In commercial printing, a widely used technique in which the inked image on a printing plate is imprinted on a rubber cylinder and then transferred (offset) to paper or other material. The rubber cylinder gives great flexibility, permitting printing on wood, cloth, metal, leather, and rough paper. In offset printing the matter to be printed is neither raised above the surface of the printing plate (as in letterpress printing) nor sunk below it (as in intaglio, or gravure, printing). Offset printing, a development of lithography, is based on the principle that water and grease do not mix, so that a greasy ink can be deposited on grease-treated printing areas of the plate, while nonprinting areas, which hold water, reject the ink. The offset plate is usually of zinc or aluminum or a combination of metals, with the surface treated to render it porous and then coated with a photosensitive material. Exposure to an image hardens the coating on printing areas; the coating on nonprinting areas is washed away, leaving wetted metal that will reject ink. Seealso xerography.
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Offset printing is a commonly used printing technique where the inked image is transferred (or "offset") from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. When used in combination with the lithographic process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat (planographic) image carrier on which the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a water-based film (called "fountain solution"), keeping the non-printing areas ink-free.
Ira Washington Rubel invented the first offset printing press in 1903.
The most common kind of offset printing is derived from the photo offset process, which involves using light-sensitive chemicals and photographic techniques to transfer images and type from original materials to printing plates.
In current use, original materials may be an actual photographic print and typeset text. However, it is more common — with the prevalence of computers and digital images — that the source material exists only as data in a digital publishing system.
Offset litho printing on to a web (reel) of paper is commonly used for printing of newspapers and magazines for high speed production.
While the acid fountain solution has come a long way in the last several decades, neutral and alkaline fountain solutions have also been developed. Both of these chemistries rely heavily on surfactants/emulsifiers and phosphates and/or silicates to provide adequate cleaning and desensitizing, respectively. Since about 2000, alkaline-based fountain solutions have started becoming less common due to the inherent health hazards of high pH and the objectionable odor of the necessary microbiogical additives. Acid-based fountain solutions are still the most common variety and yield the best quality results by means superior protection of the printing plate, lower dot gains, and longer plate life. Acids are also the most versatile, capable of running with all types of offset litho inks. However, because these products require more active ingredients to run well than do neutrals and alkalines, they are also the most expensive to produce. That said, neutrals and to a lesser degree alkalines are still an industry staple and will continue to be used for most newspapers and many lower-quality inserts.
In the last two decades, flexography has become the dominant form of printing in packaging due to lower quality expectations and the significantly lower costs in comparison to other forms of printing.