What Is Involved in the Commercial Printing Process?

Angela Farrer

The commercial printing process involves several steps, such as prepress planning, prepress production, the selection of specific printing techniques, and the actual production tasks known in the printing industry as press runs. Commercial printing involves several different options that are appropriate for certain projects. The most common technique in the commercial printing process is called offset printing, and it requires the use of specialized printing equipment to transfer a finished layout to paper.

Newspapers make use of the commercial printing process.
Newspapers make use of the commercial printing process.

Completing the commercial printing process involves both creative and technical stages. The printing business typically involves the creation of magazines, newspapers, business cards, and several other types of materials. Each of these projects begins with decisions about the images or graphics to add, the format of the written text, and the placement of each element on each page. This early phase of the printing process typically involves the work of graphic designers, writers, and editors who put together the project beginning with rough sketches and ending with finished artwork to be sent to the printing machines.

Offset printing is used to make labels for DVDs, as well as to print the case covers.
Offset printing is used to make labels for DVDs, as well as to print the case covers.

The technical phase of the commercial printing process begins with prepress production, in which the initial artwork is transferred to printing plates. Depending on the project, prepress often requires the conversion of digital files to film negatives before they can be rendered with the plates. This printing technology works in a manner similar to photo development. A light beam passed through a negative and exposed to the printing plates activates an ink transfer process that renders the artwork on the printing plates.

Once prepress production is finished, commercial printers then plan the exact technique needed for printing each project. This phase of the commercial printing process is one of the most important because it determines the needed printing equipment and materials, as well as the final costs and time constraints. Offset printing is typically reserved for most standard publications such as newspapers. Another method called gravure is sometimes used for high-gloss magazines or catalogs, and some types of print engraving are used for fine quality stationary or business cards with raised lettering. Each of these printing methods involves equipment designed to render the same results as letterpress printing by hand, just on a faster and larger scale.

A final phase of the commercial printing process is normally called the bindery phase. Its steps involve cutting the finished prints to the appropriate sizes, putting pages in the correct order, and packaging finished products for client delivery. Completed print projects are then ready to be shipped and clients billed for the finished orders.

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