Perhaps the most common method in use for catalog printing today is digital printing. With digital printing the electronic file is transferred directly into a computer, and the images are applied to the paper by the print machine. Simplified, digital printing is like a large-scale version of what happens when someone clicks the “print” icon on his or her home computer. This method is simple, easy, and it can be used both on small or large runs of a printed item. This means that whether a small, local company needs 50 catalogs for their customers, or an international chain wants 100,000 times that many products it can be handled with the same machine and the same programming.
Originally invented in the late 1800s, offset lithography is less popular today than it has been in the past. It is by no means dead however, and it is still a valid way to produce catalogs. In this method printers use metal plates to transfer the ink to a rubber drum, and that drum will then be used to press the ink onto the printing paper. Used very commonly in newspaper presses and in other large-scale printing operations offset lithography saves on ink and is a relatively inexpensive method of printing. It works best for products that will have a large run though, like national catalogs, large daily papers, and even novels that will sell many thousands of copies.
Electrostatic printing is another method of printing catalogs, but unlike other methods which use ink and pressure electrostatic printing uses an electrical charge and toner. Similar to how a Xerox machine works, electrostatic printing transfers the image to paper in what’s called a dry process. While the paper might be a little warm once the printing is done, there’s no ink to dry so there’s no worrying about smearing, bleeding, or any of the other problems that tend to come with wet printing choices. While this printing method is not ideal for all print jobs, it is best used for relatively small runs of catalogs and other printed media.
While these are not the only printing methods available on the market today, these are the most common types of catalog printing that a business is likely to come across. While other decisions such as the weight of the paper, the font of the text, and even whether or not the pages should be glossy or plain also come into the printing process, these printing methods are going to be some of the biggest decisions made with regards to a catalog.