offset vs screen vs uv printing

Most people are familiar with the two most common printing options – digital and offset printing. Historically, these printing methods rely on solvent-based inks that require air and/or heat to dry. This is not to discount these more standard print methods, which are often the best choice depending on the scope of the print project. However, UV printing techniques have opened the field of print options even further.  

UV printing is one of the newest options available for print projects. As an experienced Bay Area printer, we always spend time with new clients ensuring they choose the right size and materials for every project. However, the more educated you are, the better decisions you can make with us or your Bay Area printer of choice. 

What is UV Printing? 

UV printing is a newer technology on the printing block, using existing digital print techniques and “upgrading” them using more eco-friendly inks and with the addition of a UV light that dries the inks almost instantaneously after the inks are transferred to the printing medium (substrate). If you go to your local nail salon and take advantage of long-lasting UV gel manicures/pedicures, this process may seem familiar to you. And, that’s no coincidence.  

While this technology was originally invented for the beauty market, innovators quickly recognized this same UV technology could revolutionize printing, along with other industrial and commercial industries.  

UV printing technology enhances printing projects  

Ever pulled that fresh print out of your laser inkjet at home, only to see unattractive smudges of ink. Alas, even professional printers experience those same glitches from time to time. UV technology means no more smearing, smudging, or wet ink results, and that’s just one of its many benefits. 

Advantages of UV printing 

Here are some of the benefits of choosing UV printing projects: 

  • Quick curing (drying). The UV lights that pass over the printed material instantly cure or dry the ink. This immediate drying element means prints come out perfect, without any smudging or smearing, and are ready to be distributed hot off the press. 
  • Ultra-fine detail. Wet ink results in small droplets that immediately begin “spreading out” onto the printing materials. Whether ink drops spread out on non-porous materials (such as acrylic) or porous substrates (such as paper or cloth), the spreading of the droplets innately diminishes fine details. The instant drying properties of UV printing techniques preserves the originality of even the finest of details. 
  • Weather/fade resistant. Is your event taking place outdoors or will a sign live in an area that gets lots of direct sunlight? Weather- and increased fade-resistance is another benefit of UV prints. UV printing typically lasts about three to five years in outdoor locations, and at least 10 years in indoor locations with partial sun, potentially less if the signage receives excessive amounts of direct sunlight. 
  • More environmentally friendly. We mentioned above that most printing inks are solvent-based, and most industry solvents are not environmentally friendly. The inks we use for UV printing, however, do not off-gas any VOCs (volatile organic compounds). This also makes for a better working environment because they are also nearly odor-free! Plus, the low-UV lights we use to dry them require less energy to power than the heating elements often used to speed dry more traditional inks. 
  • Often works better on non-traditional materials. Ever tried to dry ink on aluminum? How about acrylic? It is a chore because, as mentioned above) those materials are non-porous and the ink just sits on top until it dries. Since UV lights dry the ink instantly, we have the ability to print more easily on non-traditional and more challenging materials, including 3-D materials such as ceramic tiles, PVC, pens, smartphone covers, and other promotional materials. This means we have an even greater ability to get creative and provide super-custom print jobs for your customers – and yours. 

Disadvantages of UV Printing 

Of course, no printing option is perfect in every way. There are disadvantages to UV printing. Again, your printer should never offer UV printing options unless they are a better solution or make more sense for your project. 

Disadvantages of UV printing include: 

  • It’s more expensive. The start-up costs for a UV printing project can be as much as eight times higher than standard, solvent-based ink options. So, just as off-set printing costs more than digital printing, you’d want to weigh whether the scope of the project justifies that initial investment. 
  • Some materials require pretreatment. One of the reasons standard printing uses solvent-based inks is because the solvents help them to adhere to multiple surfaces. UV inks don’t adhere as well on certain materials (wood, metal, glass, acrylic) without pre-treatment. This may not allow for smooth gradations in all cases. 
  • Printers beware. Overexposure to UV light damages skin cells, so printers using this technology need to beware and use proper precaution so they don’t overexpose their skin or eyes to potentially harmful UV rays when the printer is active. 

How Does UV Printing Compare to Screen Printing? 

Like UV printing, screen printing methods are used for less conventional printing materials such as t-shirts or clothing, banners, glass, and metals. However, there are differences in what each printing method offers.  

While screen printing is more economical for print projects with limited colors, UV printing does a better job with multicolor prints or printing jobs that are more photographic than logo oriented. And, because screen printing requires set-ups for each print design, UV printing makes it easier to switch between images and colors, creating a batch of one style, and then a batch with another style, without having to reset the project again. 

Also, while UV printing can produce samples for review and editing, screen printing is more final because any changes require a brand new setup. That said, screen printing is best for people who need precise color matching. UV is less precise with colors and the colors are not always as smooth or vibrant as those produced via screen prints. 

And, How Does UV Compare to Offset Printing? 

In many cases, this may be one and the same. UV printing has rapidly overtaken conventional offset printing due to its environmental and quick drying benefits. So, while both versions require extra set-up fees, many clients appreciate the quick turnaround time available with UV printing methods.  

Additionally, it’s easier to set up multiple versions of the same flyer with UV methods. So, for example, you can more quickly create flyers for the same sale, promotion, or event but for different target audience members with a quick change of the wording, graphics, or images. This isn’t as feasible with offset printing methods. 

Ultimately, your printing professional is the person who can review your project goals, scope and budget to determine when UV printing methods are best for you. Contact SpeedPro East Bay to get started.