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Essential Guide to Machine Based Printing Methods

Print Machine

A handy, simplified guide on everything you really need to know about machine based printing methods.

Getting to grips with all the different machine printing methods can be a bit of a mine field. One of those areas that if you are not an expert, can feel somewhat overwhelming. Full of wonderful and unusual terminology, that often require a dictionary or a translator.

But, if you can get to grips with some key terms and features, then there are endless possibilities with print to elevate your mailings. And, we are not just talking about envelopes personalised with variable data, using some of the methods we are about to discuss opens up opportunities like printing full colour images, logos and brand messages on to your mailings, to really leave a lasting impression. Plus, with options on digital printers to lay white toner underneath the printed image, you can ensure that your chosen design jumps off the page, no matter how dark an envelope you choose.

Digital Printing

Digital Print 

Digital printing is a toner based printing set up where each print is charged at the same rate. The process involves reproducing a digital image onto the physical surface you chose to print on, such as photographic paper, film and cloth etc.

The main features are:

  • Every impression made onto the paper can be different.
  • The ink or toner does not absorb into the paper, instead it forms a layer on the surface.
  • This type of printing tends to produce less waste in terms of the chemicals and paper used.

The two different types of digital printing are:

Inkjet printing, the individual inkjets are clustered together. These spray the droplets of ink onto the paper to create the image.

Laser printing, using Ricoh printers for example. This printing process involves the toner, which generally consists of polymer pigment being melted and applied straight onto the paper to create the final effect. 


  • This is a cost effective printing method for short runs of 1k to 10k overprinted envelopes.
  • The final printed products can be turned around quickly.


  • This method is not suited to matching Pantone colours exactly as it is a 4 colour process system.
Blake products recommended for digital printing:

Premium Business | Premium Office | Premium Pure | Premium Postfast | Creative Colour | Creative Senses |

Litho Printing

Litho Printing

Lithography or Lithographic printing, Litho for short, involves placing the image you want printed onto a plate, the ink is transferred off the plate to the blanket. The image is then printed onto the chosen substrate and the inks absorb accordingly.

This process can be used to print on paper, cardboard and other materials. It is regularly used for printing books catalogues and posters.

Key features

  • Generally Litho printing is done using the standard four colour process. However spot colour and special inks can be used to enhance jobs as required.
  • There is a significant amount of cost associated to the work required to make the job ‘ready to print’. Including the cost of time to make the plates and running spare material to get the plates ready for use.
  • Litho printing works best for large areas of colour, as the colour comes out smoother.


  • This is a quicker printing method to choose if you are looking to print large volumes or a repeat job.
  • Can produce high quality prints with accurate colour matching capabilities.


  • As discussed this method is costly to set up as the printing plates need to be produced ahead of commencing the job.

Blake products recommended for litho printing:  Almost all of Blake’s paper envelope products can be Litho printed. You can choose from over 1200 products across our different ranges.

Flexo Printing

Flexo Printing

Flexography, or regularly referred to as Flexo, is a method of printing that is most regularly used for overprinted packaging. This printing technique is used as part of the manufacturing process, within the envelope industry it is most regularly used to print the opaque pattern you find inside envelopes.

Process and Key Features:

  • The Flexo print process involves creating a mirrored 3d relief in rubber or polymer material of the chosen image. A select amount of ink is then deposited on the surface of the printing plate.
  • Flexo gets its name because it was originally used for printing on the uneven surface of corrugated cardboard, needing to be flexible enough for the printing plate to maintain contact with the cardboard.


  • Suitable for use with a variety of different inks
  • Good for printing on different materials
  • It is an incredibly cost effective choice for long runs from 100k to 2 million envelopes.


  • There is an initial set up cost for this printing method as the plates and cutting tools required need to be made for each new design.

Letterpress Printing

Letterpress Printing 

One of the most traditional forms of printing; Letterpress, dates back to the early Chinese woodblock printing from before 750AD, where images were carved into the wood as a relief. This technique subsequently spread throughout Europe and was widely used for printing patterns on to textiles.

Key Features:

  • Letterpress is form of relief printing using a printing press. Unlike the other printing methods this is most recognised for its craftsmanship and the skill required to complete it.
  • Letterpress involves a raised surface (like a stamp) with the desired artwork or imagery being inked onto a sheet or continuous roll of paper.
  • This process can be used to produce multiple copies.


  • This printing technique can produce high quality work at high speed.
  • Letterpress creates exceptional results when used for typography printing.


  • Time is required for adjusting the press if different thicknesses are required.
  • Whilst not necessarily a con, the success of letterpress weighs heavily on the skill of the printer.
Blake products recommended for letterpress printing: Premium Business:

Creative Colour | Creative Senses Handmade collection | Creative Senses Feltmark collection |

Interestested to learn more about printing, why not take a look at our History of Printing infographic.
To learn more about the print services we can help you with, please contact our Specials Team on 01935 477 55 or email [email protected]