What is an offset print?

Offset printing is a type of planographic printing which involves transferring the original design from a stone or plate to a rubber blanket, and subsequently rolling the image from this blanket on to the printing surface.

With the rubber blanket conforming well to the texture of the printing surface, offset printing allows for high quality prints with sharp edges and clear outlines. Additionally, the technique prolongs the life of the original stone or plate, as it avoids it from coming in direct contact with the printing surface. Well-developed plates used in combination with suitable inks are able to achieve run-lengths of over a million impressions, making offset printing an extremely efficient and economical technique.

Offset printing is a development of lithography and is hence based on the principle that water and grease do not mix. Greasy ink can be deposited onto grease-treated printing areas of the plate and will print, while nonprinting areas hold water and therefore reject the ink.

First developed around 1875 in England for printing on tin cans, offset printing has since become one of the most common ways of creating printed materials. Today it’s most popular uses include newspapers, magazines, brochures and books. Modern offset printing is done on a press made of three cylinders that rotate. They all work together to take the image from the plate to the blanket and then to press the blanket and page together to create the final image. The offset printing technique is best suited for producing large quantities of high quality prints in an economical manner without much involvement or maintenance from a human hand.

For examples of offset printed artworks, see Tacita Dean’s FILM Still for ACCA, 2013, Thaddeus Strode’s Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die, 2013, or Christo’s Wrapped Statues, Sleeping Fawn, 2000.

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