What Is Printing?

Printing is the process of transferring an image onto a substrate, such as paper. It is a major industrial sector and an important part of the communications industry, enabling the production of newspapers, books, posters and more. There are five major Printing processes which are differentiated by the method of image transfer and by the general type of image carrier used: gravure, flexography, screen, woodcut and Printing.

The invention of the printing press was a watershed event in human history. It changed the way that information was disseminated and made it possible to produce large numbers of copies with relatively little effort, resulting in an explosion of knowledge and a change in the nature of literacy. Prior to the invention of printing, literary works were produced one at a time by scholars and were disseminated by hand. This resulted in small pockets of knowledge but did not lead to a widespread form of idea sharing. Printing changed all this and was instrumental in the development of critical reading skills.

In Europe, woodcut printing was initially used to make textiles such as cloth and sheets for church services but was soon adopted for printing pages in books such as the missals (book containing instructions and texts for celebrating mass throughout the year). Printing on paper was further developed by the artist Albrecht Durer who exploited its narrative and expressive potential in his prints.

When the rotary press was introduced in the 19th century it was possible to print many thousands of copies per hour. This allowed the formation of cooperative associations/publication syndicates, which spread the risks of publishing and the rewards of profits. It also led to subscription publishing whereby members contributed to the costs of a publication in exchange for the right to read it.

Modern printing methods have become increasingly sophisticated with the use of digital presses that print directly from computer files. The quality of the printed product can be improved with the use of varnishes and lamination to protect the printed surface and increase its longevity.

When it comes to large format print, there is a wide variety of different papers and finishes and the terminology can be confusing. Working with a professional print service company can ensure that the finished item looks, feels and functions as hoped once it is printed. These companies understand the different aspects of production and are able to help the designer through each stage to ensure that the printed product is exactly as intended. This is especially important when the printed material will be exposed to the elements such as being outside or being handled a lot. Printing is not a technology that is likely to disappear as it has been supplanted by audiovisual media such as radio, television, film and tape recording. But it will remain an integral part of the means by which information is put at the disposal of humanity. Its importance can be judged by the fact that it is a major component of a range of other devices such as holograms, microfilm and tape recordings that are meant to preserve information for long periods.