.

Web printers print from large “car sized” rolls of paper stock at very high speeds. It also explains why many stocks, especially the “designer oriented” high end ones are not available, as they are not produced on rolls. Web presses are built for speed and standardization, including some variety of roll sizes. Do not fight the tide at midnight, as you will always want to swim downstream when using a web printer, as these presses are built for limited functionality: large run color publications.

Ink Jet Printing:

One of the newer technologies and actually superior to offset, but the costs are such that its only value is for the very short run production. It utilizes a technology of inks being jetted onto the paper substrate. The color printing tends to be more vivid than offset, but the paper choices are very limited, from plain offset, gloss, dull, vinyl or canvas.

Indigo Color Printing:

Indigo presses were invented by Benny Landa from Israel and it was the first high end and short run color printing press. It functions by using small color particles which are suspended in imaging oil and are fixed to the paper by electric voltage. In its day, prior to the iGen, it was the closest pure digital printing (no plates, no film) to offset printing in quality. Indigo is great for small runs only and when you are in a hurry for a quick print fix as the cost is expensive as compared to offset once quantities rise.

IGen Press:

The IGen is the modern extension of what started as the Fiery, and then the Docucolor press from Xerox. In all cases they use toner and not ink. It like the Indigo is pure digital printing as it does not use film or plates, but affixes toner with fuser oil to the paper. With the advent of the IGen press, coated paper stocks could be utilized and with quality. Some unscrupulous printing companies will try and use coated stocks on the Docucolor, but it was never meant for that and the end result in my opinion is inferior.  Canon also makes a similar machine to the IGen and the quality of that is slightly superior in my opinion. These color printing machines are great for short run, limited to a sheet size of approximately 14 x 19” and are exceptionally well suited to print color books or multi page documents up to maybe 500 approximately depending on final size and page count. Another benefit of them is easy page imposition, automatic duplexing (printing both sides of the sheet at the same time) and collation.

All of the above color printing presses offer great advantages to the customer so long as you utilize each for what they were best intended for. However the new Nanotechnology Printing invented by Benny Landa of Indigo fame, may well retire all of the above once it becomes generally available.

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