Map Commission Print Tech Project
led by Jukka Liikari (Finland)

1. Introduction

Today probably all orienteering maps are drawn on a computer. New technology has helped making orienteering maps in a faster, cheaper and more precise way. Also digital printing methods, printers and printing papers have developed very much since the beginning of 1990´s. Today the best non-offset printed maps are of almost as high quality as traditional offset printed maps.

In this text

1.1 What is PrintTech Project?

2. Non-offset printed maps in IOF events

Even though new printing methods are developing rapidly, traditional offset is still superior in quality when printing detailed maps. Organisers, event advisors and competitors must be sure that the maps in all IOF events are printed by a high quality method.

In IOF Foot-O events the use of non-offset maps is not allowed. The quality of the orienteering map depends not only on the quality of the cartographic content but also the graphic quality (sharp line edges and symbols, right colours, even colour areas etc.) and the quality of the paper (water resistance, durability etc. in all weather conditions). When all these factors are put together, the quality of the non-offset printed maps is not as good as the quality of the offset printed maps. The best non-offset maps are close to being acceptable and maybe in the near future some of the non-offset maps will be good enough to be approved for use in IOF Foot-O events.

However, if non-offset printing methods produce maps with almost the same quality as offset printing, they will be accepted in all

For World Championships and World Cup the traditional offset is still the recommended method.

Common to the maps in these three disciplines is that

Specific in ski-O maps
Ski-orienteering maps are often updated shortly before a competition. The track network may be revised only a few days before an event. Therefore the non-offset printed maps are well suited for ski-orienteering. It is possible to hold all IOF competitions on non-offset printed maps as well.

The responsibility for the quality of the map belongs to the organiser and the IOF Event Advisor.

The correct order of colours plays an important role in the legibility of a ski-O map. The order of colours of a ski-O map printed with a colour printer is to be as follows:

1. upper purple: control numbers and control codes, out-of-bounds areas, sanded or snowless roads and the start symbol as well as focus point when necessary
2. black
3. brown
4. upper green (PMS 354): tracks
5. lower purple: control points and lines between them
6. blue
7. yellow

3. Different techniques

3.1 Laser printers

Where the image to be printed is communicated to it via a page description language, the printer´s first job is to convert the instructions into a bitmap. This is done by the printer's internal processor, and the result is an image (in memory) of which every dot will be placed on the paper. Models designated "Windows printers" don't have their own processors, so the host PC creates the bitmap, writing it directly to the printer's memory.

At the heart of the laser printer is a small rotating drum - the organic photo-conducting cartridge (OPC) - with a coating that allows it to hold an electrostatic charge. Initially the drum is given a total positive charge. Subsequently, a laser beam scans across the surface of the drum, selectively imparting points of negative charge onto the drum's surface that will ultimately represent the output image. The area of the drum is the same as that of the paper onto which the image will eventually appear, every point on the drum corresponding to a point on the sheet of paper. In the meantime, the paper is passed through an electrically charged wire which deposits a negative charge onto it.

On true laser printers, the selective charging is done by turning the laser on and off as it scans the rotating drum, using a complex arrangement of spinning mirrors and lenses. In a laser printer, the mirror drum spins incredibly quickly and is synchronised with the laser switching on and off. A typical laser printer will perform millions of switches, on and off, every second.

Inside the printer, the drum rotates to build one horizontal line at a time. Clearly, this has to be done very accurately. The smaller the rotation, the higher the resolution down the page - the step rotation on a modern laser printer is typically 1/600th of an inch, giving a 600dpi vertical resolution rating. Similarly, the faster the laser beam is switched on and off, the higher the resolution across the page.

As the drum rotates to present the next area for laser treatment, the written-on area moves into the laser toner. Toner is very fine black powder, positively charged so as to cause it to be attracted to the points of negative charge on the drum surface. Thus, after a full rotation the drum's surface contains the whole of the required black image.

A sheet of paper now comes into contact with the drum, fed in by a set of rubber rollers. This charge on the paper is stronger than the negative charge of the electrostatic image, so the paper magnetically attracts the toner powder. As it completes it's rotation it lifts the toner from the drum, thereby transferring the image to the paper. Positively charged areas of the drum don't attract toner and result in white areas on the paper. Issues introduced in colour laser printing might include fit/alignment between the four colours (du to several passes).

Toner is specially designed to melt very quickly and a fusing system now applies heat and pressure to the imaged paper in order to adhere the toner permanently. Wax is the ingredient in the toner which makes it more amenable to the fusion process, while it's the fusing rollers that cause the paper to emerge from a laser printer warm to the touch. New polymer toners avoid the use of wax, which gives as much less glossy appearance of the resulting map.

The final stage is to clean the drum of any remnants of toner, ready for the cycle to start again. There are two forms of cleaning, physical and electrical. With the first, the toner which was not transferred to the paper is mechanically scraped off the drum and the waste toner collected in a bin. Electrical cleaning takes the form of covering the drum with an even electrical charge so the laser can write on it again. This is done by an electrical element called the corona wire. Both the felt pad which cleans the drum and the corona wire need to be changed regularly.

3.2 Inkjet printers

The operation of an inkjet printer is easy to visualise: liquid ink in various colours being squirted at the paper to build up an image (a map). A print head scans the page in horizontal strips, using a motor assembly to move it from left to right and back, as another motor assembly rolls the paper in vertical steps. A strip of the image is printed, then the paper moves on, ready for the next strip. To speed things up, the print head doesn't print just a single row of pixels in each pass, but a vertical row of pixels at a time. On ordinary inkjets, the print head takes about half a second to print a strip across a page.

