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Printing Press

When your desktop printer won't do


A Printing Press. Image: Robert Giroux / Getty Images

Copies of the last ever print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer roll off the printing presses March 16, 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Image: Robert Giroux / Getty Images | Printing & Finishing Terms | Alpha Index to Full Dictionary:

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make-ready on a old printing press

Inking the rollers as part of the make-ready process on this wood type press

(image CC license bjornmeansbear via flickr)

Simplified look at how offset lithography gets the image onto the paper.

Jacci Howard Bear


A printing press is a device that transfers ink to a surface (such as type or printing plates) which is then pressed against paper (or fabric or other substrate) transferring the image onto the paper. Johannes Gutenberg is credited with the invention of the printing press that revolutionized the dissemination of information and the mass production of books, starting with Gutenberg's printing of the Bible. The first printing presses were hand-operated followed by steam-operated then today's printing presses that usually run on electricity.

Printing presses come in all sizes and styles for different printing methods and volumes. While some can sit in the corner of a room, others can fill a room or an entire building.

Web and Sheet-fed Printing Presses

In terms of desktop publishing and graphic design, the web press and, most commonly, the sheet-fed press are used for commercial printing of desktop publishing projects.

In brief, a web press prints on continuous rolls of paper. A web printing press is typically used for very high volume printing such as for magazines and newspapers. Printing presses for flexographic printing, often used for packaging, are usually web presses. A sheet-fed press prints on individual sheets of paper. Brochures, business cards, fliers, pamphlets, and booklets are typically printed on these sheet-fed presses, most commonly using offset lithography.

Printing With a Printing Press

Although some individuals may have small printing presses, such as a letterpress, for personal use, most printing presses are found at quick print shops and commercial printers and service bureaus.

Printing methods that use a printing press include:

Preparing Digital Files for the Printing Press

Unlike printing to your desktop printer, where you often just click the print button from within your software, desktop publishing files require some more specific and sometimes exacting preparation before being ready for printing on a printing press. Generally, the digital files sent to your commercial printing service or quick print shop will be used to produce printing plates for use on the printing press.

Printing Without a Printing Press

Digital printing (including with desktop printers) uses dye sublimation, inkjet, solid ink, thermal wax, and laser technologies. While the inner workings of a printer and the process of getting ink (or toner) onto paper bears a resemblance to a printing press, it uses different processes.

Quotes About the Printing Press

"The printing press is either the greatest blessing or the greatest curse of modern times, one sometimes forgets which." — James Matthew Barrie (also found attributed to E.F. Schumacher with the addition of "it is" at the end)
"Ink is the blood of the printing-press." — John Milton
"The coming of the printing press must have seemed as if it would turn the world upside down in the way it spread and, above all, democratized knowledge. Provide you could pay and read, what was on the shelves in the new bookshops was yours for the taking. The speed with which printing presses and their operators fanned out across Europe is extraordinary. From the single Mainz press of 1457, it took only twenty-three years to establish presses in 110 towns: 50 in Italy, 30 in Germany, 9 in France, 8 in Spain, 8 in Holland, 4 in England, and so on." — James E. Burke
"Every school boy and school girl who has arrived at the age of reflection ought to know something about the history of the art of printing. — Horace Mann


Also Known As: press | commercial press

Examples: The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed on a printing press. What distinguished this printing from other book printings was that the press used movable type making it possible to print many identical copies much more quickly.

Terms Related to Printing Press

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