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Our goal at Whiteline Design is to make sure our customers are completely satisfied. Part of achieving that goal is giving you the information you need to make good product choices. Because there are so many different types of printing processes, you may not know which type is best for your project. Each process has its own unique set of pros and cons, therefore, we now present you with these charts and graphics. Enjoy!


First, let's learn what digital printing is. Digital printing is often referred to as Large Format or Wide Format printing. These machines use technology that is similar to the type of printer you would buy to use at home with your computer.

There are several differences between a home printer and a Large Format printer, though. First, a Large Format printer uses a completely different type of ink called a "solvent" or "eco solvent" ink. This ink is specially formulated to be able to endure outdoor abuse and to adhere to multiple types of surfaces such as vinyl, polyester, and paper. These printers also use an advanced software to convert an image file on a computer screen to a printed product. This software is called "RIP" software. The third major difference is obviously in the size of the print it can produce. To be considered a Large Format printer, it must be able to produce printed items larger than 11"x14".

Some Large Format printers can produce prints over 105" wide by several hundred feet long. The most common size of wide format printer used by sign shops is a 54" wide printer. These machines can produce a huge variety of items and are an essential tool to any designer.

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Next, let's find out what screen printing is all about. Compared to a Large Format printer, the screen printing process requires a considerably larger amount of work, money, and preparation to even begin printing. After creating a design, a print must be made onto clear film, which is then transferred onto a light-sensitive screen coated with a special fluid, which must be kept in a dark room until the fluid hardens. After the fluid hardens, the clear film bearing the design is placed onto the screen and exposed to light. The light cures the fluid except where the image has blocked it. With the image area of the screen not having been exposed to light, it leaves the fluid in an uncured state so you can then take a high pressure hose and rinse the uncured fluid off of the screen. The cured fluid makes a barrier on the screen which doesn't allow ink to pass through. The uncured area which was washed away will allow ink to pass through. The finished screen is laid on top of a shirt (or other item) and ink is placed on top of the screen. The printer takes a squeegee and spreads the ink across the screen. The ink transfers onto the shirt. From here the shirt must be pressed and dried to cure and set the ink.


Other major types of printing processes:

Offset printing: One of the most common printing techniques, wherein ink is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket, then back to the printing surface.  Like most types of printing, offset printing is a mix of art and science. Offset printing requires a mix of technical expertise and operator expertise to ensure great results. This type of printing is what you encounter the most in your day. It is a reliable, fast way to produce very large amounts of product. The majority of the cost for offset printing comes from the setup process. This means there isn't an enormous increase in cost when jumping from a 500 piece order to a 1,000 piece order. This can end up meaning that for very large orders, you can get suprisingly low cost-per-piece prices. However, because the offset printing machines are very expensive, , and the setup takes a long time, every shop that does offset printing will require a minimum order. Otherwise, it will just not be worth their time to set the machine up.

Dye Sublimation: A somewhat new entry into the printing arena, dye sublimation consists of a multi-step process. To perform dye sublimation, a shop must have a special printer designed to use gel dyes (versus solvent ink). A design is made on a computer, which is then printed out using the dye sub machine. The dye sub machine lays dye on a special carrier paper in a mirror image. The dye dries to the touch a few minutes after printing completes. The carrier paper is then placed onto the substrate (a substrate is the item which will receive the image).

High Volume Laser: These types of printers have been a staple of most office settings for decades and are perfect for high volume runs of documents that can be printed on standard, everyday-quality paper. Some print only in grayscale, and some print in full color. These machines come with a huge variety of finishing capabilities (some can copy, scan, fax, sort, duplex, staple, fold and collate documents). Some are built for speed, while others are built for their finishing capabilities. Some models have both speed and capability! Here at Whiteline Design, we have a color copier that is built for speed and capabilities to allow our customers a full range of services.

Photo Printer: Some photo printers use water soluable inks, and some use dye sublimation technology. These printers are what you find in places like Walgreens and places that print photos from digital cameras.

Process Pros Cons Best Used For

Offset printing

Glossy prints, high quality prints, very crisp and sharp images, multiple types and thicknesses of paper can be printed on, wide variety of products can be produced, price per piece can be very affordable, printed items have waterproof ink

Requires a minimum order of typically 100 or more pieces because initial setup of job is labor and time intensive, can usually only be used on paper products, turnaround time usually between 7-10 days

High volume jobs that require a high quality finish (glossy papers, thick cardstock, etc.) Usually used for things like business cards, postcards, mass production calendars for resale, brochures, flyers, letterhead, and note pads

Wide Format printing

Huge variety of product capabilities, fast turn around, ability to order just one item, artwork can be resized easily (can make multiple sizes of same image/job with no additional setup fee), printed images are waterproof and can withstand outdoor use easily for 3+ years

Best print quality is obtained with vector images (vector artwork can be expensive to have produced), not necessarily for high volume jobs, turnaround time can be anywhere from an hour to several days depending on scope of artwork and size of job

Vehicle wraps, decals, fleet lettering, banners, heat transfers for shirts and other fabric imprintables, outdoor signage, billboards, product packaging mock ups, magnetic signs, street/road signage, static cling decals, see-thru window decals, and yard signs

Dye Sublimation

Can print photo quality on a wide variety of items including wood, plastic, glass, aluminum, silver, fabric, paper and more; images can be resized with no additional setup fee, great way to personalize gifts, item turnaround can be very fast, printed images are waterproof, usually no minimum order required, unlike screen printing dye sub prints on fabric have absolutely no feel as the fabric is dyed versus having an ink laid on top of the fabric

Dyes, equipment,and other materials required to dye sublimate an item are more costly than other types of printing so per item cost may seem higher than other methods of printing (i.e., custom printed shirts are usually where you see a higher price difference), colors can be very difficult to match due to the high likelhood of environmental influences, dye sublimation printers are temperamental and require an enormous amount of maintenance adding to the cost of the finished product

Promotional products, awards, and apparel

High Volume Laser

Can produce a large quantity of documents in relatively short time, usually no minimum order, economical way to mass produce items, turnaround times usually very fast, can produce finished products with hole punching, stapling, sorting, collating, folding and duplexing, very crisp image quality

Limited types of paper can be used in high volume laser copiers (20 lb to 100 lb traditional paper in sizes from 8.5"x11" to 11"x17", the glossiest finish available is satin,

Booklets, brochures, copies, schedules, etc.

Photo Printers

Can produce archival quality photos to be cherished for decades

Limited types of paper can be used

Photos for display and archival purposes

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