Printing processes | Offset, Flexo, Digital, Gravure & other methods to print (2023)

There is a wide variety of technologies that are used to print magazines, books, newspapers, stationery, posters, packaging, and other print products. The main industrial printing processes are:

  • Offset lithography
  • Flexography
  • Digital printing: inkjet & xerography
  • Gravure
  • Screen printing

Additional printing techniques were developed for very specific applications. These include flock printing, letterpress, intaglio, pad printing, and thermography.

Why a certain job is better printed using one of these processes mentioned can be read on this page about choosing a printing process.


In offset lithography, a printing plate, which is most often made from aluminum, contains an image of the content that needs to be printed. When the plate is inked, only this image part holds ink. That inked image is subsequently transferred (or offset) from the plate to a rubber blanket and then to the printing surface. The process can be used to print on paper, cardboard, plastic, or other materials, but these have to have a flat surface.

Below is a picture of a 4 color sheetfed printing press. At the far end is the intake where individual sheets of paper are automatically fed into the press. The 4 towers or printing units each print one color, typically black get printed first, followed by cyan, magenta, and yellow. The stack of printed sheets is visible on the front of the machine, underneath the press console & monitor which the press operator uses to control the press.

(Video) Basic about Offset, Gravure and Flexo Printing Process....MS Print & Pack

For higher volume work offset presses use rolls of paper. The picture below shows such a much larger web press. It is so fast that the printed paper needs to be force dried. The black unit at the end of the press is an oven.

Offset is nowadays the most widely used printing technique for an extensive range of products such as books, newspapers, stationery, corrugated board, posters, etc.

There is a trend that printing promotional material is gradually migrating to digital printing while some packaging printing is moving to flexo.

You can find more information on the page dedicated to offset printing.

(Video) Printing Processes Technology


In flexography, the content that needs to be printed is on a relief of a printing plate, which is made from rubber. This plate is inked and that inked image is subsequently transferred to the printing surface. The process can be used to print on paper as well as plastics, metals, cellophane, and other materials. Flexo is mainly used for packaging and labels and to a lesser extent also for newspapers.

Some packaging printing is moving from flexo to digital.

Digital printing

Digital printing can be done in various ways. Two technologies dominate the industry:

  • Inkjet – In an inkjet printer, the image that needs to be printed is created by small droplets of ink that are propelled from the nozzles of one or more print heads. Inkjet devices can print on a wide range of substrates such as paper, plastic, canvas, or even doors and floor tiles. Inkjet printing is used a lot for posters and signage. It is also economical for short-run publications such as photo books or small runs of books. In-line inkjet printers are sometimes combined with other types of presses to print variable data, such as the mailing addresses on direct mail pieces. The press shown below is the HP PageWide C500, meant for printing on corrugated board.

  • Xerography – In xerographic printers, such as laser printers, the image that needs to be printed is formed by selectively applying a charge to a metal cylinder called a drum. The electrical charge is used to attract toner particles. These particles are transferred to the media that is being printed on. To make sure the toner is fixed properly, the substrate passes through a fuser that melts the toner into the medium. Laser printers are not only used in offices but also for small run printing of books, brochures, and other types of documents. These printers are also used for transactional printing (bills, bank documents, etc) and direct mail.

In 2009 both techniques jointly accounted for around 15% of the total volume of print.

(Video) Flexographic vs. Screen vs. Digital | Our Printing Processes

Digital printing is increasingly utilized for print jobs that were previously printing using offset, flexo or screen printing.

  • In short-run small format (A3 size) printing, digital is taking over from offset for both color and B&W printing. Quick printers and copy shops print digitally on presses from vendors like Xerox, HP, Canon, and Konica Minolta.
  • Labels are also increasingly being printed digitally.
  • Billboard and point-of-sale or point-of-purchase jobs are being done by wide-format inkjet devices.
  • There is a wide range of small format printers used to print on phone cases, mugs, and other products.
  • In book printing publishing companies start to rely more on print-on-demand. The Espresso Book Machine pictured below is well suited for that job.

There are a number of other digital printing processes that are geared towards specific niche markets:

  • Dye-sublimation is a printing process in which heat is used to transfer a dye onto the substrate. Dye-sub printers are mainly used for printing on textiles, for proofing and for producing photographic prints. Some printers can print on a variety of materials such as paper, plastic, and fabric.
  • In the direct thermal printing process heat is used to change the color of a special coating that has been applied to paper. This process is used in cash registers but also to add markings, such as serial numbers,to products. For this, a transparent ink is used that changes color when a laser applies heat to it.
  • In the thermal ink transfer printing process heat is used to melt print off a ribbon and onto the substrate. It is used in some proofing devices but seems to be gradually disappearing off the market.


