What Are the Most Common Commercial Print Methods?

Posted on 26, July, 2018

Last Modified on 31, October, 2018

In densely populated areas, you can’t walk 10 feet without seeing some type of sign or display. Have you ever wondered what type of printer or printing process was used to make that banner? To some, it may seem that the act of printing an image on materials is just another everyday task and that all types of printing are the same. Truth is, it can get pretty technical and gets down to the details. There are tons of printing processes, each with their own unique use cases depending on the type of material the graphic is being printed on and the desired end result. Here we’ll talk about some of the more common types and what they are designed for.

1. Dye Sublimation:

Dye sublimation printing is performed with a unique heat transfer process using special inks which sublimate onto (or into) textiles. The dye goes through a transition between a solid and gas state, bypassing a liquid state, allowing fabrics to be enriched with dynamic and vibrant colors.

The artwork is printed on special transfer paper with the reverse image of the graphic. The image is then transferred using the sublimation heat process onto polyester. The print is heated to 375° F while the dye hardens into the fibers of the material. Dye-sublimation signage is available on many different materials including flags, banners and many stretch fabrics.

2. UV Printing:

UV Printing has interesting origins... It was originally developed for the use of quick-drying nail-polish for manicures and pedicures. Clearly, it didn’t take long for this practice to expand into commercial and industrial markets. UV Printing is a form of digital printing that uses ultraviolet lights that dry or cure ink directly onto materials (commonly referred to in the signage world as the substrate.) The UV lights cure and dry the ink instantly. UV lights produce prints with extremely fine detail due to the ink being dried and cured so quickly; reducing the occurrences of holidays, blur marks and non-crisp edges when compared to other types of printing processes. Essentially, the ink is prevented from spreading once printed. UV cured inks are weather resistant and do not fade quickly. A total win-win.

3. Silk-Screening:

Silk-screening is a process that uses actual screen stencils. Each screen is specifically cut to make a stencil for the run of items to be printed upon. Usually, if you’re going to go this route, to make it worth the cost of creating the stencil, you’ll want to have a good run size. You'll see this process used commonly for items like apparel and feather flags.

The name silk screening dates back to its origins in China when they used actual silk for the stencils. This process is performed when ink is spread over a screen. The ink or dye adheres to the material only on the exposed or open areas of the screen. This process allows only one color per screen to be used therefore the number of colors in the design to determine how many screens are needed to produce the final graphic.

4. Thermal printing:

Thermal printing is a digital printing process that produces an image by heating coated thermochromic AKA ‘thermal’ paper. Unlike inkjet printers, thermal printers do not use liquid ink to produce images. Instead, thermal printers use very small heating elements to transfer pigments. Thermal printers are used most commonly to produce labels, signs, markers and other heavily-used items that may be smeared if printed with liquid ink.

The paper is passed over the thermal print head and the coating turns black in the areas that have been heated, producing the image. The heat then activates the thermosensitive layer of the paper responsible for coloring the image. Thermal printed images are durable, versatile and require little maintenance than other types of printers.

5. Vinyl-Imprinting:

Vinyl printing lends itself to designs intended for small runs due to the individual set-up it takes to create each graphic. Since our vinyl printing is limited to a 1-color-print, the artwork is required to be uploaded as a vector file format supplied by software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. This format produces designs in lines as opposed to pixels like in a jpeg file.

Text-based and simpler designs are best for vinyl printing as versus elaborate designs or photographs which may lose fine detail when printed and true gradients will be lost. This process uses heat to create the final graphics. After the design has been chosen, vinyl sheets are fed into the printer where designs are cut and shaped in pieces of colored vinyl. A heat press is then used to transfer each vinyl color of the design onto the material combining a process using heat and pressure to create the final graphic. Vinyl workers love their squeegees.

6. Heat Transferred:

Types of heat transfers include vinyl heat transfer, digital heat transfer, and even dye-sublimation. With digital heat transfers, the graphic is first printed on heat-transfer paper using special solvent ink. This makes it possible for the graphic to be transferred from the paper onto the material as it is pressed with heat. This process is great for larger items such as tablecloths where having a large heat press machine is extremely helpful. Here at Displays2Go, we have 2 industrial size heat transfer machines that make it possible for us to make and ship products out extremely fast. So fast that many of our heat-transfer table covers get shipped in 24 hours. We no longer offer full-color heat transfer for throws but it is still a great process for custom designs on products like t-shirts and banner displays!

7. Latex:

Latex printing is slightly different, starting with the aqueous inks (water based) used in the process. These water-based inks are arguably the best for the environment, however, the print heads themselves become a consumable with latex ink which in turn, offsets much, if not all, of the environmental savings of the water-based ink. Latex printing also requires more ink than solvent printing increasing consumables cost. One of the advantages of latex printing is that it cures or dries almost instantly allowing the print media to be applied right after printing completes. Latex prints are vibrant, often more vibrant than solvent printing.

8. Solvent:

Solvent printing is a form of digital printing. Unlike thermal printing, solvent printing uses liquid ink which is printed on top of your substrate. Solvent prints do not cure or dry instantly like UV print but most substrates will not bleed or rub off unless it is treated aggressively. Most solvent prints fully cure after 24 hours and last for many years. The solvent printing we do at Displays2go uses variable dot printing to allow for high-quality images that are not disrupted by breaks in coverage as the drop sizes change and overlap. At Displays2Go we use eco-solvent inks with a Greenguard Gold Certification. For many years solvent printing has been the print method of choice for many sign companies, especially when printing banners or other durable goods. We solvent print banners, PSA, backlit signs, street pole banners, and more!

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