Print Jargon Explained

Offset, Litho, Digital, Wide Format, Screen Printing, Short Run, What colour?

What do these all mean?

Offset or Litho

This is the process of setting up a printing press with the job – having a ‘plate’ or ‘negative’ made of each page and the printing is done either on continuous rolls of paper then trimmed, or large sheets and trimmed/finished to size.

Benefit to Offset/Litho Printing

The more you print, the cheaper the product becomes per unit The biggest cost is in producing the ‘plates’ and setting up the printer.  Once the press is set up, large quantities become cost effective.


Think of a photocopier on steroids. Computers run everything, so your design goes straight from the file to the digital press, no need for ‘plates’.  Quality of digital prints is determined by the age of the printer, the paper and the finish.

Benefits of Digital Printing

You can print one of anything – including booklets or business cards.  Ideal if you want smaller print runs or fast turnaround of something.  Digital printing also allows for personalisation of each individual unit printed.

Wide Format

Required for pretty much anything larger than A3 size.  Some Wide Format Printers are up to 3 metres wide, but more readily available at 1.2m wide, and the media (Paper, vinyl or banner) is on a roll, so very large prints can be achieved.  Generally a wide format printer is like a ‘ginormous’ inkjet printer.

Benefits of Wide Format Printing

Impact.  On a big scale these prints can be used on walls, floors, cars, or as posters.  Think big!

Screen Printing

A mesh screen is made as a negative and paint/ink is squeezed through the mesh onto the media (paper, stickers, fabric).  Each colour in the design requires a screen.

Benefits of Screen Printing

Probably the most effective on fabric especially T-Shirts.  Screen set-up is costly, so this is a great option if you are doing quantity.

Short Run

With offset/Litho Printing the cost savings occur when you order larger quantities – around 1500 or more.  Short Run Printing is offered only with digital printing, where as few as one or two prints can be done.

What Colour?

Spot Colour, Pantone, PMS, CMYK, RGB, Hex?

Spot Colour, Pantone and PMS – Offset and Litho only.  Specifically used for printing presses – the individual colour is supplied in a can, so colours can be perfectly matched. Also known as process colours. With these colours, each individual colour must be set up on the press and a separate plate is used for each colour.

CMYK – Digital and Wide Format.  C = Cyan, M = Magenta, Y = Yellow, K = Black.  All colours in digital and wide format are comprised of a combination of these colours.  Also called full colour printing.

RGB – Computer Screen.  R = Red, G = Green, B = Blue.  All colours in screen resolution are viewed as a combination of these colours.  Screen colours are not an accurate reflection due to the difference in colour rendering in each monitor.

Hex – Computer Screen.  Hex colours are used specifically when designing websites.  It is a colour value used in the programming of the site.


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