Printing is a very diverse field and can a very expensive proposition. It is important to investigate the various types of work and perform market research in your area before making a buying decision. Printers love to talk shop and show off equipment and are usually happy to show you around. Read trade magazines, talk to suppliers, and educate yourself in all aspects of this fascinating trade. We’ll talk about some basic equipment needs for a small commercial print shop to help get you going.

Computer and Software

A computer, scanner and graphic arts software is necessary in the modern print shop for basic design and typesetting. Although graphic design in printing is highly specialized, you should offer basic typesetting and design work in-house to save you and the customer time and money. Complex work can be jobbed out to professional designers. Scanners are used to scan customer artwork into the computer to make changes or output to a computer platemaker. The industry standards for graphic design and typesetting software are Adobe Creative Suite and Quark Express.

Offset Printing Press

The offset printing process is the standard for reliable, high-speed printing. The offset press suitable for the smaller shop falls into the offset duplicator category and is a smaller version of a true offset press with less features. Duplicators are relatively easy to operate and offer quick set-up and economical operation expenses. Most general commercial work is produced by one-color and two-color printing presses.

Plate Making

Offset duplicators require plates with which to print. Traditional combination platemaker/cameras take a photo of the artwork and convert it into a printing plate. Newer computer-to-plate (CTP) units convert computer file information directly onto plates, bypassing the hard-copy photography process.

Color Copier

Full-color offset presses and accompanying equipment is prohibitively expensive for the small start-up shop, and is best jobbed out to wholesale color printers. A color copier in the shop will allow you to fulfill small volume needs and provide a selling opportunity for larger volume work.

Standard Copier, Fax Machine, Laminator

While offset presses are always more economical for larger print runs of 500 or more, a black and white copier will allow you to produce smaller runs, as well as copies of multiple page collated documents, which are costly and time consuming on a printing press. A copier is also used to get customers in the door with the chance to sell larger printing orders. Small self-service copiers, fax machines and lamination services can also be income generators, but are used primarily to increase foot traffic, and therefore are recommended.

Bindery Equipment

A print shop’s bindery contains finishing equipment required to prepare and finish printed work to the customer’s specifications. Additional income generated from bindery operations can be considerable.

Customers often require folding services for printed brochures and letters. Many types of tabletop and free-standing paper folders are available and are adjustable to make different types of folds.

Paper is often cut before and after printing. Guillotine paper cutters are designed to accurately cut large stacks of paper and are fully adjustable. Manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic cutters are available in all sizes.

Paper drills use hollow drill bits in varying diameters to drill holes in paper for insertion into binders, in the manufacture of hang tags, business forms and many other products. Single and three-hole drills are available, in table-top and free standing units and are fully adjustable.

A paper stitcher forms staples from a spool of wire and is used to stitch multiple sheet documents, raffle tickets, and booklets. Spool wire is more economical than pre-formed staples and allows the depth of the staple to be adjusted by the machine. Floor and table-top stitchers with one or more stitching heads are available.

Book binding takes on many forms, but the most common for small print shops are comb, wire and strip binding. Plastic comb and wire binding is most often used for document binding and booklets, while strip binding is more permanent and is used primarily for legal documents.