What's the difference between a printer and a press? In wide-format terms, they're poles apart
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
5 September 2011
Typical output from a digital press
To my way of thinking, there is a world of difference between a printer (the machine, and not the person operating it), and a press. Most definitions, via dictionary or encyclopaedia, decree that a printing press is 'a machine that transfers lettering or images by contact with various forms of inked surface onto paper or similar material fed into it in various ways'. And the key here is the word 'contact'.
Conversely, the word 'ink-jet' can be defined in simple terms as a printing process where ink is formed into droplets and jetted, via computerised instructions, onto the material beneath. Thus, an engine using this technology is not a press because there is no direct contact to transfer text and graphics onto the media. And 'press', as a verb, means to apply pressure applied using continued force while the noun of the same word is the device used in this context.
Somewhere during the years of development of ink-jet printers the nomenclature 'press' slipped into the digital vocabulary, and there it has remained. Apart from being an erroneous description, using this word in the context of wide-format print somehow detracts from the technology which has been involved and integrated to bring these machines, in their many guises, to market.
To most sign-makers and display producers, the term 'press' surely isn't relevant. It relates to a word which offset printers understand, whether they're using a five-colour Speedmaster or a single-colour Heidelberg GTO. True, manufacturers have started to use the phrase 'digital press', even though it represents something of an oxymoron. But the target markets where this description fits the bill are those from the sectors who want to add to digital to their analogue sheet- or web-fed mix. Thus it adds familiarity to a different type of printing technology.
So, to decide to give a wide-format ink-jet printer the title of press is pretty meaningless. Is this terminology designed, if you'll excuse the play on words, to impress potential purchasers? Will would-be investors be turned on by believing they're getting their hands on a press rather than a digital printing machine? I don't really think so.
In digital terms, it's fair enough to call the HP Indigo a press because it extends the capabilities of its analogue counterparts but produces jobs which are versatile and offer flexible alternatives to offset litho. But, in wide-format terms, the platforms in use today are non-contact engines and, thus, should be acknowledged as printing machines because, after all, that's where they sit in the production chain.
Click here to read Laurel Brunner's response to the Question of the Week, What's the difference between a printer and a press? What do you think? Use the comments form below to give your opinion.
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