Rotogravure printing is a method that is used to create high-quality repeated runs of a design. Also called gravure printing, this method is used in the commercial printing industry to produce products such as magazines and advertising flyers, as well as labels and packaging.
The ‘roto’ portion of the name refers to the large rolls that hold the printing plates. Made from flexible metal, the plates can be used over and over again to print the design. For the best print quality, however, they must be kept clean and are periodically washed with anilox cleaners.
‘Gravure’ comes from the same word as ‘engrave’ and it refers to the process of transferring the design to the metal plate. This is done using an acid that dissolves away portions of the plate to create lower spots called ‘cells.’ This can also be done with a sharp instrument known as a stylus or by a laser.
When ink is applied to the plate, it pools in the cells and then the design is transferred to the printing surface, which is usually paper, card stock or plastic film. Each color of ink used in the rotogravure process has its own cylinder and is added separately. The colors are allowed to dry completely before the next is put on. This process is often referred to as CMYK, which stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the colors of the ink used in printing. Every color in the finished design is made up of layers of these four shades.
The advantages of rotogravure printing are speed and consistency. Today’s presses are mostly automated and run very quickly. The inks contain chemicals that speed up the drying process and the whole run takes only a matter of minutes. Rotogravure printing produces images that are of consistent quality, which is important in commercial printing.
The next time you pick up a magazine and a bag of chips, think about how they were made. It probably involved rotogravure printing.