4 Basic Printing Processes to Know

Globally, the United States is the largest print market. These are the 4 most common processes and press types used, and for which industries, so that you have a better idea as to which press you may be looking for in your business.


This is the most widely used printing process, so it makes sense if you’ve seen plenty of them on WireBids!

Offset printing is a technique where the inked image is transferred from a plate, to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. The modern “web” process feeds a large reel of paper through a large press machine in several parts, typically for several meters, which then prints continuously as the paper is fed through.

Offset printing is ideal for something that requires a large volume of work.

Originated: 1875

Suitable for: paper, cardboard, plastic, and other flat materials.

Industries: books, newspaper, stationary, packaging

Digital Printing

This is possibly the widest scope of printing with a wide range of materials. The surface does not have to be flat, so Digital Printing processes are the fastest growing, continually offering new possibilities.

Inkjet and laser printing are the most common, where a pigment or toner is deposited onto the media. The pigment or toner creates a thin layer on the surface, but does not permeate or substrate like a traditional ink may. This is why machines may feature a UV curing or heat processes, to further adhere the ink to the media.

Large format and high-volume laser or inkjet printing allow for something on-demand, fast turnaround, and variable data printing. This means that with digital printing, the need to replace printing plates is eliminated, creating lower labor cost.

Originated: 1967 (inkjet), 1969 (laser)

Suitable for: paper, photo paper, fabric, canvas, glass, metal, marble, etc.

Industries: desktop publishing, mailing, fine art, on-demand printing, advertising, and sleeking


Flexography (often just called “Flexo”) is essentially a modern version of a letterpress, and can be used for printing on almost any type of substrate. Most widely, this is used for printing on non-porous surfaces required for food packaging.

A flexible (typically rubber) plate is used, extending the range that can be printed on.

Flexo can use a wider range of inks, from oil based to water based, and generally have a low viscosity. This allows for faster drying time, and faster production with speeds up to 2,000 feet per minute.

Originated: 1890

Suitable for: plastic, foil, acetate, paper, cardboard, cellophane, metal, etc.

Industries: packaging, labels, converting companies

Screen Printing

Screen printing is a technique where a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas blocked by a stencil. A blade or squeegee pulls the ink over the mesh, and a reverse stroke causes the screen to touch the media along a line of contact. A single color is printed at a time, so several screens are required to make a multi-colored image.

Screen printing methods have been used for centuries, but was industrialized in the 1900s as photo-imaged stencils were created, popularizing the method for printing. For this, it has become more versatile than traditional printing techniques and allow for more manual control than digital printing. The surface printed on does not have to be printed under pressure, and does not have to be flat.

Originated: 1911

Suitable for: plastic, ceramic, wood, paper, glass, metal, and textile

Industries: packaging, textile, medical, electronics, posters and displays

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