The Life Cycle of Print

The Tree

At the beginning of Print's life, is a tree. Trees are our #1 source of paper, and as a result, printers know the importance of maintaining sustainable practices for the sake of the earth as well as for the sake of business."In North America, forests are a renewable resource that is continuously replenished using sustainable forest management practices. We grow many more trees than we harvest." (Source)

There are a number of other ways to make paper, including using the pulp of bamboo and hemp or even recycling the pulp from other paper products! Wherever your paper comes from, it must be of the top quality to produce the best print!
Learn more about print sustainability:

The Paper (Roll)

After the wood or other materials are gathered, machines create Pulp, "a lignocellulosic fibrous material prepared by chemically or mechanically separating cellulose fibres from wood, fiber crops, waste paper, or rags." (Source) This pulp then goes through a paper machine "to take wet fibers, press them together, dry them, and then make them smooth." (Source)

After paper is made, it is often shipped to distribution companies in big rolls (yes, they look a lot like TP for giants) These distribution centers cut the rolls of paper into a sellable size, usually into sheets, but other times into smaller rolls for sheet-fed printing.

For more detailed information on how paper is made:

Making Ink (Or Toner)

Now that we have our substrate (in this case, paper), we need something to color it. The two primary materials used for putting color on paper are Ink and Toner. Each provide slightly different effects and both are used by printers depending on the needs of the shop or project.

To make ink, manufacturers mix pigment (where the color comes from) with varnish (a vehicle for the color) to make either a thick or watery ink, depending on the use. More about ink Here.

Toner, like ink, also has color to it, but instead of being a viscous honey-like texture, toner is a fine powder. This powder is comprised of mostly Polyester or another material that can hold a static charge, along with the color element. Learn about toner Here.

Shipping and Distribution

Though it is often overlooked, all industry relies on shipping and distribution. These distribution centers have lots of large warehouses and often work as a middleman between ink and paper manufacturers and the printers that put the ink on paper. Sometimes ink or paper companies have their own distribution centers as well. When a printer needs product, they call one of these companies and the materials will be there in a flash!

Distribution and warehousing is a great source of jobs within the printing industry, be sure to check out our Job Board to see any openings that are available right now!

Make Your Design

Now that we have all the materials we need to print, we have to decide WHAT to print. This is usually done by designers, either at a customer's company, or many printers offer design services to their customers as well. Most designing today happens on a computer, though before digital printing, designs were etched in wood, metal, or another material to create printed images.

After the design is finished, it goes through a prepress process that both checks for errors (a good printer will tell you where your designs might look bad on paper or not turn out the way you want them to) and makes the design ready to be printed. This also involves printing test runs, or proofs, to be shown to the customer before printing the full project. Anyone interested in design as a career should think about working for a printer as a designer or prepress worker.

More on prepress Here.

Press Print!

After the design is finalized, it gets sent to print, though the process is often more complicated than just pressing the "Print" button at home. There are many job opportunities for people who are interested in working with the machines that produce print.

Printers come in many different forms, from the older-style letterpress machines, to four color offset, and to the newer digital printers. Many commercial print machines use the four-color process, using a combination of four standard colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK)—to create the final range of color in a design.

Each printing method has its advantages and often one company uses more than one method to get the job done. Read about printing processes Here.

Cutting, Folding, Embossing, etc.

After ink is on paper, some projects are done. However, most projects move from printing to be cut, folded, embossed, and more.

Cutting is done in one of three main methods: with a die, with lasers, or with a flatbed plotter cutter. The process can sometimes be hard to explain with words, so you should watch some videos of cutting in action! Die Cutting, Laser Cutting, Plotter Cutting.

Folding is done either by hand or with special machines like a buckle folder. What machine you use often depends on the thickness of the paper. There are a number of common folds used in printing, check them out Here. Explore other folding methods Here.

Send It Out!

After all the work is done, the print has to leave the shop and get to the target. This is often done by mailing the brochures, letters, and more directly to the target or customer. Many print shops are able to stuff, address, stamp postage, and send all sorts of letters and parcels right from their shop. Other businesses outsource their mailing to a shop that specializes in mail. The machines that automate this process are very interesting to watch, check one out Here.

Print Reaches The Target

At the end of Print's journey, it ends up at the target. Sometimes this target is your mailbox, other times it is getting put up in stores as packaging for toys, food, and more. Maybe you bought a t-shirt with print on it, or you were at a conference and saw huge banners and had information packets handed to you. There are nearly infinite applications for print. Look around you today and try to spot all the places print ends up: signs, stickers, board games, checks, and more. Print is an integral industry and is used by almost everyone daily. Do you want to put your mark on the world? Print might be a good place to start.

Recycle, Restart

After print has served its intended purpose, consumers are encouraged to recycle paper, cardboard, and other common substrates used for print. Print shops also recycle all their leftover paper from mistakes or cutting. This recycled material can be turned into pulp and start right at the beginning, becoming paper or a paper product again. Watch a short clip on this process Here, read some statistics Here.

We hope that you will make efforts to recycle your paper products that come in the mail, or end up on your desk. Printers are very proud of our efforts toward sustainability, but we can't do it ourselves, we need help from you, your home, work, school, and more to keep waste down.

If you are interested in learning more about the sustainability of paper, check this out.