Print: it isn’t just ink-on-paper anymore

For decades, print has been thought of as a specific item: putting ink on paper.  Whether it was offset printing or web printing, or even silk-screening, the definition of “print” was fairly narrow.

Now, print has a very broad definition, and often encompasses new or even renewed technology.  Let’s take a look at items that can be considered “print”, but don’t fall into that ink-on-paper category.


igen4_schuin_onder_vierkantBy far, the most thought of area of print outside traditional offset or web printing is digital. Digital print uses either dry toner or a liquid toner to image onto the paper or substrate, and is “fused” into the substrate, allowing the job to be sent into bindery immediately if needed.  Digital printing has revolutionized print in general by introducing short run capabilities, variable data and personalized printing, and even lately, inkjet web printing. What started out as turning high-end copying machines into digital presses has created a wave in print that is being carried forward by 3D printing.  Digital print allows marketers to target their intended audience, capture and use data, and refine their message, doing this consistently and repeatedly.  Digital print has benefited from e-commerce online solutions, allowing individuals or companies to order and secure print without having to work with a print sales rep.  And with open software page layout applications, most anyone can design, save to a PDF and print via one of these e-commerce storefronts for little cost.


If you take the idea of digitally imaging onto a substrate, use special inks or toners, and GS3250LX-zoomthen apply it to larger substrates, you are now working in the area of large or grand format. Large format usually works with materials up to 5′ in width, and grand format is 10′ in width or larger. Newer imaging devices can also accommodate thicker materials, up to 2″ thick, and newer substrates can be imaged on both sides.  The applications for large or grand format is obvious: signage; banners; event or trade-show graphics; even imaging onto fabric.  Like digital, it is quicker to produce, and with UV inks and UV curing, much more stable in outdoor applications.  Due to its growth, it has become more cost-effective too, and with the addition of specialized finishing equipment, much more creative.


Kornit_Storm_II_Direct_on_Garment_1366708429_prevIt used to be that if wanted branded apparel, you had to have it silk-screened, or embroidered, often at high cost per unit.  With the introduction of digital direct-to-garment printing, now you can have apparel and any other fabric digitally imaged, with personalization as well.  The per unit cost remains low, since there are no screens to create, and it’s a single- or double-pass process, rather than each color being applied individually.


What?  Is that pen with your brand name considered print?  How about that mug that has your company’s name on it.  Yes.  Promotional items are print as well, and still are are major share of print dollar spent, since businesses want their name and their brand out there consistently.


As printing has moved forward with new technologies, one old technology has had atara-and-benjamin-lp resurgence of interest: letterpress work.  Many shops now specialize in letterpress work, printing using hand-set type, and platen presses that are decades old. If you go onto Instagram you’ll find many letterpress shops showing images of their work.  It has become an exciting field, and most of the folk getting into it are young, and seeking something more artistic and artisan, rather than digitally done.

So, take a look around you and see what is out there.  There is a lot of print, and not all of it is ink on paper.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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