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What Are the Different Types of Commercial Printing Processes?

Commercial printing processes and technologies come in a wide variety to suit varying requirements. The most common variants include gravure, offset lithography, and digital printing flexography. Some processes like thermography, letterpress, pad printing, intaglio and flock printing are designed for specific applications.

Offset lithography

Offset printing is the dominant process used for a broad range of applications. It’s based on a basic principle that water and ink simply do not mix. In the early days, lithographers used flat stone to etch images. The latest methods follow these principles but incorporate one vital element. The image is etched onto a rubber blanket from a printing plate before being transferred to paper. The presses come in different qualities, sizes and styles. However, they all employ the same basic configuration.


This type of commercial printing process turns image details into halftone dots. The plate cylinder features multiple cells of different width and depth. These small cells hold the ink, which is then transferred when paper makes contact with the plate. This process reproduces graphics, photographs, type and rules as composites characterized by fine dots. Gravure is well suited to packaging and publications printing.


Flexography or flexo employs photo-etched plates whose non-image parts are etched away. This leaves the printing surface, which holds the ink until it’s transferred to the substrate.


Letterpress has evolved from being the standard printing process to a specialty option. It’s ideal for work involving books, fine art prints and posters. In some cases, the process is used to print forms and business cards. During printing, the image area is left protruding on the plate. This is aimed at ensuring that it makes an impression on the paper. On the other hand, the non-image is removed using a photo-etching technique.

Screen printing

Screen printing is a versatile option that is suitable for both short and long runs. Modern high-speed technology has made it easy for this type of printing to produce vivid true colors. Ink is expressed by a squeegee blade using stretched fabric mesh. As a result, the image is reproduced on the substrate.

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  1. Kelly says:

    Funny how lithography is more than 200 years old but is still widely used today. Every type is perfect for a certain task, so I think there is no “best” among all of the printing techniques. They each excel in their own right.

  2. Nicholas King says:

    I think letterpress printing is the most creative and stylish of them all. I know it’s not the standard today but still, I appreciate the look of it. Love how informative this blog is.

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