Picking up from last week’s discussion on substrates, today we talk about processes. Broadly speaking, we’re talking about putting images onto surfaces. Traditionally speaking, (in the context of graphic design studio work) it’s putting ink on paper.


Processes range widely, almost all (the old ones anyway) bearing their own typographic or letter-making traditions. Here’s a quick and incomplete run-down:

  • Offset, or lithographic printing, common commercial standard, seen in books made after 1970 or so, also nearly all maps
  • Digital, which generally means commercial inkjet printing
  • Letterpress, (relief printing) the first commercial printing process; it largely died out in the US in the 1980s and has since seen a resurgence of interest, creating the ’boutique’ printing sector.
  • Engraving, now most commonly seen on paper currency, the highest standard for calling cards / other stationery
  • Screen printing, T-shirts and (these days) only higher-end posters
  • Laser printing, toner (finely ground plastic) melted onto paper, likely your client’s process for day-to-day printing

Some uncommon results are possible with ordinary processes by changing the ink or rasterization method. Fluorescent, metallic, reflective, or glow in the dark inks are examples. Also, spot glosses are now a relatively simple thing to order. If you’re printing on plastic, a UV ink process requires a slightly different setup. There are also a number of special effect processes, including embossing, debossing, die cutting, laser etching / cutting, lenticular printing, holography, and special coatings. Short of seeing these in person, a perusal of one of Sappi’s (a paper company’s) exposition of special effect printing, via PDF is helpful to get an idea of what each is.

Within screen media, there’s also a dimension parallel to special effects printing that makes specific use of the physical properties of pixels, screen polarization, haptic feedback, and other infant technologies. Just as in print, there are simulated 3d effects on screen as well, done a number of ways, most of which requiring special glasses and sensors. Augmented reality interfaces would fit in here somewhere.

Three-dimensional processes

Again, there are innumerable industrial and artisanal processes that can result in letters on a surface, but just to name a few common ones: routing, sandblasting, minting, reproducible sculpture for molding and casting, and of course, 3d printing, and paper folding.

One-off and limited edition processes

Depending on the scale of the project, you may consider a single- or limited-run solution such as sign painting, neon, calligraphy, stone cutting, metal engraving, smithing (for cattle brands), and the mostly noncommercial printmaking processes, monoprint, intaglio, and Ukiyo-e.

Now, why make such a list? It’s important to consider all the possibilities of design from the outset of a project. I hope that by going through some of these it helps to expose new possibilities that just might be a good answer to a the need a project addresses. So for example, why design a paper label for a glass bottle, when the bottle itself can bear all the information just as successfully? Next week, we’ll get into the steps just after the brief’s second half gets firm.

Thanks for reading. Using Type continues here Thursday. Thanks to Nikola Djurek’s Nocturno Display for setting the title.

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