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China Printing Glossary: Printing Types

Item Description PROS Cons
Engraving: A specialized version of the intaglio traditional process of very finely carved images onto metal plates from which ink is applied directly to paper (unlike offset printing), resulting in a fine design with a unique raised texture; ALTERNATE: Thermography. Very fine and detailed reproduction; feels traditional and expensive. Long time to produce and high cost; Only good for one color jobs in line art, not for continuous tone work.
Thermography: A process for producing raised lettering, as on stationary or namecards, by application of a powder that is fused by heat to the fresh ink. A cheap and fast alternate to engraving. Fast and inexpensive. Can look and feel cheap.
Rotogravure: A mechanized process related to Engraving whereby ink is applied to paper directly when roll-fed paper passes through a high speed printing cylinder; Mainly used for newspaper printing. The cheapest price. Relatively Low Quality, few machines available.
Offset Printing:
The most common type of printing, named due to the "offset" nature of the imprint process. Ink is applied to the plate by rollers. The image is then moved from the plate to a rubber based "blanket" from which it is applied to the final substrate. Offset printing is executed on Web press Machines or Sheet Fed machines. Fine printing effect, good for line art or continuous tone art. More expensive than rotogravure, letterpress and other methods. Not good for printing on rough, thick or uneven surfaces.
Sheet Fed (A type of Offset Printing Machine) The main type of printing used by CPS; Paper is fed into the machine one sheet at a time. Accepts many different substrates, accepts paper from 70gsm-400gsm. Best Quality, more flexibility of paper sizes. More expensive than Web press, cannot print less than 70gsm, difficult to impose due to different paper sizes, no variable printing.
Web Press (A type of Offset Printing Machine) A paper roll based machine for extremely fast and cheap production; printing/folding occur in the same machine; There are Cold Set Web machines (no drying is involved) and Heat Set machines (product is printed/dried/folded together). Convenient and fast, can print on light papers, has variable printing. Size limitations because of press bed configurations.
UV Printing (A type of Offset Printing Machine) A type of Sheet Fed Printing machine which uses special "UV inks" and UV lamps that cure each color immediately after it lays down on the paper. High quality, brilliant color, good for printing plastic or other hard to print substrates. Very expensive.
Silkscreen Printing (Serigraphy) A type of printing whereby colors are applied to a surface one color at a time, either by hand or by machine, through a mesh screen created by a stencil. Can print on paper, wood, metal, fabric, plastic, etc. Slow, expensive and not precise, not good for continuous tone.
Flexographic Printing: (Flexography) A type of roll based printing, smaller than webpress, commonly used for creation of sticker labels and such. Quality is good, can usually print up to 6 colors, can use UV inks. Must print very high quantity, only good for small size.
Letterpress: A simple and traditional type of printing where a raised block plate applies ink directly to paper. cheap, good for one color art, strong impression. only good for one color, not precise, too high pressure for fine detail, must be for high quantity.
Digital Printing A modern type of printing using special digital inks whereby there is no plate; ink is laid down on paper through an electrostatic method much like a laser printer. Can print 1 to 1000 pcs, can do variable printing, very fast and convenient. Press bed usually limited to A3 size, relatively expensive, not good for handling pastel colors.