Digital Printing 101

In a world where going digital is all the rage, printing has been going digital for over 30 years! Your everyday office printer is a digital printer, and the similarities between that printer and the industrial-grade Nexpress we have here at Rayment and Collins are quite surprising. They both work off the same basic principles, just on different scales.

First, let’s take a look at traditional printing.

As with any type of printing, the end goal is to take an image and apply it to a surface or substrate. There are a few techniques to do this; digital printing is one option, but what does that mean in comparison to “non-digital” printing? In traditional printing (such as offset printing), there is an image carrier component commonly known as a “plate”. There are a few different methods of traditional printing that all use different plate types and various methods of transferring ink onto another surface.

The plate component of offset printing is primarily what differentiates digital printing. Since the plate is a physical material, it gets made or imaged, used to print a job and in most cases, discarded as it was only good for printing that one image. Comparing this to digital printing, digital printers may still have an image carrier component, but the image they need to transfer is electronically produced on the fly as the press is running. This means no plates need to be made, and different images can be printed sequentially.


Digital printing: variable ways to work.

There are a few ways a digital printer can produce an image on a surface, the first of which is by using electromagnetism. As a general principle, a couple of key parts that play a role in this process are commonly an imaging cylinder and/or a blanket cylinder (depending on your specific printer). These two components will pick up an electrical charge written to them based on the image you are trying to print. This charge will change based on if the image needs more or less ink coverage in different areas of the image. From here, the charged areas of the blanket will pick up ink and press it onto the target surface. Now that you have your image on your substrate, the blanket can be fully discharged, setting it up to be charged again for the next print job.

Another way a digital printer can produce an image is by using a print head. This is the part that you may have seen or heard rushing back and forth as your printed sheet gets pushed out of the printer. This print head essentially breaks the image into tiny horizontal strips, then running back and forth across the sheet, the print head precisely releases ink as it passes overtop of spots that need ink coverage on the substrate.


Need something printed yesterday?

As with many things in printing, there are always pros and cons to each process. In the case of digital printing, it excels at producing smaller items, variable images and text, and low-quantity jobs. Expanding on these strengths, when a job is done digitally, it can be printed faster as a digital press can be fully operational within seconds. In most cases, digital printing becomes less of an ideal choice when you get into larger print runs (larger in product dimensions and quantity). Digital presses typically have a limited sheet size which can restrict you from printing large products. Additionally, a larger sheet can mean you can produce more images per sheet of paper, which, if the job is big enough, will make offset printing a more cost-effective option, even after plate and setup costs. Digital printing technology is always being improved, and there are some printers capable of matching some offset presses in terms of sheet size. Right now, the big print jobs that you see in the market today are not digitally printed… but one day soon, they may be!

Here at Rayment and Collins, we are proud to be able to offer a Kodak Nexpress as our digital press. This press has a wide range of capabilities and some great options to help make your materials look professional.

Click here to read more about our Nexpress.

This press is well suited for producing a wide variety of common items such as gift cards, brochures, posters, tent cards, wobblers, price cards, window stickers and more!