Printing technologies, offset, offset litho, lithography, digital, Indigo, Xeikon, large format, banners, posters
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Printing Technologies


At Plain-Talk Print, we use a variety of printing and finishing technologies to balance the need for top quality at affordable prices. All printing technologies have advantages and drawbacks. We can give you free, no-obligation advice on how to achieve your the best results for the quantities you need, within your budget — simply call our Design Advice Line on 01457 778788.

Offset litho printing

By far the most common, offset litho (often shortened to just 'litho') is extremely cost effective for medium to very long print runs. The intial expense is in making metal printing plates, but once these have been created and loaded on to the press, they can produce one or one million prints. The cost of the paper and ink is relatively very small.

Ink is applied to the metal plates via series of rollers and then, via another series of rollers, to the paper. Because the plates never actually touch the paper itself the printing operation is referred to as 'offset'.

There are two ways of printing using this technique. The first is process, or CMYK printing. CMYK refers to the four ink colours used (cyan, magenta, yellow and black, known as in print parlance as key — hence K).

Offset litho press set up for process colour printing

By using these four colours it is possible to print almost every colour of the spectrum. It is suitable for the vast majority of colour printing and since the press is always loaded with these four colours of inks, it is surprisingly inexpensive.

The other common use of offset litho machines is called spot colour printing. This is used where precise colour matches are needed.

Spot colour press

Here, inks are specially mixed according to a formula guide (most commonly Pantone®, but other guides exist) and are loaded into the stations of the press. The diagram above shows a two-colour letterhead being prepared with precisely-mixed green and purple inks.

Although it may seem strange, full colour process is often cheaper than spot colour printing. This is because spot colour printing is more labour-intensive — read more about this in our article on Spot Colour vs. Full Colour Printing.

Digital printing

Digital printing covers a multitide of technologies, but we use it to refer specifically to our Xeikon and HP Indigo digital presses.

Digital presses are very different from domestic colour laser printers and colour copiers in that they use liquid inks rather than powdered toners. The resulting prints have the feel of litho prints, not heat-fused sheets such as those resulting from copiers and printers. Our Xeikon press can also cope with much heavier stocks than other machines — up to 350gsm (grams per square metre), whereas most laser printers would struggle with anything about 160gsm.

HP Indigo digital press

Digital presses have the advantage over litho where only short runs (ie. small quantities) are needed. Since there are no plates to prepare and load the so-called makeready time is shortened considerably. For the same reason, the press does not need to produce identical prints as part of the same job — every print can be different if that is what is required.

We use digital presses most commonly for small orders of posters up to A2 in size. For larger posters, we use a different printing technology entirely, known as large format printing.

Large format printing

Large format in this context refers to anything larger than A3 in size. The printers which produce this work are also capable of printing on an amazing variety of substrates (materials) which can withstand all kinds of extreme environments.

Agfa large format printer

Large format printers work in a similar way to domestic inkjet printers but with a much larger platen (print width) and often up to eight ink colours. This combination of features means that huge prints can be produced, in our case up to 1,524mm wide, yet with true photographic quality.

Large format printing is costly and therefore the inks and materials are developed to last a long time. There are two kinds of inks: dye-based, for indoor use, and solvent-based, which is resistant to UV (ultraviolet) light from the sun's rays and therefore suitable for outdoor use.

Among the many substrates we can print on using the large format machines are:

  • Photorealistic matt paper, suitable for the vast majority of indoor uses and window displays.
  • Wet strength paper, designed for use on billboards and flat outdoor surfaces.
  • Opaque adhesive film, which is used for permanent window displays.
  • Translucent adhesive film, for illuminated displays such as backlit shop signage.
  • Pressure sensitive vinyl, intended for vehicle graphics but suitable for any permanent outdoor application.
  • Banner vinyl, which is usually fitted with brass eyelets and synthetic rope for affixing to fences and walls.
  • Treviera polycloth, a lightweight yet strong fabric ideal for printed flags.

To protect these prints we offer a variety of mounting and encapsulation options including films of varying thicknesses and finishes, depending on the intended use and location of the completed print.

Because of the huge number of combinations of sizes, materials and finishing choices we recommend you contact us for advice on how to get the best solution for your large format printing needs at the best price possible.

Other print technologies

Although the previous three technologies — offset litho, digital and large format — cover the vast majority of our work, there are always situations we need something a little different.

Hot foiling

Example of hot foil stamping

Hot foiling works by pressing a specially made, heated metal die against a coloured foil and the product to be printed. Where the hot die meets the foil, it melts and is permanently bonded to the surface.

Although commonly used for books, as shown above, it can be used on a variety of papers and cards (especially our card badges) to great effect, but as might be expected from a process requiring the manufacture of a metal die, it is rather costly. Once the initial cost of the die has been met, however, it can be used for subsequent print runs at a much lower cost.


Our Forcejet inkjet printer is used for overprinting lightweight paper items. The print quality is suited to adding detail such as seat numbers to theatre tickets or addresses to mailpieces and the machine processes these items very quickly.

Crash numbering

Used exclusively for NCR (no carbon required) forms, crash numbering involves striking the topmost form of a set with metal numerals on inked rotating wheels. The impact causes the number to appear on all of the sheets in the set. The wheels rotate as the next set is moved into position so that all the sets are numbered uniquely.


If you have any questions about anything in this article, please feel free to contact us using our Design Advice Line on 01457 778788 for plain-English advice with no obligation whatsoever.


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