Venture into any modern office in Austin Texas and you’ll likely find a familiar object: a digital or ink-jet printer, perched happily atop a desk. You might come across a larger model intended for printing tens or even hundreds of pages quickly, but whether you’re in Austin Tx or Bangalore India, the printers found for most business and personal applications aren’t too imposing. That might be a big part of the reason why offset printers seem so bizarre and complex on first glance; with huge components that whirr and click during operation and a footprint that usually spans several feet, offset printers are entirely different animals when compared to our familiar office equipment. But offset printing has been around for a while, and has quickly become one of the most popular methods of putting text and images to paper.
Pioneered in 1903, offset printing enjoyed a widespread surge in the 1950s with the advent of several improvements in related technologies. The basic operation of the offset printer involves a series of drums or spools; an image is transferred onto a rubber blanket which in turn ìstampsî the image onto the printable surface used. The parts of the image to be printed pick up their respective colors from ink rollers loaded with basic hues, while areas of negative space attract what is called ìfountain solution,î which is a water-based fluid that repels ink and protects the surface.
The relatively quick operation of offset printers makes it an attractive choice for such applications as book and newspaper prints; in fact, the vast majority of modern text-based printed materials are created via offset (though letterpress is still used for ìluxuryî books, special editions, and other products seeking to impart a traditional look and feel). The reliably consistent quality achieved via offset printing makes it a good choice for web designers who want to create a physical portfolio or provide tangible pieces for a web design client. While the plates used to create the image can cause problems for the printer if improperly cared for, wise preservation of the printer’s components can ensure a remarkably long life, making them still more dependable.
When working with designs and products that are photograph-intensive, and when absolute precision means the difference between an acceptable print and a total failure, offset printing may be considered inferior to other methods. Rotogravure and photogravure, complex printing techniques used for the highest-quality photograph printing, can provide more exact results, though they fail to be as cost-effective as offset, especially for large runs. Designs with frequent modifications or a series of prints involving separate images for each page may prove more appropriate for digital printing, as the setup process for offset can be impractical when multiple prints are not necessary.
Aspiring printers and designers interested in getting the best representation of their work possible can take a lead from the principles of SEO; as sound research of appropriate keyword use in search engine optimization is vital to effective sites, a solid understanding of the abilities and faults of various printing methods is essential for beautiful results in ink.