Printing – Evolution and Available Methods

Updated: June 30, 2018
Printing – Evolution and Available Methods

There are a lot of printing methods available to people, which makes it easy to stay informed on any subject.  Of course, with radio and television, reaching out to a wider audience is easy – the printed word still has the power to get the message across.  When detailed instructions are required, a book or leaflet is far more effective than watching a video clip.  Materials used for printing come in different sizes – whether it is a book, magazine, card, brochure, leaflet, a mug, decals, bumper stickers, postcards or even a t-shirt, all of these can be used to preserve memories, messages and information. The topics can vary as well – research papers, advertising materials, school textbooks etc. The list is endless.

The world of Digital Printing

Digital printing has taken over work which used to previously be cone by offset, screen and flexo- printing.  Even short run print jobs which require a small format, digital printing is able to do it more effectively, whether it is black and white or color.  Digital printing can handle mailing labels, bill board and point of purchase jobs.  For the latter, inkjet printer is most used. Book printers and large publishing house are now relying more and more on digital printing methods use print-on-demand quite often. There are quite a few digital printing methods which are used only for niche markets and personal projects like:


  • Dye sublimation where heat is used to transfer colors/dyes onto a surface. This kind of printer is used for photograph prints and proofing. Materials used to print are paper, fabric and plastic.
  • Direct thermal printing uses heat to change colors in special coatings applied to paper. This is mostly used with paper used in cash registers.
  • The thermal ink transfer printing process also uses heat. Print is melted off a ribbon on to surfaces. It was used for proofing but is being phased out slowly.

Gravure: Also called rotogravure, this method uses a technique in which a drum/cylinder used for printing has the image engraved on it.  The cylinder is inked and then transferred onto paper.  This method is most used for massive print jobs like magazines, packaging and newspapers.  Gravure printing is also losing major market share to offset printing for publications and flexography for packaging materials.

Screen printing: This technique uses a screen which is made of woven fabric. Some areas of this screen are coated with materials which are non-permeable. The remaining space is saturated with ink or pushed through onto printable surfaces.  The major advantage of this method is that the surface to be printed does not have to be flat.  The surfaces can be metal, wood, ceramics, papers, textiles and even glass.  Digital printing is replacing screen printing in many cases as the print quality is much better and cheaper as well.

Other printing methods:  Some of the other printing techniques one should be aware of are:

  • Letterpress: This used to be quite commonly used but now used mostly for business cards and invitations for parties and weddings.
  • Flocking: This technique adds a velvety texture to paper and even textiles. It can be done in color.
  • Pad printing: This technique is used to print on 3D surfaces.
  • Intaglio is a method used to print paper money and also stamps.

Thermography is more a finishing technique than a printing process. It is used to produce raised letters printed paper and used for letterheads, wedding and party invitations and business cards.