Operating typically through a web press, flexography uses rubber or soft plastic plates with a slightly raised image and, instead of the oil based inks used in offset, water-based inks that dry faster. This method is used for materials that are not as porous as paper, like plastic, kraft, or labels-so it is commonly used for packaging purposes like bread wrappers, plastic grocery bags, and milk cartons. Because it runs on a web press and the plates are made from soft material, the fidelity of the images registration between colour plates, and density of colour are far from optimal.
When a sophisticated detail of glitter and panache is desired, foil stamping provides the delicate, luxurious, and even dazzling effect that has been used since the first and second centuries in illuminated manuscripts-this later term arose from the result of this process-which involved grinding gold into a thin powder and then hammering it onto a page to yield the illuminating result. Today, the process is not as gruelling:A relief plate (or die) is created with the design, it is heated and placed on a letterpress, and a piece of foil paper is used on top o as the paper goes through the press, the foil adheres to the raised image. Foil stamping can be done on a variety of materials,including cloth, leather, and wood, and is opaque to stand out in any colour material-gold on black cloth is a classic.
Slowly but steadily, digital printing has evolved into a print method that designers are comfortable with. Unlike offset printing, digital printing does not require plates; rather, it uses toner instead of ink that lies on top of the paper instead of being absorbed. It can accommodate small print runs(in the hundreds and low thousands) at an affordable price. The quality of the images, type, and solid blocks of colour has increased enormously, but digital printing still can’t match the fidelity of offset nor match PMS colours consistently. Since the late 1990s, Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, and Heidelberg have made complex digital printers available-with each version improving capabilities and quality-that can accommodate a wider range of paper choices. The machines can collate and bind, but perhaps their biggest asset is their ability to produce variable data-that is, each printed unit can display unique data without much hassle. The quick turnaround time, low cost(relative to offset) and improved quality are no longer ignored by designers.
For very small print runs (in the hundreds) or even single prints, inkjet printing is the optimal method-and, with the right equipment, designers can do the job from the comfort of their office or home. Producing richly saturated images-including a black blacker than any black before it-and sharply defined type on a wide range of papers, including heavily textured specialty papers, inkjet printing is ideal fro art prints, posters and mockups for client presentations. Inkjet is also used in commercial printing as a method for imprinting addresses and other variable information for magazines and catalogs. Otherworldly pricing for consumer inks aside, inkjet printing is an excellent way for photographers, illustrators, small design firms and independent designers to present their work.