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Ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century, the ability to create your own printed documents has gotten progressively easier. The typewriter, which first became available in the 1870s, allowed people to type their own letters. A hundred years later, a dedicated computer called a word processor made it simple to make basic design and format changes to your documents before printing them. In the 1980s, personal computers allowed the use of desktop publishing software to create very sophisticated documents. Laser and color inkjet printers let you print out the documents you create on a computer.


Photo courtesy VistaPrint.com
A typical business-card style available from VistaPrint.com

While home printers allow for some great document creation, very few people have printers capable of printing professional-quality items, such as business cards or postcards, on heavy or glossy paper. The other problem is time and cost: To print 1,000 business cards on most home printers would require a very long time and a lot of ink. Of course, you can go to a specialty print shop or one of the general service center that handles copying and printing, which is the most common method for most people. However, a new, alternative technology called e-printing is becoming increasingly popular.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you will learn about VistaPrint.com, one of the companies featuring e-printing technology. You'll find out about the technology behind VistaPrint.com, the printing system they use and the software that allows you to customize your printing order. You will also learn about VistaBridge, a system for combining print jobs to maximize the use of resources and therefore reduce the cost per item.

What is interesting about VistaPrint.com is that it shows how older technology (offset printing) can combine with the Web to create a new, low-cost way to do things.