Look around you, and you will find a plethora of printed materials. Banners, food packaging, business cards, and so much more. Here we examine the most common printing machines, used to make such products. This is not a comprehensive list of all printing machines, as there are hundreds, but a look at the most popular and well used.
The most common variant of home or small office printing machines is the inkjet. Just as the name implies, it uses ink, shot through a jet, onto your paper. These machines are great for small jobs at home, but they are not well-suited for larger businesses or those in the printing/publishing world.
Laser (or digital) printers are common for large businesses and about half of all commercial printers. These use a laser and toner. The laser scans the image, and tells the printing unit where to use the toner. Thereby, creating or recreating your image. Unlike other machines used in the commercial printing world, these have relatively no setup, and do not require plates to print.
The single most common printing machine for commercial applications is the offset printer. According to Printing Machines, "The process involves spreading the ink on a metal plate with etched images, which is then transferred onto an intermediate surface (rubber blanket). This is finally applied to paper by pressing it against the intermediate surface (rubber blanket)." These printers require high setup costs, experienced workers and expensive machinery. What you get, though, is the lowest cost per print, amazing quality, and a machine that can print large quantities.
Flexographical printers are used for packaging materials, both for food and boxes. This printer uses plastic or rubber plates which are fed onto a belt, which then goes into an impression cylinder. This impression cylinder, as the name implies, makes an impression of the image. Flexography usually has lower quality, but has versatility in what it can print on.
Popular with textile (wood, ceramic, metal) and clothes printers, screen printing is a special technique which creates screens from a fabric. Usually silk, nylon, or polyester, the screen has stencil of the image cut into it, and it is then stretched over the material to be printed on. According to Printing Machines, this printing method was seen in the "beginning of the 19th century and gained popularity during the first world war for making banners and printing flags."
Known best for its printing of large world maps, the electrostatic printer uses no plates, nor does it directly use any ink or toner. Rather, it uses paper coated in a layer of zinc oxide. This paper is charged with the appropriate image, and runs through a literal ink bath, where the correct inks are attracted to the paper. What emerges is a high quality print. This printer requires low setup, and also has low price per print and high speeds.