Common Printing Definitions

A challenge for new publishers is learning the lingo of the printing industry. A while back we did a post that defined some common terms used by printers and publishers.

This post expands on that one but gives definitions of terms heard so often that it can be easy to forget their true meaning. If you are getting a book printed for the first time, chances are you will hear some of these terms.

Offset Printing: Even though this is a common term, people often have a vague idea of what it actually means. It refers to a very common lithographic printing process that relies on fundamental properties of oil and water and also how ink is applied to paper using an aluminum printing plate.

In printing, the lipophilic or “oil-friendly” image and text areas on a plate absorb the oil-based ink. The blank hydrophilic areas of the plate repel the ink. During the offset process, images are pressed onto a blanket which in turn presses the image and text onto paper. Both sheetfed and web offset presses operate in this way.

Digital Printing: Yet another term used commonly in our industry that is often misunderstood is digital printing. In the most general sense of the term, this refers to a printing process where text and images are transferred from the computer directly onto paper without using film or printing plates.

There are many different forms of digital printing technology and in years prior this method was considered inferior to that of traditional offset printing. Today however, even a well trained eye can have difficulty telling the difference between a book printed on a digital printing press and one made using traditional methods.

Digital printing is far better suited for tasks like print-on-demand and highly customized jobs.

P.O.D., Books on Demand or Print on Demand: This is another aspect of book manufacturing that is often misunderstood. Books printed on demand are not printed in a production run with a fixed length. Instead, they are produced and shipped individually on the basis of orders.

This method is made possible by digital printing and is growing in popularity because of its inventory control and cost saving possibilities for both small and large publishers. P.O.D. should not be confused with short run printing or digital printing in general.

RIP: This stands for Raster Image Processor which is a machine designated to prepare data from the pre-press stage of the book manufacturing process.

Images from files submitted to a printer must be specially processed in order to create printing plates. Some printers use separate machines where others use RIP software to prepare printing plates.

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