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Types of offset printing

Web-fed refers to the use of rolls (or “webs”) of paper supplied to the printing press.Offset web printing is generally used for runs in excess of five or ten thousand impressions. Typical examples of web printing include newspapers, newspaper inserts/ads, magazines, direct mail, catalogs, and books. Web-fed presses are divided into two general classes: “cold” or “non-heatset,” and “heatset” offset web presses; the difference being how the inks that are used dry. Cold web offset printing dries through absorption into the paper, while heatset utilizes drying lamps or heaters to cure or “set” the inks. Heatset presses can print on both coated (slick) and uncoated papers, while coldset presses are restricted to uncoated paper stock, such as newsprint. Some coldset web presses can be fitted with heat dryers, or ultraviolet lamps (for use with UV-curing inks). It is also possible to add a drier to a cold-set press. This can enable a newspaper press to print color pages heatset and black and white pages coldset.

Web offset presses are beneficial in long run printing jobs, typically press runs that exceed ten or twenty thousand impressions. Speed is a determining factor when considering the completion time for press production; some web presses print at speeds of 3,000 feet per minute or faster. In addition to the benefits of speed and quick completion, some web presses have the inline ability to cut, perforate, and fold.

Heatset web offset: This subset of web offset printing uses inks which dry by evaporation in a dryer typically positioned just after the printing units. This is typically done on coated papers, where the ink stays largely on the surface, and gives a glossy high contrast print image after the drying. As the paper leaves the dryer too hot for the folding and cutting that are typically downstream procedures, a set of “chill rolls” positioned after the dryer lowers the paper temperature and sets the ink. The speed at which the ink dries is a function of dryer temperature and length of time the paper is exposed to this temperature. This type of printing is typically used for magazines, catalogs, inserts and other medium-to-high volume, medium-to-high quality production runs.

Coldset web offset: This is also a subset of web offset printing, typically used for lower quality print output. It is typical of newspaper production. In this process, the ink dries by absorption into the underlying paper. A typical coldset configuration is often a series of vertically arranged print units and peripherals.

Web-fed versus sheet-fed

Sheet-fed presses offer several advantages. Because individual sheets are fed though, a large number of sheet sizes and format sizes can be run through the same press. In addition, waste sheets can be used for make-ready (which is the testing process to ensure a quality print run). This allows for lower cost preparation so that good paper is not wasted while setting up the press, for plates and inks. Waste sheets do bring some disadvantages as often there are dust and offset powder particles that transfer on to the blankets and plate cylinders, creating imperfections on the printed sheet.

Web-fed presses, on the other hand, are much faster than sheet-fed presses, with speeds in excess of 20,000 cut-offs per hour. (Cut-off is the paper that has been cut off a reel or web on the press. The length of the sheets are equal to the cylinder’s circumference.) The speed of web-fed presses makes them ideal for large runs such as newspapers, magazines, and comic books. However, web-fed presses have a fixed cut-off, unlike rotogravure or flexographic presses, which are variable.

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