Commercial printing is an amazing, complicated and fascinating subject. Simply put, it is a process for reproducing text and images with ink on paper using a printing press.
What sets commercial printing apart is the wide range of uses; the end result being mass production that is as close to the original art as possible. It is a beautiful partnership of art and science – centuries old yet completely modern today.
The mechanics may confuse the observer, until they stand next a printing press and see how it all works so miraculously.
Offset lithography, which is the kind of printing most commonly used in commercial printing, is a way to transfer ink onto paper using metal or polymer plates that have been imaged (and in the old days, etched) with text and images.
Offset lithography works because of the way oil and water work on a printing press. One can get lost in the mechanics, but essentially images are transferred by plates onto paper because of the tension between oil and water.
The printing plates are wrapped around four cylinders on the printing press. As paper runs through the press, these cylinders transfer the images in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) onto paper, and these four process colors combine into thousands of “real” full-colors that end up being your commercial printing.
The major difference today is CTP (computer to plate) technology as opposed to CTF (traditional conventional plate making) and it involves how the plate surface is imaged.
To make it simple, the images in CTP are transferred onto the plate by computer. In traditional plate making or CTF, the images are transferred via exposing layers of 4-color process film.
The advantage of CTP versus CTF is time. CTP eliminates the need for film. It is much faster, and today the technology is refined to a point of near photographic quality.
There are artists, manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers who make their living using commercial printing as a supportive marketing tool. Or, they want to use commercial printing as a way to produce a product or achieve a life’s dream through publishing books, greeting cards or other commercial enterprises.
For those who want to print a few copies of a family history for personal distribution only, for example, it would not be a commercial enterprise.
The question to answer is, “Where do I fit into this equation?”
I hope we have helped you understand commercial printing – which is not about one copy or fifty. It is about mass production of your published materials that are of commercial intent and value.