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The gravure process has its origins in the early seventeenth century when the intaglio printing process was developed to replace woodcuts in illustrating the best books of the time. In early intaglio printing, illustrations were etched on metal, inked, and pressed on paper. Gravure, still also known as intaglio printing, makes use of the ability of ink to adhere to a slight scratch or depression on a polished metal plate.
Currently, the dominant gravure printing process, referred to as rotogravure, employs web presses equipped with a cylindrical plates (image carrier). A number of other types of gravure presses are currently in use. Rotary sheet-fed gravure presses are used when high quality pictorial impressions are required. They find limited use, primarily in Europe. Intaglio plate printing presses are used in certain specialty applications such as printing currency and in fine arts printing. Offset gravure presses are used for printing substrates with irregular surfaces or on films and plastics.
Today almost all gravure printing is done using engraved copper cylinders protected from wear by the application of a thin electroplate of chromium. The cylinders (image carrier) used in rotogravure printing can be from three inches in diameter by two inch wide to three feet in diameter by 20 feet wide. Publication presses are from six to eight feet wide while presses used for printing packaging rarely exceed five feet. in width. Product gravure presses show great variation in size, ranging from presses with cylinders two inches wide, designed to print wood grain edge trim, to cylinders 20 feet wide, designed to print paper towels. The basics of Gravure printing is a fairly simple process which consists of a printing cylinder, a rubber covered impression roll, an ink fountain, a doctor blade, and a means of drying the ink.