Also known as rotogravure, this is a technique in which an image is engraved into a printing cylinder. That cylinder is inked and this ink subsequently transfers to the paper. Gravure printing is used for high volume work such as newspapers, magazines, and packaging.

(Video) Flexo, Litho, & Digital Printing Methods

Gravure is gradually losing market share to offset for publication printing and to flexo for packaging applications.

Screen printing

As its name implies, this printing technique relies on a screen, which is a woven piece of fabric. Certain areas of this mesh are coated with a non-permeable material. In the remaining open spaces, ink can be pushed through the mesh onto a substrate. The advantage of screen printing is that the surface of the recipient does not have to be flat and that the ink can adhere to a wide range of materials, such as paper, textiles, glass, ceramics, wood, and metal.

The image below shows a screen printing press that is used to print t-shirts.

Increasingly screen printing is being replaced by digital printing.

  • Printing processes | Offset, Flexo, Digital, Gravure & other methods to print (10)Block printing – This technique resembles potato printing, which is a popular pass time for kids. A hand-carved wooden block is inked and pressed on the substrate. Additional blocks can be used to add more colors. Block printing is a slow and laborious process that is still used for printing on fabric in oriental countries.
  • Flocking – used to add a (colored) velvet-like texture to paper, textiles, etc.
  • Heat transfer printing – A special paper is printed using inkjet (or another technique) and then this print is transferred to another surface using heat and pressure. The mostwell-known use case is iron-on decorations for t-shirts but the process is also used for industrial applications.
  • Intaglio – nowadays mainly used for stamps and paper currency.
  • Letterpress – This relief printing technique dominated the industry until the early 20th century. Nowadays it is mainly an artisanal process used for upscale business cards and wedding invitations, fine editions of books, limited-run art projects,…
  • Pad printing – This is also called tampography. An image is transferred from an engraved printing plate onto a three-dimensional surface using a silicone pad. Pad printing is limited to small surfaces and used to print watch dials, gadgets, toys, car parts, etc.
  • Roller or cylinder printing – Sometimes called machine printing, this is a gravure printing process used for printing on textiles.
  • Rotary screen printing – This is a very fast printing technique in which ink pours out of the holes of a perforated cylindrical tube directly onto the substrate. This technique only lends itself for printing repetitive patterns and is used for printing wallpaper and textiles.
  • Thermography – This is more of a finishing process than an actual printing process. It produces raised lettering on the printed side of the paper and is used forwedding invitations, letterheads, business cards,…


What are the 4 printing processes? ›

Traditional printmaking techniques include woodcut, etching, engraving, and lithography, while modern artists have expanded available techniques to include screenprinting.

What are the 5 printing processes? ›

Common types of printing are:
  • Surface Printing.
  • Flexographic Printing.
  • Screen Printing.
  • Rotary Screen.
  • Gravure Printing.
  • Digital Printing.

What is the difference between gravure and flexo printing? ›

Another key differentiator in flexo vs. gravure is the range of inks flexo is able to print with. Gravure printing problems include a limited number of inks with which it's compatible. In most cases, flexo printing ink is the superior choice due to the ease of printing with a wider variety of inks.

What are the 3 types of print sources? ›

Examples of print sources are books, magazines, scholarly journals, and newspapers.

What are the 7 types of printed media? ›

Print media advertising is physically printed media including newspapers, magazines, posters and billboards and direct mail.
  • Newspapers and Weeklies. ...
  • Consumer and Trade Magazines. ...
  • Billboards and Posters. ...
  • Direct Mail: Letters and Postcards. ...
  • Print Media Selection.

What are the 3 stages of printing? ›

The 3 Stages of 3D Printing and How They Work
  • Stage #1) Preparation. The first stage of 3D printing is preparation. ...
  • Stage #2) Building. The second stage of 3D printing is building. ...
  • Stage #3) Finishing. The third and final stage of 3D printing is finishing.
14 Aug 2020

What is printing and its types? ›

Comparison of printing methods
Printing processTransfer methodNotes
Offset printingrollershigh print quality
Rotogravurerollersthick ink layers possible, excellent image reproduction, edges of letters and lines are jagged
Flexographyrollershigh quality (now HD)
Letterpress printingplatenslow drying
8 more rows

What is the best printing process? ›

Offset Lithography:

Also known as offset printing, it is the most cost-effective printing process hence preferred by many companies. It produces high-quality prints faster, whereas the printing machine is quick to set up. In this process, roller plates run through water and then through ink.

