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Print Process Descriptions: Printing Industry Overview: Gravure

Publication Gravure

Publication gravure is used primarily for very long press runs required to print mass-circulation periodicals, directories, inserts, and catalogs. Publication gravure maintains a competitive edge in the printing of mass-circulation magazines because the process offers high speed, high quality four color illustrations on less expensive paper, variable cut-off lengths, and flexible folding equipment. These presses can have as many as ten printing stations - four for color and one for monochrome text and illustration in each direction so that both sides of the web can be printed in one non-stop operation. They can handle web widths of up to 125 inches and are equipped to print most large format publications in circulation today. Publication gravure presses can also be fitted with cylinders of differing diameters to accommodate varying page sizes.

The major types of chemicals used in publication gravure include adhesives, metal plating solutions, inks, and cleaning solvents. In terms of chemicals, publication gravure differs from packaging and product gravure primarily in its heavy reliance on toluene-based ink (GATF 1992b). The publication gravure industry has had little success with water-based inks (Buonicore). The industry has found that in publication gravure where the substrate is always paper stock, water-based inks have not been capable of printing commercially acceptable quality productions runs of 2,000 to 3,000 feet per minute.

Packaging Gravure

Packaging rotogravure presses are used for printing folding cartons as well as a variety of other flexible packaging materials. In addition to printing, packaging gravure presses are equipped to fold, cut, and crease paper boxes in a continuous process. Packages are usually printed on only one side, so the number of print stations is usually about half that required for publication gravure presses. However, in addition to printing stations for the four basic colors, packaging gravure presses may employ printing stations for the application of metallic inks and varnishes as well as laminating stations designed to apply foils to the paper substrate prior to printing.

Packaging gravure presses are designed with the accurate cutting and creasing needs of the packaging material in mind. However, image quality is generally less important in packaging printing than in most other types of printing and, subsequently, receives less emphasis.

The chemicals used in packaging gravure are similar to those used in publication gravure. However, the inks used in packaging gravure are largely alcohol- and not toluene-based (GATF 1992b). Water-based inks are being successfully used for lower quality, non-process printing on paper and paperboard packaging and for printing on non-absorbent packaging substrates such as plastics, aluminum, and laminates (Tyszka 1993). Use of water-based inks is expected to increase; however, problems still limit their use at press speeds above 1,000 feet per minute (Buonicore).

Product Gravure

The continuous printing surface found on gravure press cylinders provides the "repeat" required to print the continuous patterns found on textiles and a variety of other products. In the textile industry, a gravure heat transfer process using subliming dyes is used to print images on paper. These images are then transferred from the paper to a fabric (usually polyester) through a combination of heat and pressure. The gravure process is also used to print continuous patterns on wallboard, wallpaper, floor coverings, and plastics.

The chemicals used in product gravure are similar to those used in both publication and packaging gravure. However, product gravure uses both water- and solvent-based inks (GATF 1992b). The industry has used water-based inks successfully on medium-weight papers and on nonabsorbent substrates such as plastics, aluminum, and laminates (Tyszka 1993). However, problems such as paper distortion and curl persist with lightweight papers (Buonicore).

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