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Offset lithography is the workhorse of printing. Almost every commercial printer does it. But the quality of the final product is often due to the guidance, expertise and equipment provided by the printer.
Offset lithography works on a very simple principle: ink and water don't mix. Images (words and art) are put on plates (see the next section for more on this), which are dampened first by water, then ink. The ink adheres to the image area, the water to the non-image area. Then the image is transferred to a rubber blanket, and from the rubber blanket to paper. That's why the process is called "offset" -- the image does not go directly to the paper from the plates, as it does in gravure printing.
]Step 1: Creative Process
Every print piece starts with the creative process. Writers, editors, graphic designers and artists are the initial step in the creation of magazines, newspapers, brochures, flyers, catalogs and other print pieces. Topics for articles are identified and writers are assigned. Strict guidelines for word length and a reliance on custom graphics keep articles short, informative and entertaining. Editors help focus copy and keep the whole process moving.
Once the text has been developed, graphics are created by designers. Many "e-meetings" between the author, illustrator and director of design move the work from conceptual drawings to final art. Finally after the designer created the basic drawings and graphics, the artwork file is passed to artists / desktop publisher to do the data input portion and to create the final layout.
After the artwork has been approved for the final time, the file will be sent to a digital injet proofer. The printout will be used to future predict what the color is like when the final good is printed by the press.
Step 2: Pre-press Production
Before the job can be printed, the document must be converted to "plates." Images from the negatives are transferred to printing plates by Computer-to-Plate (CTP) machine. A measured amount of light is allowed to pass through the film negatives to expose the printing plate. When the plates are exposed to light, a chemical reaction occurs that allows an ink-receptive coating to be activated. This results in the transfer of the image from the negative to the plate. A blue-line print is made to check image position before printing.
Each of the primary colors -- black, cyan (blue), magenta (red), and yellow -- has a separate plate. Even though you see many, many colors in the finished product, only these four colors are used
Step 3: The Offset Process
The image area of the plate picks up ink from the ink rollers. The water rollers keep the ink off of the non-image areas of the plate. Each plate then transfers its image to a rubber blanket that in turn transfers the image to the paper. The plate itself does not actually touch the paper -- thus the term "offset" lithography. All of this occurs at an extremely high speed.
The paper is left slightly wet by all of the ink and water being applied. Obviously, there is a risk of the ink smudging. The smudging is avoided by spraying "quick drying powder".
Step 4: Binding
The bindery is where the printed product is completed. Pages are collated together, and then bound together by staples or glue, in this step of the process. The final components in the guillotine which trim the paper to the final delivered size. The product is then ready to be shipped to the end destination.