Digital printing is a method of printing from a digital-based image directly to a variety of media. It usually refers to professional printing where small-run jobs from desktop publishing and other digital sources are printed using large-format and/or high-volume laser or inkjet printers. Digital printing has a higher cost per page than more traditional offset printing methods, but this price is usually offset by avoiding the cost of all the technical steps required to make printing plates. It also allows for on-demand printing, short turnaround time, and even a modification of the image (variable data) used for each impression. The savings in labor and the ever-increasing capability of digital presses means that digital printing is reaching the point where it can match or supersede offset printing technology's ability to produce larger print runs of several thousand sheets at a low price.
The greatest difference between digital printing and analog methods, such as lithography, flexography, gravure, and letterpress, is that in digital printing there is no need to replace printing plate, whereas in analog printing the plates are repeatedly replaced. This results in quicker turnaround time and lower cost in digital printing, but typically a loss of detail in most commercial digital printing processes. The most popular methods include inkjet and laser printers, which deposit pigment and toner, respectively, onto substrates, such as paper, canvas, glass, metal, and marble.
In many of the processes, the ink or toner does not permeate the substrate, as does conventional ink, but forms a thin layer on the surface that may be additionally adhered to the substrate by a fuser fluid with thermal (toner) or ultraviolet curing (ink).
Digital images are exposed onto true, light sensitive photographic paper with lasers and processed in photographic developers and fixers. These prints are true photographs and have continuous tone in the image detail. The archival quality of the print is as high as the manufacturer's rating for any given photo paper used. In large format prints, the greatest advantage is that, since no lens is used, there is no vignetting or detail distortion in the corners of the image.
Digital printing technology has grown significantly over the past few years with substantial developments in quality and sheet sizes.
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