Printing is a method for mass producing digital copies of either text or images with a template or master copy. The earliest printed commercial items, such as the cylinder seals used by ancient Egyptian rulers, were made from wood and ink and involved printing the name of the ruler or his title on seals. A wide range of other printed commercial items have grown out of this foundation, including today’s booklets, posters, letterhead, envelopes, menus, posters, bumper stickers, flyers and banners.
Commercial printing techniques have evolved over the centuries to become what we see today. In earlier days the printing was done with ink on paper, which used a pigment in ink and a drying agent. The different types of pigments and drying agents used were determined by the type of printing that was to be done. The printing mediums used also depended on the purpose of the printing job, which could be for simple headings and lists or for photographic images. In more recent times different types of computer aided design and print technologies have been developed, particularly those that rely on digital imaging.
One printing method that has changed dramatically in recent years is the use of multi-media printing. Multi-media printing allows several different pieces of artwork or other material to be printed onto the same piece of paper. The most common multi-media items are images, such as photographs and artworks. The advantage of multi-media printing is that it can often be more cost-effective than other more complicated printing methods, because it requires the use of more powerful machines and it is often used in conjunction with offset printing, which allows a greater number of pieces to be produced in a relatively short period of time.
The production of single sheet (or ‘page’) printing has been around since the early nineteenth century. Early printers used presses based on the type of printing wheel that was commonly used in engraving. These printers would roll up a metal ring on which the ink would be deposited. They would then feed the pressed sheets through the ring of rolls and manually press them into position. This method was very labor intensive, took a lot of manual work and was very expensive, especially when printing hundreds of pages at a time.
Improvements to the printing process over the past few decades have made it possible for printing plates to be manufactured on a roll of metal. These new plates are called rollers and they operate electronically. Instead of being manually pressed into position, the plates move up and down on a metal roller and transfer the ink from the ink-rollers to the paper or other material being printed. The new presses do not require the same amount of manual work or investment in machinery as the older presses, making them more practical for printing high volumes of text or illustrations.
Some printing processes now use an improved printing process known as flexography, which has a significantly lower incidence of smudging or bubbles when printing. This method is most commonly used in commercial applications, such as printing multi-page ads or flyers for distribution to a large number of potential customers. Printing with this technique does not require as much manual work or labor; therefore, it can be used for printing large volumes of text or illustrations without a great deal of loss of quality. When the printing process is completed, the result is usually of higher quality because the ink reaches all parts of the page at the same time and there are fewer areas that may have been affected by smudges or bubbles.
Another printing technique used is known as digital printing, which is often used to print images onto a surface other than paper. The most common surface for digital printing is either fiberglass or plastic. Fiberglass is preferred because it offers a smooth surface and the colors tend to stay for a longer period of time than those from plastic. The advantage of using plastic is that it can be easily cleaned and is non-abrasive to the touch. Many businesses utilize this type of printing to produce top quality images to be placed on signs, business cards, labels, and other merchandise.
The printing techniques used in the early days of the printing industry relied heavily on ink-pens. Ink-pens were mounted on carts and could be moved around to reach areas that needed printing. As technology advanced and improved the ink-pen, the design of printing presses was changing. Some printing presses were converted to semi-automatic machines and others became fully automatic, which allowed for quicker printing and more precision.