Chapter 4: Printing And Production

ENC 4293.0002 Technical Communication Elements » Chapter 4: Printing And Production

Chapter 4 Student Writers: Joshua Brock, Steven Linder, Ricardo Suarez

History and Advancements

In this chapter you will see how all of your hard work in planning, building, and editing your document finally comes to life. The goal of any writer is to communicate their message to their audience. The final step in this process is deciding how you will get your work to them. Are you creating a simple memo or something more involved with graphics and content? How will this document best be used by your audience? This is often a last minute consideration for many writers. But how you produce and present your document to your audience is as important as page layout or typeface. In this chapter we will look at some history of printing and how it can influence the method of production you choose. If you understand how a document is made, it will help you understand how best your audience can use it.

“A printing press is a mechanical device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a medium (such as paper or cloth), thereby transferring an image” (Meggs 58).


Figure 1.Printing press (Antisell).

Block Printing Technique

In 105 A.D., Ts’ai Lun invented the process for manufacturing paper. His paper was of higher quality than parchment, papyrus, and clay; this made printing possible by providing a more resilient printing medium. The history of modern printing started in China sometime in the 2nd century. Woodblock printing was the first technique used to reproduce text and images on cloth. This technique consisted of carving the design on blocks of wood, applying ink to the blocks, and then pressing the woodblocks against cloth to transfer the ink to the cloth. This technique was later used throughout East Asia, India and Egypt (Webster).

Type Printing Technique

The movable type technique was also invented in China in the 11th century. Ceramic pieces called types were used. Each one of these types represented a symbol. When a work needed to be printed the types were arranged on a forme, the grid that contains all the types needed to print a page (Webster). Ceramic types were replaced by metal types in the 13th century in Korea. The new metal types were not as fragile as their ceramic predecessors, which meant they could be used many more times before having to be replaced. In the 15th century Johannes Gutenberg invented the first European movable type printing system; it was the first ever to use Latin typefaces. He also “developed oil-based inks ideally suited to printing with a press on paper” (Dictionary - Definition of Movable Type). This ink lasted longer than water-based inks that were used before. Gutenberg also assembled the first printing press based on existing screw-presses used to press cloth, grapes and olives (Meggs).


Figure 2. Chinese metal types (Ah-young).

The development of the printing press revolutionized the process of producing printed works. Before the press books were a rare commodity; “By 1424, Cambridge University library owned only 122 books—each of which had a value equal to a farm or vineyard” (Meggs). The printing press was able to print about 250 pages per hour, which made books abundant and available to lower class people, increasing literacy.

Current Printing Techniques

Most mass printing done today uses the offset printing technique. Offset printing involves a series of rollers that transfer ink from one to another and finally to the paper. Offset printing is cost effective when printing large amounts of copies, around 5000 or more (Kipphan). When such large quantities are not needed offset printing would prove too expensive; in these cases digital printing would be a better option. Inkjet, laser and solid ink printers are all digital printing technologies, but electrophotography, which uses toner made of carbon powder, is the cheapest alternative.


Figure 3. Web-fed offset lithographic press (Teschke).

The Printing Process

The production of any book, manual, flyer, or any other printed work consists of three main phases: prepress, the actual printing process, and post-press.


Prepress includes all the steps that occur before the actual printing. Prepress usually consists of three steps: composition (writing, formatting, and pagination), reproduction of graphics, and the assembly of all the written and graphical elements into the page layout. Once these steps have been completed the material can be transferred to the films and plates that will be used for printing (Kipphan 24-25). Computers have made the prepress process easier than it has ever been. Now anyone with a word processor can perform the work that required at least three professionals years ago. Technological advances have also made it possible to transfer the information and graphics directly from the computer to the printing plates, bypassing the need for films, which eliminated yet another middleman from the production process (Kipphan 27-28).


Figure 4. Computer to Plate (CtP) printer creating a printing plate (North Country Graphics).


The next phase of the production process is transferring the information to paper. This can be achieved through several types of printing technologies. These technologies can be grouped into four different types depending on how the printing surface transfers the ink into the paper (Kipphan 29).


Figure 5. The four main conventional printing technologies (Kipphan 30).

