Printing Lingo: What does Registration mean?

Illustration of proper and poor Ink Color Registration. In the world of printing, the term Register refers to the spatial relationship between two or more elements of a printed piece.

Registration (or Register) relates to the importance of precision alignment and placement. Proper registration means that any impression on the paper - ink, metallic foil, embossing, die cut shape, etc. - occurs in the precise position as intended. Conversely, the register is said to be "off" if any element of the print job is misaligned or displaced.

The registration of printed pieces is affected not only by the initial settings on the production equipment, but also by any movement of the paper as it runs through the equipment. You may have seen a mark on a scrap printed piece that looked like the crosshairs of a rifle scope, these marks are alignment aids to ensure proper register as the paper runs though the press.

Ink Color Registration

Four color process printing uses four ink colors - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These four colors are applied one after the other on a printing press. They overlap each other in various concentrations on the paper to create the visual effect we know as full color printing. Because these four colors combine to make an image, the proper registration of these colors is crucial to produce a sharp image. Even a slight position shift in one of the four colors will cause the printed image to appear blurred or fuzzy.

For the same reason as above, proper registration is also a concern for two-color and three-color printing. One-color printing is not concerned with ink registration since only one ink color is used (but like all printing jobs, the ink must be properly registered to the paper so that the image transfers to its intended location - i.e., not closer to one edge of the paper than intended).

A term related to ink registration is Close Registration, which means that the printed image has two or more ink colors that touch or are very near each other. By its nature, four color process printing always has close registration. Two-color and three-color printing may or may not have close registration, it just depends on the intended design. Jobs with close registration should be printed in a single pass through a printing press to ensure the ink colors align properly with each other.

Ply-to-Ply Registration

Proper registration is also an important consideration for multi-part forms. Each ply of the form must be assembled in the same relative position so entries made on the top ply transfer properly to each subsequent ply. Have you ever filled out a multi-part form only to notice that what you wrote on the top was slightly out of position on a different ply? This is because the form's ply-to-ply registration was off.

Other Registration Concerns

Accurate registration is equally important for die cutting, embossing and metallic foil application. All of these operations require a high degree of precision to ensure the impression is applied to the intended spot on the sheet.

When designing printed pieces, it helps to know the registration tolerances of various printing operations. We recommend you get your printer involved early in the creative process so your design can be optimized for the best possible visual appeal and cost effectiveness.

If you have any questions about Registration or any other printing related topic, just give us a call. For over 30 years, Formax has been providing printing-related guidance to people just like you.

Take care! Rick

About the Author

Rick Stallings is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing and mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Rick is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221 or by submitting our easy quote request form. Rick and the Formax team have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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