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How Does Digital Printing Work?

How Does Digital Printing Work?

Zach Cabading
Reading time: 5 minutes

What is digital printing?

Digital printing is when you print a digital-based image onto print media. Whenever you print a file from your computer, phone, or flash drive, that’s digital printing at work. Other kinds of printing are offset printing and screen printing.

How does digital printing work?

Let’s say you want to print a document that’s saved on your computer:
  • When you click Print, you’ll be able to select printing options, like whether you want to print on two sides, what kind of paper you want to print on, and in which orientation you want the document printed
  • The computer sends the file and your selected print options to a printer that’s connected to your computer
  • The computer’s printer driver translates the computer data into a language the printer is able to understand (every computer must have an installed driver for every printer it’s going to print on)
  • The printer processes the data and determines how to best print your document
And then you’ll receive your digitally printed document hot off the press (so to speak).

What are the 2 different kinds of digital printing machines?

Inkjet printers

An inkjet printer creates your documents by placing tiny ink droplets onto the paper that’s sliding through the printer (or whatever medium you choose to print on). Because inkjet printers use real ink, you can generally create vivid and professional-quality color photos. The downside is that inkjet printers don’t print quite as quickly as laser printers due to the nature of the inkjet printing process.

Laser printers

A laser printer uses a laser mechanism combined with electromagnetism in order to create your printed documents. Basically, a laser traces your document or image onto an electromagnetic canvas, upon which electrically charged particles of toner attach. Toner is a printing material that’s unique to laser printers.
It’s advantageous because a single toner cartridge can yield far more pages than an ink cartridge can. Laser printers are also much faster than inkjet printers, so they’re optimal if you need to print a high volume of documents or documents that have a large number of pages. The one downside to laser printers is that they usually can’t produce color images that are as high-quality as inkjet printers.

What are the advantages of digital printing?

There are 3 main advantages to digital printing over other printing methods. The advantages are:
  • Digital printing enables you to easily customize a large number of printing options
  • Through digital printing, you can print almost anywhere you want if your printer has mobile printing capabilities
  • Digital printing is cost-effective when you’re printing a small volume of documents
One of the best things about digital printing is that you can customize your printing options with relative ease, which is a big perk that’s easy to take for granted. When you’re using other types of printing methods, like offset printing, the smallest changes might require a whole lot of pre-printing prep work to be redone. But when you’re printing digitally, you can adjust the orientation and other print options with the click of a button.
Digital printing also enables you to print documents wirelessly through the internet, which is something that can’t be done with offset printing or screen printing (not yet, anyway) because those print methods require a great deal of on-hand labor and physical prep work.
And finally, digital printing is very cost-effective if you’re printing a small volume of documents - if you employed offset printing to print anything less than a few hundred pages at a time, your operational costs would be much greater than the costs of buying paper and ink for a digital printer. If you need to print a very high volume of documents (a thousand at a time, for instance), then it would be far cheaper to employ offset printing.

What is offset printing?

Offset printing is a more traditional “analog” approach to printing. Here’s how it works:
  • First, an image is applied to a metal plate (via a chemical reaction that works in the same way that film negatives are developed)
  • A water roller brushes the plate - ink and water can’t mix, so the roller places water anywhere on the plate where there’s not going to be ink
  • An ink roller applies ink to the plate
  • The plate is placed against a rubber blanket, which transfers the image
  • The paper passes through an oven, which heats the ink to avoid ink smudging
There are a few great advantages to offset printing:
  • The printing quality is great
  • You’ll get a cheaper price the more that you print
  • Can print huge quantities of documents
  • Can print on a massive variety of print mediums
Offset printing is great for printing a huge volume of documents that are going to be distributed en mass.

What is screen printing?

Screen printing is used for printing on T-shirts, banners, fabrics, and billboards. Here’s how it works:
  • Ink is applied to a mesh screen (there are gaps in the mesh where there’s not supposed to be any ink)
  • The mesh is applied to the print medium
  • Each color is applied one at a time until all colors have been applied
Screen printing is good for any materials that can’t be run through an offset printing machine, like fabric (offset printing would likely damage the fabric).

What’s a digital printing press?

A digital printing press combines digital printing with offset printing. It’s a large format printer that can produce a huge volume of digitally printed color documents. A digital printing press is great for business use if your business wants to produce its own marketing materials.

What is 3D printing?

A 3D printer is a type of digital printer that’s able to produce 3D solid objects by stacking layers of material to produce an object. Like other digital printers, 3D printers rely on a digital file to create objects, although they’re much more complicated and have more components than the standard inkjet or laser printer.

What are some good HP printers?

HP produces an amazing variety of inkjet and laser printers. If you want to print stunning color documents at home, check out of one of our HP InkJet printers. If you need a printer for your business, or if you just regularly print out a high volume of documents, check out one of our HP LaserJet printers instead - we also have laser printers that are able to print in color.

About the Author

Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.

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