What is flexo printing process? ›

Flexography is a roll-feed web printing process. Flexographic printing is commonly used to print high volumes of labels and packaging. Presses can print on a variety of films, foils, papers, corrugated board, and paperboard and achieve speeds of 500 to 2000 feet per minute.

What is used for printing? ›

printer, also called computer printer, electronic device that accepts text files or images from a computer and transfers them to a medium such as paper or film. It can be connected directly to the computer or indirectly via a network.

What type of ink is used in flexo printing? ›

Flexographic printing is done on paper, cardboard, or plastic film. Liquid inks with a low viscosity are used for printing. There are water-based inks, solvent, and ultraviolet (UV)-cured inks among them.

How many types of flexo prints are there? ›

There are 2 broad types of flexographic inks used –Solvent Base Inks and Water Base Inks.

What is flexo used for? ›

Flexo printing is widely used in the converting industry for printing plastic materials for packaging and other end uses. For maximum efficiency, the flexo presses produce large rolls of material that are then slit down to their finished size on slitting machines.

What are the 6 major types of printing? ›

  • Digital Printing. Digital printing is the reproduction of digital images on to physical surfaces. ...
  • Flexography. Flexography, often abbreviated to flexo, is a method of printing most commonly used for packaging. ...
  • Lithographic (Offset) Printing. ...
  • Rotogravure (Gravure) ...
  • Large format printing. ...
  • 3D Printing. ...
  • Screen Printing.
4 Feb 2020

What are 4 types of sources? ›

Types of Sources
  • Scholarly publications (Journals) A scholarly publication contains articles written by experts in a particular field. ...
  • Popular sources (News and Magazines) ...
  • Professional/Trade sources. ...
  • Books / Book Chapters. ...
  • Conference proceedings. ...
  • Government Documents. ...
  • Theses & Dissertations.
5 May 2022

What are the 10 types of printer? ›

Here are the different types of printers to help you narrow down your search based on your needs.
  • Inkjet printers. Inkjet printers are the de-facto standard for consumer/home-use printers. ...
  • Laser printers. ...
  • All-in-one printers. ...
  • Supertank printers. ...
  • Dye-sublimation printers. ...
  • Dot matrix printers. ...
  • 3D printers.
21 Sept 2021

What is the most common type of printing? ›

Offset printing, also known as offset lithography, is one of the most popular and common forms of printing. The prints we see on books, newspapers, magazines, and broachers are actually made by offset printing.

What are 5 types of print media? ›

Identify five forms of print media used in communication
  • Books.
  • Newspapers.
  • Magazines.
  • Journal/periodicals.
  • Newsletters.
  • Brochures.
  • Braille.
  • Posters.
25 May 2020

What are the 5 media types? ›

5 Distinct Media Types
  • Print and Text. - This media by far has been the most popular in education throughout the last century and will continue to thrive, as it is a quick means of distributing informational text to students. ...
  • Still Graphic and Static Displays. ...
  • Sound and Music. ...
  • Video and Animation. ...
  • Multimedia.

What are 5 different types of 3D printing? ›

There are several types of 3D printing, which include:
  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Digital Light Process (DLP)
  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  • PolyJet.
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

What is good printing quality? ›

So, a good quality print would need 180 pixels per inch (ppi), while a better-quality print requires 240 ppi. The best quality is achieved by a density of 300 ppi.

Which quality of printing is better? ›

The higher the dpi, the better the print quality or resolution because more ink droplets are filling up that one-inch space. Inkjet printers typically have a range between 300-720 DPI, while laser printers range from 600-2,400 DPI. If you are printing text or business graphics, don't worry about DPI.

What type of image is best for printing? ›

Technically, RAW images offer the best resolution for printing photos, but most printers don't accept the large and uncompressed file format. Instead, we recommend using TIFF/TIF. This raster format is popular in the photography and publishing world, because it doesn't compress the original RAW file.

What's digital printing? ›

Digital printing is the process of printing digital-based images directly onto a variety of media substrates. There is no need for a printing plate, unlike with offset printing.

What is the process of digital printing? ›

The digital printing process involves printing on different media like paper, fabric, acrylic, plastic, etc., directly from a digital image. It is professionally done print work and small jobs from desktop publishing and other digital sources which are printed via inkjet printers of large format or high volume.

What is gravure printing process? ›

Gravure printing is a widely used processing method often used to print large volumes of magazines and catalogues. Opposed to flexoprinting, the ink in gravure printing is transferred from carved micro cavities and not from a relief. These cavities, embedded in the printing cylinder, form the printing pattern.