Table 1 - Printing Technologies.

Letterpress printing In letterpress printing, the printing surface is raised. The ink sticks to the raised parts and is then pressed against the paper.
Gravure Printing In gravure printing the printing surface has recessed elements that are filled with ink. The raised flat surface (non-printing surface) is then wiped clean with a blade that removes the excess ink, and then the ink is pressed onto the paper.
Lithography Lithography uses a flat surface. This surface is treated with water to make it repel ink; the places that are not treated with water (printing surfaces) get covered with ink, which is then transferred to the paper. This technology is the one used for offset printing, the most common printing technique used today.
Screen Printing The screen printing plate is made of a fine mesh where the non-printing elements are blocked by a stencil, so the ink only gets through the unblocked places to the paper. The ink is then pushed through the mesh with a squeegee or blade onto the paper.


After the printing is finished the pages are put together and organized. Depending on the type of binding required different processes will take place to get the final product ready for distribution.

When several pages are printed in the same sheet they are separated by cutting them with a guillotine. The resulting pages are then gathered and collated, which means they are stacked in the proper order. Usually the next step is to cut off the edges of the pages, which makes them all the same size. At this time, the work is ready for binding.

Post-press processes are starting to become automated, but not to the same extent as prepress and printing processes. This can create a bottleneck in the process if the finishing stage is not done as quickly as its preceding stages. The reason why post-press is not completely automated is because of the complexity of the processes which requires more manual intervention (Kipphan 35).


The first step in producing any work is to plan. Preparing your work early will make the actual production easier. Deciding what type of technical document you will write will decide some of the planning points but leave others to your discretion. Some other items that should be planned early are layout, graphics, paper, binding, printer, and service selection.

Types of Documents

Technical documents come in four main styles: marketing, reporting, instructing, and general documents. Marketing documents consist of brochures, case studies, product handbooks, and more. The audience for a marketing document is broad because it can attract more people that can understand the document. Reporting documents include magazines and newspapers. Annual reports and even websites can be considered reporting documents. Annual reports require a different audience than websites and newspapers. Instructional documentation delivers step by step instructions to a group of people pertaining to a specific activity. These instructions should be generic enough to be understood by almost anyone but precise enough to remove ambiguity. Resumes, letter, and memos fall into the general document category (Bachhav).


The layout is how everything on the page is organized, from graphics, to text, and especially the printing area. Margins, gutters, and white space are important aspects for production that must be considered. Margins are the space surrounding the body of text and a gutter is the white space created when two inner margins are next to each other. The gutter needs to be specified to allow for whole bunching or other types of binding processes. A home printer will not be able to produce a work if the margins and gutter, in conjunction with paper size, are out of its printing range. Issues like these can be caught early if test pages are printed during the planning stage.


Graphics are tools that can be used to break up the wall of text and clarify ideas. Pictures, tables, and charts may adversely affect the layout and cause issues during the printing process in regards to margins and gutters. If you use graphics plan the layout accordingly. Graphics also tend to increase printing costs, as most graphics need to be in color to display properly. Color ink usage is more expensive compared to black and white printing. One way to reduce cost of color images is to turn into black and white shades.

Paper Selection

Paper selection is important as it affects the actual weight and feel of the document, as well as the printing process itself. All paper has four common attributes: finish, weight, opacity, and brightness. Finish is the surface texture of the paper, such as smooth, coated, linen, and laser. Laser is specifically designed for laser printers. The weight of paper refers to the thickness, where a larger number denotes heavier physical weight. Weight, paper ingredients and other attributes determine the opacity, or how much of one side of content will be visible on the other side. Finally, the brightness of paper describes how much blue wavelength light is reflected off the page. This reflection is on a scale of 1 to 100 percent with common types of paper ranging between 60 to 90%.

Four main types of paper exist: offset, cover, tag and index. Offset stock is a standard paper size used commonly for book pages, flyers, and more. Cover is much heavier, about three to four times as heavy. The covers of books, menus, and booklets are produced with this due to the strength and durability while still being easy to handle. Tag steps into the realm of signage and posters because its stiffness is not desired for handing out items like flyers or making a book with hundreds of pages. Index has the highest weight of all paper types. Rolodex’s at one time were used extensively and continuously throughout the day. Index paper made up the rolodex entries because the durable attributes of index paper made it perfect for it (Charlotte's Web Studios). The following table is a summary of paper types, weights, and example uses.

