Explanation of print registration in the printing process and discussion of how much variance in the print registration is acceptable.
What is print registration? In the printing process, whether you're hand-printing individual sheets or using automated printing presses, registration marks are used to make certain that each imprint exactly matches all other prints in the run.
Registration marks are placed beneath a plastic sheet on the press bed when an artist prints an etching, a lithograph, or a wood cut. These marks show the artist where to place a sheet of paper that is to be printed. The paper's corners are aligned with the registration marks beneath the plastic sheet. This ensures that the intended image is printed in exactly the same location on every print.
Commercial promotional product printing uses registration marks as well, and particularly when printing with four color artwork. The process is made simpler in concept but perhaps more difficult in execution because certain computer programs are designed to print the registration marks along with the artwork. Cyan, yellow, magenta, and black are the four colors printed individually onto the surface and outside the artwork area of the item being printed. Each of those colors must exactly line up with the other colors in order to produce an accurate and in-focus print of the original artwork. The registration marks make this alignment possible.
Original artwork must be produced using a computer program in which files are compatible with the printer’s computer program. These digitized files are converted into a film once they're approved by the printer. The sheet of material displaying the reproduced art image is then placed on a printing plate. The image is then burned into the printing plate using light, laser, or acid baths. The areas that are not burned into the plate are the areas that will pick up ink.
Although various methods of imprinting are used today, digital files are used to transfer the original artwork to a surface capable of receiving ink and then transferring that ink onto a different surface. These files work with the printing presses to transfer the artwork quickly and efficiently to paper, plastic, fabric, metal, and even promotional items!
One of those methods is called CTP (Computer-to-Plate), which employs technology that sends art files to an on-board computer and then to a press. The images are then burned onto a silicone plate on the press.
It is difficult to get four separately-printed colors to line up exactly. In a four-color-print process, the colors need to line up with the registration marks in order to produce an image that is not blurred or discolored, so a process called trapping is often used to accomplish that. The artist creating the original artwork tells the computer to use trapping, in which an overlay or overprinting of darker colors onto lighter ones is used to create the illusion of an exact registration. This also eliminates a line or area between colors where the imprint surface shows through.
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