Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What is design for print: Digital printing

Modern printing methods such as laser and ink-jet printing are known as digital printing. In digital printing, an image is sent directly to the printer using digital files such as PDFs and those from graphics software such as Illustrator and InDesign. This eliminates the need for a printing plate, which is used in offset printing, which can save money and time.
Without the need to create a plate, digital printing has brought about fast turnaround times and printing on demand. Instead of having to print large, pre-determined runs, requests can be made for as little as one print. While offset printing still often results in slightly better quality prints, digital methods are being worked on at a fast rate to improve quality and lower costs.
Digital printing descibes the process of transfering an image or document stored on a pc or mac onto a printing media such as paper, card or even textiles.

The image on the pc is normally automatically split into 4 basic colours - cyan, magenta, yellow and black (printers refer to this as CMYK) and the print engine then prints these four colours overlaying them exactly to reproduce the image on the screen.

These print engines are most commonly found in two basic types; the first uses dry toner powder which is fused into the substrate and the second uses electrostatically charged wet ink which is fired at the paper. These basic types are referred to as toner based or inkjet based devices.  There are various manufacturers that supply digital printing machines or presses - the market leaders in high volume devices are Xerox and HP with their Indigo range of machines.
Digital printing is significantly different to the more traditional method of Litho printing or Offset printing.  Litho printing requires the original image to be split into component colours (similar to the CYMK process) and then a "plate" is made for each colour (to a maximum of 8 plates) which is physically loaded into a printing press for the printing process to begin.  This making of "plates" for each colour, together with the time and effort to "set up" the litho press adds relatively high fixed costs, and time, to each litho job even before and output is delivered.
This is why for short runs requiring fast turnaround times digital printing is the most effective printing solution.  In addition, the flexibility of personalising each and every print with a digital printing press means that for targetted direct mail communication, digital printing is the only cost effective solution.


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