1. Offset lithography. The most cost-effective printing technique, where chemicals are used to create an image on a flexible plate that attracts ink while repelling water (The white spaces attract water and repel ink).The plate is wrapped around a cylinder and water rollers soak the white spaces. Ink rollers apply the ink on the image area and it is then transferred to a rubber blanket before finally being pressed on the paper. Offset printing is most used in newspapers, magazines, brochures and CD booklets.
2. Digital printing. A perfect choice for small four-color print runs of no more than 5000 units. Its turnaround is of less than 2 days. Digital printing does not use ink but toner, which instead of being absorbed by the paper forms a layer on it and no plates are necessary since the image can be printed directly from a computer.
3. Gravure printing. The gravure cylinder is covered with flooded (or low viscosity) ink and the substrate is pressed onto is surface. Gravure printing is used on long-run prints such as newspapers, magazines, direct mail catalogs and packaging.
(Image: David Sillitoe for The Guardian).
4. Electrostatic printing. This process is similar to photocopying. It does not use ink or plates; instead, a zinc oxide coating is applied on the paper that reacts by forming an image with powder on the surface.
5. Screen printing. A screen plate of a fine mesh such as nylon is used to print on t-shirts, ring binders, bumper stickers and billboards. A stencil is used to block ink on non-image areas with each layer of color (cyan, magenta, yellow and black).
6. Reprographics. Common in-house copying and quick-printing process.
7. Embossing/Debossing. These processes respectively create a raised or depressed impression on the paper by stamping it between a metal plate and a counter.
(Image: Adoniram Sides).
8. Flexography. It uses flexible rubber plates where the non-image areas are etched away so the ink is applied on the substrate. The ink used is water based and allows for a faster drying process and shorter production times. Flexography is used to print on cardboard boxes, grocery bags and gift wrap, as well as bottle and can labels.
9. Engraving. This process will result in a raised image and saturated colors on the substrate. The print image is carved onto a metal plate and then the spaces are filled with ink so that the paper can be pressed on top of it. Arguably the most expensive and time consuming printing techniques, it is used for gala invitations and business cards for high executives.
10. Thermography. A less expensive process than engraving with a similar result. A special powder is adhered to wet ink and then heated to blend. It is used for stationery products.
11. Letterpress (relief) printing. Johannes Gutenberg used this process when he developed the first press. It works just like a rubber stamp, where images and text are raised from a surface, inked and then pressed against the paper or printing substrate. Once the standard printing technique, it is now used mostly in specialty shops for fine art prints, books, wedding invitations and posters.