The Printing Process
Hello! I am so excited for the upcoming Asheville wedding shows I’ll be participating in over the next few months. I am really looking forward to showing our invitations and print capabilities. That Joy offers a range of print techniques to choose from so I decided to put together a guide that discusses the process of each. Printing itself is such an art, and this guide explains the tools and tasks required to perform each technique.
Digital printing is a very common and well-known print process for invitations and stationery. It produces a vibrant flat image with no texture, but perks of digital printing include quick turnaround time and lower cost. It works great for designs that use multiple colors and photographs.
Many people own inkjet printers for home use, but print facilities usually use laser printers to complete jobs. These printers are larger, higher quality, and better equipped for large quantities. They use actual laser beams to read the design from a computer and replicate it on a page. To do this, a laser receives data and moves inside the printer in the pattern of the design. As static electricity builds up it allows a powder called toner to adhere. A roller in the printer fuses the toner to the paper, and voila! The print emerges.
Offset printing is a flat print process that may look similar to digital printing, but actually uses mixed inks. When it comes to stationery, offset is preferable over digital printing when it is necessary to match a Pantone color exactly. It is also recommended on pieces where a solid, dark-colored printed background is desired. (Digital printing works well for most standard flat designs, but it can sometimes appear blotchy or banded if used for a large, solid dark area.) Offset is also recommended for very large quantities to ensure that color doesn’t fade during the printing job, and it tends to look crisper and clearer and higher quality than digital.
After a plate of the artwork is made and loaded into the offset press, a roller applies ink to the plate. Then another roller moves over the plate, picking up the ink from the artwork. Finally, this roller moves over the paper, finalizing the print. The process is called offset because the plate never touches the paper that it prints on; the ink is “offset” to a roller and transferred to the paper stock. This is done to prevent the plate from wearing out, since it is often not made of a highly durable material.
Letterpress is known for its history of design with movable wood and metal type, setting every single letter individually before stamping it onto a page. There are many printers that still use this method for vintage-inspired prints, but more commonly artwork is transferred to a metal or flexible polymer plate.
Letterpress ink is mixed by hand to match a chosen Pantone color, and is then applied to rollers on the printing press. The plate is locked into the press and printer manually rolls the ink over the plate to apply it to the design. Then another roller pulls the paper over the plate, transferring the inked design. After each “stamp” the printer must re-ink the plate by rolling the ink over it manually. Each print is fed individually by hand, and multiple colors require multiple runs. Because of this, letterpress is usually limited to one or two colors. The effect is most beautiful on a soft textured paper stock.
Foil stamping creates a sheen on an area of a print. It is often imagined in gold and silver but can actually be achieved in an entire spectrum of metallic, glossy, and matte colors. This effect can be used for an entire design on a piece or combined with other print processes to highlight certain elements. It has a more prominent effect on smooth paper stocks. Similarly to letterpress, it is usually limited to one or two colors.
To make a foil stamping die, the artwork is etched with acid into a thick magnesium, copper, or brass plate so that it raises off the surface. Foil is supplied on a roll with a heat-activated adhesive and is loaded onto the press along with the metal plate, which is heated. The printing press sandwiches the foil between the hot plate and the paper, and the pressure and heat fuse the foil to paper.
The stamping press feeds each piece through individually. If a piece is using two different foil colors, it will be run through twice, once per color. For a piece that includes another print process, such as digital printing, it may take several runs to set up the registration correctly, or in other words, make sure the foil is positioned properly with the rest of the print.
Embossing raises a design off the paper for a three-dimensional texture. It can be created with no ink for a very subtle, elegant effect. It can also be combined with foil for raised foil embossing. To do this, the piece can be foil stamped first and then run through again with another die that embosses over the foil, but usually a special plate called a combination die is made that can achieve both effects at once.
So there you have it! All of these processes are available to elevate your invitations. Foil stamping and foil embossing are flashy and eye-catching, letterpress is classic and exquisite, offset achieves exact color, and digital can assist in production of lively multi-color pieces. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or would like to discuss which print process will work best for you!