Table 2 - Paper Types (“Paper Types”)

Type Weight (lbs) Uses
Offset 20, 24, 28 Business Forms, Flyers, Books, Mailers
Cover 65, 80, 100, 120 Booklets, Mailers, Menus, Posters
Tag 100, 125, 150 Business Forms, Covers, Posters, Work Tags
Index 90, 100, 140, 170, 200 Record Cards, Tab Folders, Booklets

Binding Selection

Binding selection is crucial for making a physical copy of your work. Without it the project will literally fall apart. Some major types of bindings are plastic comb, double loop wire, coil, and tape bindings. Each type has its own aesthetic effect like coil binding giving a school look or plastic comb giving an instruction manual look.


Figure 6. Plastic Comb example (Plastic Comb Binder)

Plastic comb bindings are common in schools and businesses for their ease, durability, and ability to be reused. Plastic comb dinging is best used for between 12 to 425 sheets of 20# paper. Nineteen holes are punched into the eleven inch side of the paper stack and a machine opens the clamps and aligns the holes with the comb teeth. The same process backwards releases the bound paper.


Figure 7. Double Wire example ("Double Wire Binder")

Double loop wire bindings allows the book to lay flat or wrap around to show only one page and for easy handling. The three main types are 2:1 (two holes per inch), 3:1 (three holes per inch), and Spiral-O. Spiral-O requires nineteen holes on an eleven inch side so switching to plastic comb binding last minute can be done. The limitations with this binding consist of 230, 120, or 200 sheets of 20# paper respectively. This binding is applied by punching the appropriate amount of holes, inserting one set of the “teeth” into the holes then finally closing the wire.


Figure 8. Plastic Coil example ("Plastic Wire Binder")

Coil binding is commonly used for notebooks in schools. PVC is wound into a spring form to create the binding itself. Either 4:1 or 5:1 holes are used allowing for up to 230 or 152 sheets of 20# to be bound together. Coil binding grants the same advantages as the aforementioned styles with an added crush resistant ability. The basic concept is that PVC spring is spun through the holes which prevent separation. The last loop can crimp into itself to prevent unraveling. This style is a sibling to double loop wire binding.


Figure 9. Tape binding example ("Perfect Bound Binder")

Tape binding comes in two forms, either thermal or cold based on the application and process. Perfect binding looks similar but uses only glue to hold the book together. Neither can lay flat nor fold to allow single page viewing. These bindings are preferred for storing documents or when projects consist of lower page amounts. Thermal tape binding is done by inserting special tape containing glue into a machine, placing the paper stack on top of the tape, and letting the machine heat the glue which then holds the pages in place. These produce a high quality look while reducing time and cost. Cold tape binding is exactly the same except no heat needs to be introduced to the tape. Perfect binding is similar to thermal tape except no tape is involved (American Binding Company).

Printer Selection

The first step to printing a work is to decide which printer type is best suited for it. Depending on the length and color complexity of the work, as well as how many copies need to be printed, there are a few options. Two basic types of printers exist for home printing. Inkjet printers use droplets of ink to form the page content where as laser printers use an electrically charged drum to transfer toner. The main differences come in PPM, or pages per minute, and the type of ink being used.

Inkjet printers use cartridges of liquid link to form the droplets and shoot them onto the paper. Most printers in this category go up to 9 pages per minute for a black and white page and much slower for a full color page. The inkjet is the standard printer that most people would have in their house or buy from a store. While convenient for printing small and simple documents, diminished results will present themselves as the document becomes larger and more complex. The inkjet printers speed is slow when compared to laser printers and while it works well for printing pages with some color on them, full color pages print slowly. The main benefits of the inkjet printer are its ability for anyone to print documents relatively easily and quickly in their own home and its cheap startup cost. This ability makes smaller works easier to print at home without needing to use an outside printing facility. The inkjet printer combines the ease of changing and replacing ink making it a solid choice for small and simple documents. However, due to its low overall quality, costly ink, and slow printing speed it loses some functionality and value when printing larger documents. If the document is large or complex it is faster and cheaper to either use an outside printing company or, if available, a laser printer.


