What is Offset Lithography Printing?

Howard Printing Co. has several Offset Lithography Presses, a process known for its sharp, clear images and quick printing speed.

Broken down into its roots, lithography means stone writing. The very first lithography prints were created using large, flat stones to transfer the image to the paper. The printing industry has come a long way since then!

When lithography was first invented, printers used stones to transfer the ink to the paper.

When lithography was first invented, printers used flat stones to transfer the ink to the paper.

In the printing field, a plate is the general term for the image carrier—it’s what carries the ink to the paper. For the first lithographic printers, the plate was the flat stone. For modern lithographic printers, the plate is a flat sheet of metal that is wrapped around one of the cylinders on the press.

You might be wondering how a flat surface can be used to print to only the correct places on the paper without spreading to non-image areas. The plate’s surface is treated so that it has two different surface types: hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-resisting). The image area is hydrophobic, so it resists water and accepts only the oily ink. The non-image area is hydrophilic, so it attracts water and resists oil. When the press applies fountain solution (a mixture containing mostly water) to the plate, it only adheres to the hydrophilic areas. When the ink is applied to the plate, it is only attracted to the hydrophobic areas.

Offset is a term that refers to the way that the inked-up plate does not make direct contact with the paper. The ink is first transferred to a blanket roller, then to the paper. It results in a cleaner, sharper image.

Diagram of the cylinders in an offset press

Diagram of the cylinders in an offset press

The offset method was first put in use by a man named Ira Rubel in 1903. When his press missed a piece of paper and transferred the ink to the impression roller instead, the image showed up on the back of the next sheet of paper. Rubel noticed that this accidental image was cleaner and better than his directly printed images. He developed a press that utilized this extra step all the time. It had an additional roller called the blanket roller between the plate and the paper. Rubel’s offset method soon became the most established form of lithography printing.

Since its invention, Offset lithography has gone through many developments that have made it one of the most popular choices for the publishing industry. Today, offset is known for its speed and high quality at a relatively low cost, making it versatile for both small and large orders. Many magazines, books, newsletters, brochures, and labels are printed with the offset lithography method.

Susan Helmholdt
Western Michigan UniversityGuest Blogger
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After the Ink Dries

Howard Printing Co. offers many services in addition to printing. With the most popular binding options, Howard can provide you with the best choice for your booklets, magazines, catalogues, or newsletters. Extra services such as perforation, scoring, and die-cutting allow you increase the functionality and impact of your materials. Here’s a quick overview of some of the extras Howard has to offer.

Saddle-Stitch Binding

With this type of binding, multiple pages are nested together and stapled in the middle. This bindery method is good for page counts up to 100 with books that have trim sizes up to 10×14 inches. It’s the most popular binding style because it’s fully automated on our high-speed Mueller-Martini saddle-stitcher, making it very economical.

Saddle Stitch

Perfect Binding

With perfect binding, the pages are stacked and glued on one edge. Perfect binding is a good solution when catalogue and magazine page counts exceed 100, and when a publication title needs to be visible on the book spine.

Perfect Binding


Wire binding is a good option for catalogues and magazines that must lay flat.

Wire-o Binding


Perforation is a series of small cuts that allow one portion of the paper to easily tear off from the rest. It works well for mail-back responses or order forms that customers can return while keeping the rest of the brochure.


Hole Punching

Hole punching allows customers to place the booklet into a three ring binder.

Hole Punch


These outside loops allow the booklet to be kept in a three-ring binder without having to drill holes. This means you don’t have to leave inside margins for the holes, which gives you more room for images and text. Howard is the only printing company in the Kalamazoo area with loop-stitching capabilities.

Wire Stitch


A score is a crease that allows even heavy paper to be folded squarely without paper cracking.



Unique shapes can be cut from the paper to make your materials stand out.

Die Cutting

Contact Howard at 269-329-0022 or www.howardprinting.com/contact/ to get more information or to request a quote!

Susan Helmholdt
Western Michigan University
Guest Blogger
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How to Create a Tri-Fold Brochure that Folds Correctly

Here are dimensions for the perfect tri-fold brochure, starting with a flat sheet size of 8.5×11 inches.

Tri-Fold diagram

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Let’s Start a Conversation

This area of our website is intended to start a conversation. Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment.

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Let’s Talk about Presentation Folders

Presentation Folders (often called pocket folders or media kits) provide an efficient method of organizing loose sales material or company literature. The impact of catalog sheets, price lists, reprints, proposals and letters of introduction is greatly enhanced when presented in a convenient and organized manner. Presentation folders invoke a reader’s maximum attention and become the ultimate take-away—ensuring the retention of your materials by clients or prospects. Additionally, in an era of random email blasts and fatiguing e-communications, a paper folder projects a solid, fine-tuned, professional image for any company or organization.

