Did you know that high definition printing is now available. It is all about the screens. Well, who cares about screens? If you buy offset color printing services, you should know the differences between the 2 different screen technologies used in commercial printing. It affects the quality of all your color printing. You may know some of this stuff but most people who buy printing don’t know what you will learn in this article. This is a little technical but stick with it because you may want to make some changes in the way your printing is printed. So let’s get started.
Your files are made into screens for printing; it is the first step in the process. The screens are then transferred (offset) to 4 different metal plates. Each plate transfers the ink to a rubber blanket and the blanket offsets the ink onto the paper.
Most commercial printers use conventional AM (amplitude modulated) line screen dots that are arranged in a rosette pattern. That means each screens plate has to align perfectly at very high-speeds of rotations of the press cylinder to keep sharp registration. At a typical press run, speed alignment of the plates can be unstable. The way it works is some dots are large and some dots are small depending on their tonal value. The bigger the dots, the more ink they pick up.
The most commonly used line screen dots are 150 up to 300 dots per inch depending on the screens used by the printer. Printing companies choose a type of screen and use it for all their printing, so you can’t ask your printer to use high dot line screens. The problem is that conventional screens use a lot of ink that pools together so detail is reduced due to flooding the paper with too much ink. Color gamut is the range of color that can be printed. Too much ink inhibits subtle colors and tones are lost and the color gamut is reduced. Subtle colors cannot be printed and moiré patterns can occur in textured patterns. Another issue is banding in color gradations because it is difficult to print smooth transitions of color tones with AM screens.
The other screening method is known as FM (frequency modulated) stochastic (stuh-kas-tic) screens. There are different brands and they all have their own unique proprietary variations. These types of screens are different because FM screens are made with tiny specks similar to grain in photographs. As an example, I will use Kodak Staccato brand screens, which I am most familiar with.
FM screens use 20-micron irregular specs. 1 micron equals 0.000093701 of an inch or 1,000,000 to one yard. A 20-micron screen prints 1,270 specs per inch. These tiny microscopic specks are ideal for printing high definition details in photography, artwork, type and smooth color gradations.
Stochastic screens offer many advantages over conventional screens. They improve detail and definition. Reversed text prints cleaner and shadow and highlight detail are improved. There is also a wider color gamut. Use of these screens eliminates unwanted screen angle moiré, subject moiré and rosettes. The result is a photographic like continuous tone appearance with more color stability during the press run. When tonal and color instability occur using stochastic screens misregistration can occur but sharpness and quality are not affected. These are just some of the benefits of FM screens.
Like all print buyers you want your advertising, sales, marketing and branding promotions to be impressive and attract lots of attention at an affordable price. You may be surprised to learn that the cost and turn-around times using FM screening technology is probably no more and may be less money than what you are paying for conventional AM screen printing.
The next time you are ready to order color printing, ask your printing company what line screen they use and if they use stochastic screens. Don’t be surprised if they never heard of it. If they don’t, you can get higher quality printing by finding a company that uses high definition FM stochastic printing screen technology. When excellence is available, good is not enough.