Let’s Talk About Printing – How do Printers and Printing Work?

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Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects in the field of Graphic Design is preparation for printing. Don’t wait here for a tutorial on how to prepare your files in Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, none of these. We need to talk about theoretical issues about printing technology so that you, the designer or candidate, can better understand and make rational decisions about printed material. For this, we need to understand a little history.

That year 1985 and Apple just released a Macintosh. This computer gives us extraordinary technology to use fantastic screen typography, but only on screen. Dot matrix printers are the main printing technology. Desktop publishing is still a non-existent market. Until new companies appear on the market, Adobe brings new technology in the matter of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get): PostScript technology.

PostScript is a programming language that describes the behavior of pages for output devices, especially printers. It was made specifically for the purpose of assembling pages, images and fonts for the interpretation of laser printers, making the Macintosh really capable of printing impressive fonts on the screen. Thanks to this, new and exciting markets were created which opened the door to information technology for graphic design professionals. Over time, it has become more and more integrated thanks to programs such as Illustrator, CorelDRAW, PhotoPhinish, Pagemaker and so on. The progress of digital technology, as the parent of graphic technology, has been so rapid that it covers the luxury watch industry that spawned tissot watch, Rolex watch and so on.

But How do Printers and Printing Work?

The printer receives page information through a system / device called a spooler. This information collector encodes and describes information sent by the computer for information that the printer can interpret. There are various types of printers and each behaves in a certain way, but we will focus on the types of printers that use WYSIWYG technology.

At present, the two most commonly used professional printing methods are called Offset Printing and Digital Printing.

In Offset Printing, the printer creates a printing plate, which will be used as a kind of “stamp” for each color used. On the plate, the reticle (the small dot that forms the image) has been formed. The same paper then passes through all the plates that “stamp” the color. When the printer works with more than one color, the reticle, because it is very close, gives the impression that new colors have been produced. We call this phenomenon a subtractive color. When using CMYK, four sheets pass through the paper. If there are extra special colors, such as gold, silver, varnish or color outside the general gamut, additional plates are placed for that color. Using plates, that is, mechanical and analogical processes, this system is recommended for large processes because sheets are the highest printing costs, in contrast to printing in much faster volumes. In this case, PostScript is not on the printer itself, but on equipment that will produce an array.

On the other hand, Digital Printing (nothing to do with the finger) is intended for the more linear concept where the color printing is done directly on the paper simultaneously, through a direct process without a matrix. Hence the laser printers, jet printers, plotters, etc. This process is very interesting because you have a direct response to the material you are producing. For short runs it may be ideal because it does not need the creation of sheets, however it turns out to be a slow process because it relies on information passed to the printer. In this case, PostScript tends to be directly in the printer or in an external spooler. Fingerprinting is also widely used for testing, as it will help the graph (professional in a print shop) to make adjustments and tests that calibrate best for that approved result.

Today, digital printing technology has been improving a lot, with printers getting faster and with more amount of colors, guaranteeing better quality with gradients, that previously were only reached by offset printing. It is not uncommon to find hybrid processes where only special colors are added by offset and CMYK printing is done directly by digital printers.

A professional Web/Graphic Designer, working as Freelancer since 2000. Designing is my passion, blogging is my hobby.

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