Figure 10. Inkjet Printer

Laser printers create sharp quality black and white content pages at about 12 to 18 pages per minute. Most standard laser printers do not print color. While color versions do exist, they tend to cost more as well as require more ink. Laser printers are similar in cost (usually slightly more) to inkjet printers but have a higher startup cost due to their type of ink. The toner, powdered ink, comes in large rollers costing up to $100. However, each roller prints thousands of pages so it is better suited to larger projects unlike the inkjet. Laser printers are much bulkier than inkjets and require large spaces for placement; they are not something you would find in a typical household, due to their cost and size. A laser printer is best suited for lengthy documents or for printing multiple copies of a smaller document.


Figure 11. Laser Printer

Table 3 - Average Costs of Ink

Company Inkjet Black Inkjet Color Laser Black Laser Color
HP $19.99 - $41.99 $19.99 - $46.99 $69.99 - $88.99 $69.99 - $101.99*
Canon $13.99 - $21.99 $20.99 - $43.99 $81.99 $65.99 - $99.99*
Epson $13.99 - $21.99 $26.99 - $44.99 $26.99 - $46.99 $68.99 - $112.99*
Lexmark $15.99 - $27.99 $22.99 - $44.99 $79.99 - $114.99 $90.99 - $121.99*

*Per color

In most cases, when an inkjet printer is not sufficient for the project at hand, and a laser printer is not available, an outside printing service is used. There are many companies such as FedEx and Staples that provide printing services.

Service Selection

FedEx has acquired Kinko’s to provide a printing service with online services, a multitude of paper types, and large scale printings. The service is split into different types such as presentations, manuals, flyers, etc. Each type has packages that start at standard prices and can be modified from there. FedEx requires a digital file and gives a listing of acceptable file types. Another requirement is that projects be between 3 and 300 pages in a letter size document format. Going to a physical store is also welcomed (FedEx). UPS and Staples offer the same types of services. UPS’ website is less user friendly requiring an account and log-in before selecting options.


Online or web-based production is usually the cheapest option as no physical product is made. The process for producing the work online differs greatly from the physical counterpart and can be distributed to and read by the audience much faster. To produce a work for online viewing, a few techniques are available such as special file formats and web pages.

Most higher level works are linked to in the form of a Portable Document Format (PDF) file which can be created either using standalone programs or most common word processors have plug-ins that grant print to PDF capability. The main use of a PDF is to keep the formatting and images within a document intact when publishing online while still allowing the document to be easily viewed in an internet browser. In addition, many file formats are not viewable on different computer hardware. PDF files were universally developed to work on anyone’s computer.

There are many websites that will ‘host’ files given to them to allow others to receive copies of the file. This requires that everyone who needs to view the file to download it to their computer and have a program capable of opening it. Most computers have the ability to open Word documents or PDFs by default but if not they recipient would be required to find an appropriate program and install it.

Another way is to create a personal web site in which to put the document or information. This method requires creating a website, either from a free template, or coding it yourself. Generally this method is much more involved then physically printing the document. Instead of creating the web site the work can be given to a web master or designer who can create the site for you. Choosing either of these options allows for more control over the final products look and feel.

One of the main differences between physical production and online production is the distribution of the document. If one thousand people required a document, you would have to print one thousand copies. If the document was hosted on a website online it would be available for anyone to view. It would need to be added to the website once and anyone who required the document could view it or get an electronic copy of it.

Another difference comes down to revisions. When errors are found in a printed document they must be reported to the author/editor who has to compile the errors and make the changes to their document. Once done, the document than must be re-printed and distributed. This is a costly way to fix errors. In an online environment, one can simply make changes to the electronic document and it is automatically fixed for anyone who views it.

Table 4 - Cost of dot com websites and hosting

Company Domain Name Hosting $11.99 / year $4.99 / month $9.95 / year $12.95 / month $10.47 / year $5.75 / month

If allowed, an electronic production method will usually be cheaper than the physical production of a work, especially if the work will require many revisions and changes before it reaches its final form.


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