Most inkjets use thermal technology, whereby heat is used to fire ink onto the paper. There are three main stages with this method. The squirt is initiated by heating the ink to create a bubble until the pressure forces it to burst and hit the paper. The bubble then collapses as the element cools, and the resulting vacuum draws ink from the reservoir to replace the ink that was ejected. This is the method favoured by Canon and Hp.

Piezo-electric technology: Epson´s proprietary inkjet technology uses a piezo crystal at the back of the ink reservoir. This is rather like a loudspeaker cone - it flexes when an electric current flows through it. So, whenever a dot is required, a current is applied to the piezo element, the element flexes and in so doing forces a drop of ink out of the nozzle.

The ink used in inkjet technology is water-based, which poses certain problems. The results from some of the early inkjet printers were prone to smudging and running, but since then there have been enormous improvements in ink chemistry. Oil-based ink is not really a solution to the problem because it would impose a far higher maintenance cost on the hardware. Printer manufacturers are making continual progress in the development of water-resistant inks, but the results from inkjet printers are still weak compared to laser printers.

Companies invest large sums of money in research to make continual advancements in ink pigments, qualities of lightfastness and waterfastness, and suitability for printing on a wide variety of media.

Nowadays most inkjets use dye-based colour inks and pigment-based black. Pigment molecules are much larger and more complex than dye molecules and consequently break down more slowly than dye molecules. Dyes are much more susceptible to UV radiation and pollution for the same reason. For example, when light hits the small dye molecule it entirely damages it, but when light hits much larger pigment molecules only the surface is damaged. Dye molecules' smaller size also precipitates bleeding and spreading on a marked surface to a greater extent than pigments. The net result is that pigments are more fade-resistant than dyes.

Nowadays most inkjets use small molecule dyes for coloured inks - capitalising on their wider colour gamut - and larger molecule pigment-based black ink - because of its better waterproof and fade-resistance characteristics. The world-wide trend in the development of inkjet ink was, however, clearly towards pigment inks with high water fastness.

While there are many different types of paper, most fall into either of two groups, porous and non-porous. Non-porous (also referred to as swellable polymer) coatings are composed of ozone-resistant polymer materials, which cause ink to take longer to dry. With microporous coatings, on the other hand, ink dries almost instantly because it is absorbed into the surface and held there. The downside is that is never completely seals, and the paper is so absorbent that its more susceptible to fading from harmful light and ozone.

Vendors optimise their printers for specific kinds of ink and paper, usually their own proprietary brand - Epson, for example, has its own proprietary paper which is optimised for use with its piezo-electric technology. Whilst being tied to proprietary consumables can be expensive, it is also the surest way of achieving optimum results. Paper produced by independent companies is much cheaper than that supplied directly by printer manufacturers, but it tends to rely on its universal properties and rarely takes advantage of the idiosyncratic features of particular printer models. One of the ultimate aims of inkjet printer manufacturers is to make colour printing media-independent, and the attainment of this goal is generally measured by the output quality achieved on plain copier paper. This has vastly improved over the past few years, but coated or glossy paper is still needed to achieve full-colour photographic quality.

Paper pre-conditioning seeks to improve inkjet quality on plain paper by priming the media to receive ink with an agent that binds pigment to the paper, reducing dot gain and smearing. A great deal of effort is going in to trying to achieve this without incurring a dramatic performance hit - if this yields results, one of the major barriers to widespread use of inkjet technology will have been removed.

3.3 Digital offset press/ digital printing press

The technology in digital offset press and digital color press is totally different than in spot-colour offset. There is "a color laser system", and "a drum" inside the equipment. "Belt transfer" is the name to the system, which moves CMYK-colours from drum to paper.

The digital offset press (for instance Xerox DocuColor 400 DI) is too effective, too fast and too expensive to print orienteering maps which is printed only 1000-5000 pcs/map. It is not possible to print maps on paper sheets, only to roll paper. These machines are not so common.

Maybe one of the best Xerox models for map printing is DocuColor 2045 Digital Color Press and DocuColor 2060 Digital Color Press. These machines are also called "digital printing press". Paper are in sheets, which size are SRA3. That is about 10 mm larger than A3).

4. Advantages and disadvantages in the use of colour printers/copiers

Traditionally orienteering maps have been printed using analog 5-6 spot colour offset printing. The use of colour printers for printing orienteering maps have many advantages, but there are also some disadvantages.

The technology has already improved a lot and the prices are also going down.

The current ISOM does not allow other printing means than traditional 5-6 colour offset printing for orienteering maps. One of the reasons for this is that offset printing is proven technology that give outstanding results with current quality assurance procedures. We have still not seen anything that is comparable in quality to classic spot colour offset printing, but the improvements of competing technologies have been remarkable, and we might get there sometime soon.

Pros-and-cons (Excel file)

5. The PrintTech Project Test Sheet

MC has created a test sheet, which has been printed by using spot colour offset printing.

Instructions (DOC, PDF)
The test file in OCAD format (OCAD8)
The test file in PDF format (PDF-14 MB )
Technical report (OCAD8, PDF) - updated in December 2006

6. Experience, results

Norwegian Orienteering Federation and IOF Map Commission has collected experiences and results: (

This web page has been established in order to monitor the development of - and to make information about this important technical area available to producers of orienteering maps. This common pool of knowledge will be useful to those that want to achieve the best possible result using this technology.

If you have experience with other printers, other settings or have comments on any of the above information, please use the form to let us know!

If you can send us an example of the output from the printer/copier, that would be very helpful. Please address it to:
NOFs Kartutvalg v/Håvard Tveite, Kajav. 24, N-1430 Ås, Norway.

We would be very grateful for receiving comments about the kind of information that is useful for describing the printing process.

7. Some links