As you become familiar with the ins-and-outs of being a business owner, or maybe you’re a seasoned vet, you might often encounter designers using various terms for printing techniques that can puzzle you. Often times the way in which your printed marketing, internal forms, and stationery are printed has an effect on your customer. And you want it to be a good one, right?! If you are a restaurant owner, you want the colors of the food to print nicely on a smooth white paper. Or if you own a legal business, maybe you want to show your pride in your education by using letterpress on a textured paper. These are the subtle details that make print and design collide, and that can really have an impact on your customers.

I’ve studied many forms of printing in my college and professional career, and the science and technology behind some of it left my head spinning. So, in order to save you the headache, I did a quick little write-up for reference on the most popular printing techniques here. Enjoy!

Off-Set Printing
The traditional style of printing, developed in England in 1875, is a highly accurate, dependable way to print large quantities. This method uses ink that is separated by four color plates that hold the following colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Paper us run through four large rollers, each time receiving an imprint of one the four colors until they render the specified artwork. This type of printing can use the largest variety of paper finishes and types. Extra “rollers” can be also utilized to add in custom colors such as metallic inks and Pantone colors to give artwork an extra pop.

Digital Printing
This is a modern-day printing option that uses commercial laser printing machines that output on uncoated or coated paper in a range of paper thickness. Unlike Off-Set printing, Digital printing uses a powdered toner that is melted to the paper by the use of heat inside the laser machines. Black and white and full-color can be printed, and the ink has a shiny look on top of the paper since it is laid down all at one time. For smaller print quantities, digital printing is a great way to save money over the traditional Off-Set method where quantities have to be much higher for price breaks.

Letterpress Printing
This historical style of printing began in the mid-1500s and is still used today because of it’s charm. Letterpress utilizes machines that are set-up and operated by hand in a small printing shop. Your artwork is inked in the colors you choose, black and white or full-color, and then “stamped” onto the paper. Generally, letterpress printing outputs the best using a thicker, uncoated, cotton-like paper. Because of the process of this printing option, the final design will have a slightly indented feel on the paper that creates a texture when you run your hand over the art area. The ink will appear more matte and there will be slight, unique variations from one peice to the next because of the paper fibers and the hand set-up. Letterpress is a nostalgic, sophisticated option that is often worth the higher price point.

Foil Stamping
This is a method of printing best utilized when the paper source you wish to print on will not tolerate either digital or letterpress inks. If you are being ambitious and creative and have chosen a paper that has a defined texture, often times it can’t be run through digital machines without jamming, or it does not hold the ink from a letterpress machine. As an alternative, a foil can be used in a similar set-up style as letterpress and it yields a crisp, dense, matte-finish final product. Foil also gives you a bold color that, depending on the surface you are printing on, can be much brighter and eye catching than any form of digital or traditional printing. One-color foil printing is recommended, as multiple colors of foil on one sheet can cause inconsistent results. This printing method will also yield a texture when you run your hand over the foil.

Next time you have a project, feel free to use this article to drop some serious knowledge bombs on your designers. They will be impressed 😉