A Print Buyers Introduction to Web Offset Printing

by Erik Haug

web-offset-pressroom.jpgMaybe you have been wondering if that brochure you’ve produced a few times with your sheetfed print vendor could be printed for less money using web offset printing. Perhaps you already know it can but have been reluctant to make the change because you don’t know much about web offset printing. Maybe you’ve even heard horror stories of web print jobs gone wrong, or been given contradictory advice by printers. Whatever your trepidation, the following information will help ease your mind. I will cover the basics of web offset printing, explaining the press, what types of print work are best suited, and essential tips for success.

Early in my print production career I worked as a buyer for a prominent agency and found myself suddenly tasked with the responsibility of managing a large printing of brochures for an airline. I had never produced any projects using web offset printing and knew nothing about the equipment or requirements. My boss simply told me that the large quantity, 1.2 million pieces, would most economically run web offset and to get bids from our vendors with the capability.  I went to the press check feeling completely out of my depth. When the sale representative brought me out to the press I was awed by the immense size of the machine. Even with sound baffles on the walls the volume made talking a challenge. To say I was intimidated is an understatement, but you shouldn’t be.

A web offset press is not so different from a sheetfed offset press.  Both utilize the same method of putting ink on paper. Ink is offset from cylinders holding the printing plates to cylinders holding rubber blankets, and from the blankets to the paper. There are three significant differences.  The first is the method of loading paper into the press. Sheetfed presses feed stock cut to the specific size required by the press. Web offset presses feed paper from rolls of stock. The second is heat-set web presses run the paper through a heater after the ink is applied in order to set the ink. The third difference is finishing. Sheetfed presses stack the inked press sheets, which are then moved to other bindery equipment such as cutters and folders to produce the final product. Web offset presses usually have a sheeter at the end of the machine which trims the inked paper to individual sheets ready for additional bindery finishing. Most web presses also have in-line fold, score, perforate, and glue capabilities, eliminating the need to move the job to additional bindery equipment.  Paper literally goes in the front and finished product comes out the back.

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The high speed, up to 3,000 feet per minute, and in-line finishing capabilities reduces the hours required to produce a large print run, thereby reducing the cost to the tune of big savings. However, web offset presses take much longer to set up and spoil a lot of paper in the process. These factors make web printing best suited for larger quantity projects, but your job doesn’t need to be hundreds of thousands of pieces in order to be best suited for running on a web. It depends on the individual job. Printing 30,000 16-page brochures, or 75,000 8-1/2 x 11 4-page newsletters are equally good fits. Here are some of the typical projects well suited for web offset printing:

  • Magazines
  • Publications
  • Newsletters
  • Brochures
  • Business Forms
  • Self-mailers

As a general rule of thumb, if your project is 20,000 impressions or higher you could save money by printing web offset. To determine if your project is a good fit for web offset printing click here to request a price quotation.

Planning a print project for web offset printing is essentially the same as you would plan any other print project, but it is important to keep a few things in mind to ensure there are no surprises.

  • Making changes after you’ve already signed off on the job and it is running is expensive. Before you give your approval to print be absolutely sure you are satisfied everything is correct.
  • Heat-set web offset presses can run coated paper stocks. Cold-set web offset presses can only print on uncoated paper.
  • Web Offset presses do not run heavy, cover paper stocks.
  • The image size being printed is limited to the cutoff size of the press. On full-web presses the typical cutoff is 22-3/4” x 38”. On half-web presses the cutoff is usually 23” x 20”.

Now that you know a bit more hopefully any fears you had have been eased and you’re ready to begin taking advantage of the cost savings associated with producing larger print runs using web offset printing. Don’t be intimidated by the size and speed of the presses. The printing process is not so different from sheetfed presses, and the money you save your employer or client will earn you props for your smart decision.  To discuss your next project with a sales representative connect with one here at John Roberts - you’ll appreciate the sound advice and good suggestions, and there’s no obligation.


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