There are many different printing methods available with each having its own strengths and weaknesses. The choice of printing method depends on the specific requirements of a project, such as the quantity, substrate, image quality and turnaround time.

Some of the most commonly used printing methods include Offset (Lithography), Flexography (Flexo), Thermal Transfer, Digital, Screen, Dye-Sublimation, Gravure, 3D, Letterpress, Rotogravure, Pad, Electrostatic, Inkjet, Laser and Thermography.

In this article, we take a look at methods most suited for general business needs.

Litho printing

Lithography, also known as offset printing, is a traditional print method that uses a flat printing plate with an ink-receptive image area and a non-image area that is ink-repellent. The ink is transferred from the plate onto a rubber blanket and then onto the paper or other material being printed. Litho is commonly used for high volume printing of materials like books, magazines and brochures. It produces high-quality prints with sharp images and vibrant colours.

Flexo printing

Flexography is a print method commonly used for printing on flexible materials such as packaging, labels and plastics. It uses flexible printing plates that are mounted on a rotating cylinder. The ink is transferred from the plates onto the material being printed using a flexible rubber plate called an anilox roller. Flexo printing is fast, efficient and can be used for a wide range of materials, making it popular in the packaging industry.

Thermal transfer printing

Thermal transfer printing works by using a special printer that has a print head. There are two types of thermal transfer printing, direct thermal and thermal transfer.

In direct thermal printing, the material itself is coated with a heat-sensitive layer and the print head heats up the material to create the image. This method is commonly used for printing labels and receipts.

In thermal transfer printing, a ribbon coated with a layer of wax or resin ink is used to transfer the ink onto the material allowing for a wider range of materials to be printed on, including glossy and matt surfaces.

When the printer prints an image or text, the print head heats up and melts the ink on the ribbon. The ink then transfers onto the material and bonds with it, creating a permanent high-quality print. The heat from the print head can be adjusted to control the darkness of the print.

Thermal transfer printing is a versatile and cost-effective printing method that produces high-quality, long-lasting prints that are resistant to smudging and fading. It is commonly used in industries such as healthcare, logistics and manufacturing for printing labels, barcodes and other variable information.

Digital printing

Digital printing is a modern print method that uses digital files to print directly onto paper or other materials. It works by sending digital files to a printer that can print the image directly onto the material. Digital printing is often used for smaller print runs or for personalised materials like invitations or business cards. It is flexible, fast and can produce high-quality prints with sharp images and accurate colour, it allows for easy customisation and variable data printing, making it a popular choice for marketing and advertising materials.

Screen printing

Screen printing is a print method that uses a mesh screen to transfer ink onto a surface. The mesh screen is made of synthetic or natural fibres and is stretched tightly over a frame. A stencil of the image to be printed is then placed onto the screen. Ink is then applied to the top of the screen and a squeegee is used to press the ink through the stencil and onto the material being printed.

Screen printing is often used for printing on larger quantities of materials, as the setup time can be longer than other printing methods, but the cost per print is lower for high volume runs. It is a popular choice for custom apparel, merchandise and promotional products, as well as for signage and display graphics. It can produce high-quality prints with bold, vibrant colours and can be used for both simple and complex designs.

Dye-sublimation printing

Dye-sublimation is a printing method that uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as fabric, plastic or paper. It is commonly used for printing high-quality images onto fabrics, such as for custom t-shirts, banners and other promotional items.

The dye-sublimation printing process works by using a special printer that uses heat to transfer dye onto a transfer paper. The transfer paper is then placed on top of the material being printed and both are placed onto a heat press. The heat press applies pressure and heat to transfer the dye from the transfer paper onto the material.

The heat causes the dye to transform into a gas, which then permeates the material and bonds with its fibres. This results in a permanent, high-quality print with vibrant colours and sharp details. Since the dye is infused into the material, the prints are also resistant to fading, cracking, and peeling.

Dye-sublimation printing is ideal for printing on fabrics, as it produces vibrant colours and images that are long-lasting and washable. It is also a great option for printing complex designs or photographs, as it can produce fine details and subtle colour gradients.

Gravure printing

Gravure printing is a high-quality printing method that is commonly used for printing magazines, catalogues, packaging and other high-end printed materials. It uses a rotary printing press with recessed cells that hold ink and transfer it onto the paper or other material being printed. The cells are etched into the surface of the printing cylinder, they can vary in depth and size to create different tones and shades of colour.

In gravure printing, the printing cylinder rotates in an ink-filled trough and the excess ink is wiped off the surface of the cylinder by a doctor blade, leaving ink only in the recessed cells. The paper or other material being printed is then pressed against the cylinder and the ink is transferred onto the material.

Gravure printing can produce very high-quality prints with sharp, crisp images and vibrant colours. It is especially suited for printing on materials with a smooth surface, such as coated paper or film, and is often used for printing large quantities of high-end printed materials.

Need guidance on print?

With so many print options available it can be challenging to know what is best suited to your requirement. At SmartSource, we have a team of print experts who are able to provide guidance and find you the right print solution. If you have a requirement, get in touch.