Howard Printing has been producing presentation folders for more than 80 years. We start by printing large sheets of fine paper, then die-cutting the sheets to any shape requested. Total customization allows our clients to select the weight, color and texture of paper best suited for their corporate identity and end use. We always include overall aqueous coating when printing folders that have been specified on a coated paper. In addition to offset printing we can add spot UV coating, foil stamping, blind embossing, or combinations of foil-plus-emboss. Our Moll Folder-Glue system fully automates the construction process of die-cutting, scoring, folding, and gluing pockets.

Pocket folders are often described in two ways, as: in-stock die-cut or custom die-cut. In-stock simply means the printer pulls an existing cutting die from inventory and allows the customer to use it for no charge. Custom die-cut means the printer will create a new cutting die that meets the customer’s exact specifications for overall shape, size and pocket-configurations.

The most popular U.S. business presentation folder holds 8.5×11-inch inserts and has two 4-inch pockets. Slits in one or both pockets hold a horizontal or vertical business card. A final folded dimension of 9×12 inches works with other collateral materials, fits in filing cabinets and is an attention-getter when mailed. The illustration below shows typical folder features and dimensions for this in-stock folder.


During the many years we have been manufacturing presentation folders, we have developed a large and interesting inventory of in-stock cutting dies that are available for client use for FREE. Schematics for some of these dies follow. Selecting one of these dies for a folder order saves you money because there are no original die-making charges.


Ready to Begin? Use our request for quote form to obtain a quote.

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CMYK • PMS • RGB • LAB: What does it all mean?

Understanding printing ink and color space can be confusing for even the most experienced graphic designers. Once each color space is understood, it becomes easy to focus. First, a few definitions:

  • CMYK represents the four process ink or toner colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK. This color space is often referred to as “process color” or “full color.” Printing equipment overprints various amounts of semi-transparent C-M-Y-K inks on paper. (cyan + yellow = greens, magenta + cyan = purples, cyan + magenta + yellow = browns, etc.). This printing technique is called “processing the color” and is the origin of the term: process color.
  • PMS is an abbreviation for the Pantone Matching System. It is a color identification system used to select and mix a single ink color. (similar to the way paint is purchased for a home redecorating project)
  • RGB stands for Red-Green-Blue light. It refers to additive light wave colors which, when combined, create pure “white” light. RGB color is used in monitor, TV, video and Website color spaces—not for printed materials.
  • LAB color is a 3-axis system of communicating color between different color delivery devices. Use LAB color profiles to match paint, plastic or fabric dye colors to an existing printed brochure. Graphic designers who create printing materials can ignore LAB color spaces altogether.

Selecting the Correct Color Space
Decide which color system you will be using before you start your layout. It has already been established that RGB and LAB are not used for graphics being printed on paper. That leaves two choices: CMYK or PMS color. Set up your document for one or the other in the color palette of InDesign. Then stay within that selected color space. The only time PMS and CMYK colors are used together is when a 5-color or 6-color job is being printed. (E.g.: CMYK + metallic silver ink = a 5-color job, CMYK + PMS 1495 orange + spot gloss varnish = a 6-color job).

Anytime photography or full-color illustrations are printed, CMYK color will be used. Due to higher efficiencies and a proliferation of digital imaging equipment, the cost for full-color printing has diminished over the past 20 years. Eighty-five percent of the commercial market is now printing with CMYK color. If you know your printed piece will be printed digitally, you must use CMYK color. Offset, screen, flexography and gravure presses allow designers to print using PMS or CMYK color.

If a piece is designed to print using only one ink color a PMS ink will be mixed and printed. Each individual PMS color has a number assigned to it with a mixing formula. Graphic designers use a Pantone “formula guide” book to select the exact color.

  • PMS inks are frequently referred to as “spot” colors (interchangeable terms)
  • Metallic inks are PMS colors with metal flake added to create a metallic sheen
  • Varnishes are inks with no pigment and are used for special effects

When a PMS mixed ink color is added to a CMYK printing order, it is referred to as a “fifth color.”

Most general commercial printers own offset and digital printing equipment. The offset method uses a “plate” to transfer inked images to the paper. Offset is more economical for large sheets and high quantities on textured papers. PMS, CMYK, metallic and varnishes can all be printed using offset presses.

Digital printing “direct-images” color to the paper using toner, dyes, or liquid inks. Digital printing is more economical for low quantities of small sheet-size items on non-exotic papers. CMYK is the only color space that can be printed using digital equipment.

One final word about RGB color
RGB color is not a color space used by printing companies—it’s used for back-lit monitors, video and Websites. Therefore, digital camera shots (which automatically produce RGB color files) should be converted to CMYK color before layout work begins.

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