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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Offset Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: Offset Printing Is Still Alive and Kicking

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

From all the hype online about digital this and digital that, you would think that only presses like the HP Indigo or Kodak NexPress were in demand–that offset printing was in its death throes.

On the contrary, there are very good reasons to choose offset commercial printing. Plus, there have been several advances in offset printing technology in the past several years that have made offset printing more efficient and less costly.

In reading the various articles on digital and offset custom printing sent to me each week by the Google aggregator, I came upon a piece by Jamie Neill, from GEW UV, published on 02/13/22. It is entitled “The Future for Sheetfed Offset?”

First of all, before we address the article, digital printing offers certain benefits.

If you are producing a short run of a job (let’s say 500 to 1,000 copies), digital is less expensive (total cost). Of course, if your job is a multi-page document like a print book, it’s best to discuss options with your printer first (after all, multiple copies of a multi-page book climb into the multiple hundreds and thousands of page clicks very quickly).

The reason short runs are better suited for digital is that offset printing requires a lot of set-up time, and digital printing requires almost none. So for long jobs your set-up time is spread over more copies. While the overall cost is higher, you get far more copies, so your unit cost is much less than for digital.

On another note, if you are printing a variable-data job, digital printing is best. Offset printing uses printing plates that reproduce the same image throughout the press run, so for offset commercial printing, variable data is not an option.

Benefits of Offset

That said, here are some benefits of the current state of offset printing technology, according to Neill’s article.

Presses are faster than they used to be. Make-ready processes are less time consuming because they have been automated in many cases. And overall press operations have benefited from automation as well (such as the electric-eye, closed-loop feedback systems that monitor press color in real time and then feed this information back into the computer so it can adjust color on the fly). In short, the offset printing process has become far more efficient, and this has led to lower overall costs for longer static (non-variable data) press runs.

Advances in ink technology have also improved the offset printing process. Here’s one example. UV inks, which cure instantly when exposed to UV light, have been developed and then improved in recent years. In the past, once a printer had finished printing one side of a press sheet, he had to wait for it to dry before “backing up the sheet” (printing the other side). This could take a long time. Printing the second side too soon could cause the ink on one side of the sheet to mark the other side of adjacent sheets in the stack. (This is called “offsetting.”) Offsetting could also occur when folding or trimming a previously printed press sheet. Furthermore, some ink colors dried (with exposure to heat and/or pressroom air) more slowly than others, and this could also cause unforeseen problems with offsetting. But UV ink dries instantly. That’s a major benefit.

(Sometimes printers would even flood coat the sheets to avoid needing to wait for conventional inks to dry, and this added extra costs. All of this became unnecessary with the advent of UV inks.)

In addition, one of the things that UV inks made possible was the elimination of anti-set-off powder. Prior to UV inks, a fine dusting of powder was laid down between consecutive press sheets in a stack. This powder lifted each sheet slightly above the others to minimize offsetting. This powder clogged the plates and rollers, and changed the surface texture and appearance of the press sheet. And again, it cost money.

As an added problem arising from the long waiting time for drying conventional ink (sometimes for several days), space was needed in the pressroom for the stacks of printed press sheets to dry. So all of this slowed down overall production times, wasted space, risked ink offsetting, and reduced the amount of work a printer could take into the shop at any given time. And UV inks solved the problem.

Finally, conventional inks have drawbacks such as their substrate requirements and their tendency to lose sheen and even change color during the “dryback” phase. Conventional ink requires a somewhat porous substrate. UV inks do not. Since they cure instantly upon exposure to UV light, they can be printed on non-porous surfaces such as plastic. UV inks sit up on the surface of the substrate, less ink is required, and it’s possible to maintain the bright colors (the way the ink looks right after printing) throughout the life of the product (i.e., no loss of color and sheen due to dryback). This also saves the printer money, since dryback is not always immediately apparent, and customers may reject the job or require a reprint later as the images fade or change color.

However, the first iteration of UV inks required special UV lamps that ran hot and had short lives. So energy (i.e., money) went into cooling the commercial printing plant with AC units, and still more money went into replacement UV lamps. The process was inefficient. At the same time, even the ink was expensive (compared to conventional ink). So custom printing with UV ink was not always popular.

