Web Press: What It Is and How It Is Used

Hint: It's Not for Printing Webpages

Printing, Web Press in action, four color, roll paper in press
Kim Steele / Getty Images

If you've ever seen a huge newspaper printing press in operation in a movie with all of its enormous cylinders rotating and newsprint paper flying through in a super-fast continuous stream, you've seen a room-size example of a web press.

A web press prints on continuous rolls of paper or other substrates. Some web presses print on both sides of the paper at the same time. Most web presses use several connected units for printing different colors of ink, and some have units that cut, collate, fold and punch—all in line—so a finished product rolls off the end of the press, ready for distribution.

Web Press Uses

High-speed commercial web presses use wide rolls of paper for newspapers, books, calendars and other printed products. Heat-set web presses use heat to set the ink, which is essential for printing at high speed on glossy stock. The paper runs through the web units so quickly that the ink must be set. Small or cold-set web presses handle lower volume printing of forms, such as direct mail and small publications with paper roll widths as small as 11 inches. The paper used on cold-set web presses is almost always uncoated.

Newspaper presses can occupy several floors and contain multiple printing units along with a variety of folding sections to handle the different sections of the paper. The phrase "Stop the presses!" originally referred to stopping the running of a newspaper web press because of an important late-breaking news story. If printing was already in progress but not far along, the plate with the change would be substituted, and a new version of the paper would start rolling off the end of the press.

A web press is typically used for very high-volume printing such as for magazines and newspapers. Web presses are much faster than most sheet-fed presses. Printing presses for flexographic printing, often used for packaging, are usually web presses.

Advantages of Web Presses

The advantages of using a web press are its speed and lower costs for long runs.

Web presses are:

  • Much faster than sheet-fed presses
  • Have lower paper cost for rolls of paper
  • Handle most folding and binding in-line so product is complete when it comes off the press
  • Once it is running, a web press lowers overhead and production times

These advantages usually equate to a lower per-piece price on jobs with long runs.

Disadvantages of Web Presses

The disadvantages of web presses are mostly for the owners and the operators:

  • Much more expensive than sheet-fed presses
  • Larger, heavy equipment
  • Typically require more than one operator
  • Loud when running. Some require special sound-dampening rooms
  • Much larger infrastructure and power requirements
  • Higher make-ready costs and waste

At some point in run length, the advantages and disadvantages cancel out. In general, a long print run is less expensive when printed on a web press than on a sheet-fed press, but a short print run on a web press would be cost prohibitive.

Design Concerns

If you are designing a publication destined for a web press, you likely won't need to make any adjustments for it in your page layout software. Most large printing companies that run web presses use software that handles the imposition of the pages of your document so everything comes out in the proper order when the project is complete.

Nevertheless, if this is your first experience with designing for a web press print run, ask the commercial printing company if it has any specific guidelines you should follow.

Was this page helpful?