6 Major Types of Printing
Printing is a crucial communication tool that allows us to distribute information, knowledge and entertainment to a wider audience. It can also be used to create high-quality, professional looking documents and artworks.
Understanding what printing types are available can help you weigh up your options when deciding which type of printing is best for your project. In this article, we will cover the 6 major types of printing.
Lithography is a planographic printing technique that relies on the immiscibility of oil and water. It starts with a design drawn on a flat stone (lithographic limestone) or prepared metal plate (aluminum or zinc). The image areas of the stone are then treated to be ink-receptive, while the non-image areas are made to repel oil.
This process became popular during the 1890s when it was used to create iconic posters by Jules Cheret. It also allowed for critical reading to emerge as people could now easily access printed materials with opposing views.
However, lithography comes with drawbacks, including the fact that multiple copies of the same work can look identical and lack the unique imperfections of handcrafted art. This is why lithographs are usually limited editions and signed by the artist.
Screen printing involves stencilling a design onto a mesh screen, applying ink and pushing it through with a squeegee. The process is typically used for printing on to fabrics or paper, although it can also be applied to wood, metal and plastic with specialised inks.
Stenciling is done by using masking tape or vinyl, or painting the screens with’screen blockers’ like glue or lacquer. A light-sensitive emulsion is then painted over the stencil and developed in a similar way to a photograph.
Because the process requires a separate screen for each color, it is generally more expensive and labour-intensive than other printing techniques. This extra setup time also makes it unsuitable for on-demand printing, such as t-shirts. Artists such as Andy Warhol have made the technique famous with their works of Serigraphy.
Flexography is a modern printing method that uses flexible plates made from photopolymers to print on substrates like paper, cardboard, and plastic film. It’s often used to print food packaging, since the inks used dry quickly and are safe for direct contact with foods.
Flexo has gained in popularity thanks to advances in digital technology and sustainability improvements. For example, many printers use eco-friendly water and solvent based inks that are safer for the environment.
Flexo presses use an anilox roller that has finely engraved cells to transfer ink onto the flexible plate mounted on the cylinder. The flat stretch of these image carriers can distort the printed images, so it’s important to understand and account for this when designing your artwork. Then, you can select the right imaging carrier to match your specifications.
Digital printing processes use a computer to print directly from your image file onto your chosen medium. They can be done using inkjet and laser printers that drop pigments or toners onto numerous substrates like paper, glass, canvas, metal and fabric. The toner or ink forms a slim layer on the surface of the substrate without permeating it. A fuser fluid with heat process or UV curing is then used to adhere the print firmly.
Digital prints can be produced very quickly and efficiently for short-run cycles. It is ideal for high-quality, low-cost prints that require fast turnaround times. It also uses less energy than traditional methods. This makes it a great option for environmentally conscious businesses. This type of printing is not suitable for long-run cycles.
The art of monoprinting combines printmaking with painting and allows unparalleled experimentation. Artists start with an etched plate and add textures using brushes, cotton swabs, sponges or fabric. The result is one-of-a-kind prints with a quality that looks more like painting than printing.
While there are some elements that remain unchanged from print to print (like the etching lines of an original template) monoprints are non-repeatable. This makes them very different from lithography and linocuts, where a master can be reproduced many times.
If you’re new to monoprinting, we recommend starting with a water-based ink. This will make it easier to get started without worrying about ruining your master. Also, remember to wash your plate thoroughly after each use to avoid smudging. This will help keep your prints clean and detailed.