The printing opportunity

A high-profile use of lasers in modern life is that of printing and graphics, as Peter Rees discovers

In printing, lasers are everywhere from the home to the largest industrial presses. It is a technically diverse sector with lasers of several types finding favour with equipment manufacturers and users. Perhaps this isn't surprising, given the different types of printing in use - lithography, flexography, gravure - and the fragmented nature of the industry.

There are tens of thousands of commercial printing companies worldwide - the US alone has around 35,000 firms - and most are small or medium-sized. The result is that change - at least across the whole industry - comes slowly. Paradoxically perhaps, printing technology is changing rapidly as it becomes increasingly computerised and automated. Fully digital presses - see panel - cannot yet match the overall product quality of traditional offset printing, in which ink is spread on a metal plate holding an image, transferred first to a rubber blanket and then to paper.