Why is it called print? ›

past participle of preindre "to press, crush," altered from prembre, from Latin premere "to press, hold fast, cover, crowd, compress" (from PIE root *per- (4) "to strike"). The Old French word also was borrowed into Middle Dutch (prente, Dutch prent) and other Germanic languages.

Why is printing important? ›

Printing allows you to target a much larger market; especially in the local area that you might be based. Flyers allows for mass market distribution meaning you can target a large audience without spending a great deal of money.

Which machine is used for printing? ›

Inkjet Printer:

Inkjet Printing machines are the regularly used printers for the computers. Inkjet Printers use a special type of ink for printing on the paper. Hence, Inkjet Printers are particularly used to get high quality color prints.

What are 3 types of ink? ›

Here's what you need to know:
  • Liquid Ink. Just as the name implies, this ink comes in liquid form. ...
  • Solid Ink. Some printers use solid ink instead of liquid ink. ...
  • Toner. ...
  • Ribbon Ink. ...
  • UV Ink. ...
  • 3D Printing Ink.
23 Aug 2022

What ink is used for gravure? ›

Genesis™ Washable Ink

A sustainable, solvent-based, shrink ink for both gravure and flexographic printing that is de-inkable from cPET films and floatable with roll-fed OPP labels in the recycling process.

What are the advantages of flexo printing? ›

Flexographic printing is known for being a fast process. Once the initial setup is complete, the combination of quick-drying inks and automation result in very high performance. In addition, this method gives you the possibility to preset the amount of ink used in the printing process.

What is flexo vs digital printing? ›

In contrast to digital inkjet, flexographic printing technology utilizes flexible plates and mechanical rotary-style equipment for mass production. The process begins by creating the printing plate using a variety of methods and assembling the apparatus that holds it, known as a plate cylinder.

What is the difference between digital and flexo printing? ›

Large-scale digital printing processes create images by depositing toner directly onto on a surface, while flexographic presses use rubber or plastic plates to press ink onto a substrate.

Is flexo a digital? ›

Flexo printing (Flexographic) is a direct printing method because it has an embossed board made from rubber or polymer. Ink is fed to the mold using anilox rollers.

Who uses flexographic printing? ›

Any business selling products can make use of flexographic printing to ensure their products are sold in beautifully designed and printed packaging.

What is flexo design? ›

Often referred to as flexography or flexo, it is essentially a modern version of letterpress printing, and can be used for printing on almost any type of material, including plastic, metallic films, cellophane, and paper.

What materials are used in flexography? ›

The two major types of fluid inks used in flexography are water-base and alcohol-base. Alcohol-base inks are most often used to print on nonabsorbent substrates such as film and foil. Water-base inks most often are used on absorbent substrates such as paper and paperboard.

What is a Type 4 print system? ›

What is a Type 4 Driver? Type 4 drivers were introduced by Microsoft with Windows Server 2012 and were intended to replace the default drivers bundled with the Windows operating system.

How many types of printing process are there? ›

When it comes to professional printing processes there are three main types: Offset litho printing. Digital Printing. Screen printing.

What is the classification of printing? ›

Styles of Printing? Printing styles are classified as direct, discharge, or resist. In direct printing, coloured pastes are printed directly on the fabric. For discharge printing, the fabric is first dyed with a background colour, which is destroyed by discharging reagents, or reducing agents, carried in a print paste.

What is the most common method of printing? ›

Offset lithography is one of the most versatile and frequently used methods of printing. It gets its name from the fact that the image is not directly transferred onto the paper, but on the offset cylinder from the plate cylinder first.

What are the tools used in printing? ›

Here are five tools of the printing industry that provide the best possible results for clients.
  • Digital Printer. The digital printer is a fast and productive tool that also prints great quality. ...
  • Wide Format Printer. ...
  • Flatbed Printer. ...
  • Computer Hardware and Software. ...
  • Graphic Designers.
6 Jun 2018

What are the 9 types of 3D printing? ›

What Are the Different Types of 3D Printing?
  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Digital Light Process (DLP)
  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  • PolyJet.
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

What are printing techniques methods? ›

Also known as offset printing or litho, offset lithography is a very popular method of mass-production printing. It involves printing plates, usually made from aluminium, which each hold an image of the content that needs to be printed.

What are 5 benefits of 3D printing? ›

What are the Pros of 3D Printing?
  • Flexible Design. 3D printing allows for the design and print of more complex designs than traditional manufacturing processes. ...
  • Rapid Prototyping. ...
  • Print on Demand. ...
  • Strong and Lightweight Parts. ...
  • Fast Design and Production. ...
  • Minimising Waste. ...
  • Cost Effective. ...
  • Ease of Access.


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