A Brief Overview of Gravure Printing

Long-run printing with etched plates

Illustration of Gravure printing

Lifewire

Gravure printing—also known as rotogravure printing—is primarily a long-run, high-speed, high-quality printing method. Like engraving, gravure is a form of intaglio printing that produces fine, detailed images. It works well for CMYK printing where each color of ink is applied by its own cylinder and with drying steps in between.

Like flexography, gravure printing predominates in the high-volume printing of packaging, wallpaper and gift wrap. Although less common, it also works for printing magazines, greeting cards, and high-volume advertising pieces.

How Gravure Works

In gravure printing, an image is acid-etched on the surface of a metal cylinder—one cylinder for each color—in a pattern of cells. The cells are recessed into the cylinder, unlike relief printing or letterpress where the printing image is raised or like offset printing, in which the image is level with the plate.

The cylinder is etched with cells of different depths. These cells hold the ink that is transferred to the substrate. The dimensions of the cells must be precise because the deeper cells produce more intensive color than shallow cells.

Although the digital file preparation requirements for gravure printing are similar to those of offset printing, contact the gravure print shop for any specific requirements concerning their digital files.

The cells are filled with ink, and the non-printing portions of the plate or cylinder are wiped or scraped free of ink. Then paper or another substrate is pressed against the inked cylinder on a rotary press, and the image is transferred directly to the paper, unlike in offset printing, which uses an interim cylinder. The engraved cylinder sits partially immersed in the ink fountain, where it picks up ink to fill its recessed cells on each rotation of the press.

Photogravure

Photogravure is a variation on engraved-cylinder gravure printing. Photogravure uses photographic methods to etch copper plates that are then wrapped onto cylinders, rather than etching the cylinders themselves. Because this is a less costly process, photogravure lends itself to shorter runs of high-quality printing and is commonly used to reproduce high-end art prints with warm blacks and a wide range of subtle shades of colors.