Advances in Inks

And then things changed. UV-LED inks were developed. UV-LED curing lamps run a lot cooler than conventional UV curing lamps. Therefore, not only was the extra expense of anti-set-off powder eliminated, but the extra cost of special AC units was no longer necessary. The UV printing process became far more environmentally friendly (no VOCs, or volatile organic compounds) as well as less expensive (“typically up to 40% lower for LED,” as noted in “The Future of Sheetfed Offset”). Also, UV-LED lamps last longer.

Under these circumstances, the price for consumables was not as much of a deterrent. More specifically, as Jamie Neill notes in “The Future of Sheetfed Offset,” even if UV ink is slightly more expensive than conventional ink, you have to keep the following in mind. Paper is “typically 50-70% of the total job cost, machine time is 15-20%, etc. (but) … the typical ink cost is usually only 3% of the total job cost, on average” (“The Future of Sheetfed Offset”).

When you factor all of this in with the minimized chance that customers will reject the jobs or require reprints, the cost of UV ink becomes less of a determining factor.

The Takeaway

So advances in UV ink technology and press automation have improved the speed of offset commercial printing, reduced drying time, reduced space needed for storage of work in progress, minimized waste, eliminated volatile organic compounds, and expanded the number and kind of substrates on which commercial printing suppliers can print.

But most importantly, the color richness and fidelity (and options, if you include PMS colors as well as 4-color process inks) are still superior to digital printing. Not by much, but still superior. So for longer runs of print jobs that do not require variable data information, offset commercial printing is still a viable and valuable option.

6 Benefits of Web Offset Printing

Saturday, January 30th, 2021


A form of offset printing which constantly puts in a roll of paper through the press is known as web offset printing. Such presses are able to print on both sides of a paper simultaneously. These days, this job is outsourced to various printing companies around the world, and the Internet has made it easy to reach out to them. (more…)

Custom Printing: 11 Suggestions for a Press Inspection

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

It has been years since I’ve been on a commercial printing press inspection. Between the computerized consoles that constantly monitor conditions within the press and adjust for any ink density variance or problems with register, to the on-screen proofs that allow multiple people at a client’s office to check proofs online, it is rarely necessary to check a job on press. (more…)

Custom Printing: Heidelberg’s “Game-Changer” Press

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The introduction of the new Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor is really quite exciting. In an age of digital custom printing, Heidelberg has made dramatic strides in–of all things–sheetfed offset lithography. (more…)

Offset Printing: Respect the Limits of Offset Printing

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re designing any custom printing project. It is unbelievably easy to forget them.

Variation in Colors

If you plan to use a color build on a number of pages within signature work, such as a print book, keep in mind that there will be color variation across the press sheet and particularly from press signature to press signature. (more…)

Custom Printing Is Still Alive According to Online Sources

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

I came upon a few articles recently that show various venues in which the printed word still flourishes.

Direct Mail Packages Just Work

The first article is a snippet from a commercial printing supplier’s website. I work with this vendor as a broker. Let’s call them “Printer A” so as not to give them an unfair advantage. To quote from their website, “This political season, [Printer A] printed and mailed over 24.5 million pieces in a three-month period.” To continue, this printer has noted increased spending on direct mail packages. Printer A attributes this resurgence to businesses’ attempting to attract new customers by using “mail that gets noticed.” (more…)

Poster Printing: A Venue for Art, Marketing, and Politics

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Posters have a long history as works of art, marketing venues, and vehicles for protest. What they all share–in the best of cases–is immediate impact. They’re powerful. They present a single image and a few words (like a small billboard) that grab you. (more…)

Book Printing: Things to Consider When Checking a Proof

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

A book printing client of mine reviewed the hard-copy proofs of her job today, and a few issues came up that I thought you might find interesting and instructive. She found four pages that needed simple text edits and one correction on the back cover of the print book. (more…)

Book Printing: Thinking Creatively to Meet a Budget

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I wrote a blog entry a while ago about a print book consisting of about fifteen diecut pages of various sizes attached by an “O” ring, the kind used in printed 3 ring binders. The total run was to be 5,000 copies spread over three separate mailings (a few pages sent out with each mailing that the reader could add to the “O” ring). (more…)

Custom Printing: Consider UV Inks for Your Print Needs

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

UV inks have been around for some time, but they may bear serious consideration for at least some of your commercial printing work. (more…)

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