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Due Process

Whether you're selling paper products, promotional products or both, understanding print processes and decoration techniques is key to customer satisfaction

January 2013 By Sean Norris

Offset. Digital. Electrostatic. Letterpress. Thermography. Flexography. Screen print. Inkjet. Dye-sublimation. 3-D. Gravure. Xerography. Hectograph. Woodblock. And you thought it was as simple as pressing command+P.

As it turns out, printing is complicated. "There are more printing processes in use today than at any other time in history," said Frank Romano, professor emeritus of the Rochester Institute School of Media Sciences, Rochester, N.Y. "No process dies, it just finds its niche."

That's good news if you're Johannes Gutenberg, still cashing royalty checks from that little "movable type" invention of yours. But if you're in the business of selling print and promotional products, the sheer number of processes can be headache inducing. What supplier should you turn to if your customer wants a four-color process water bottle and web-to-print business cards? What if your client absolutely needs an exact PMS match for its logo? What the heck is a flexo, anyway?

You don't need to be an expert on offset lithography, but if you want to meet your customers' product needs, it pays to know the printing basics. Check out the following list of tips for getting started in the big world of inks, plates and dyes, and you'll be selling faster than you can hit command+P.

1. Not every promotional product can be printed the same way.

Not all materials (substrates, in industry lingo) are created equal. It's the golden rule of printing, the reason there's no single printing process or machine suited for decorating every paper or promotional product.

Let's say your client wants imprinted ceramic mugs, filled with candy that has imprinted wrappers, along with a paper insert to be placed in the mug. A supplier that decorates mugs might not have the necessary equipment to decorate the candy as well—let alone the inserts, which would require a wholly different machine for printing. The lesson here? Plan accordingly.

"Paper and some plastics can be printed on traditional offset presses as sheets or rolls," explained Romano. "Fabrics and textiles are printed on rotary screen or inkjet presses. Flexible packaging is printed on flexographic presses. Shower curtains and pool liners are printed on gravure presses. Some odd-shaped objects are printed with pad printing, a version of screen-printing. Labels are printed by all processes depending on volume."


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