Knowing the difference between offset vs digital printing is just about understanding how the printing process works. It also has a lot to do with how your final project turns out – and how much it costs!
If you’re confused about your printing options, this guide on offset vs digital printing can help. Read on to find out which one you probably need to use for your projects.
The Difference Between Offset vs Digital Printing
Before we dive into specifics, let’s differentiate between the two printing processes:
Offset printing is a process that indirectly transfers the ink onto the printed material. Your printer will create custom metal plates etched with your project image for each color in your print project. These plates are loaded onto rollers and transfer ink to a separate rubber roller (also called a rubber blanket), which rolls the ink onto the paper.
Digital printing is more direct. It prints directly from a digital file onto the paper using different colors of toner. This process is similar to the process used by standard office inkjet printers, except the quality is usually higher.
Benefits and Downsides of Offset Printing
There is no single type of printing method that’s best. Rather, offset and digital printing each have their own benefits and disadvantages, depending on the projects for which they’re being used.
The biggest advantage to offset printing is the ability to print a high volume of pieces quickly and inexpensively. The more pieces you print, the less you’ll pay per piece. Magazines, book manufacturers, and postcard companies often use offset printing.Offset printing tends to offer better quality and consistency with each printed piece. There's a greater level of detail and color matching.Click To Tweet
Also, you can choose from a variety of paper sizes and materials with offset printing. Since the plates are custom-made, they can be created to fit the size of your project so you have more design freedom. Specialty inks like Pantones and metallics can be used with offset printing.
Despite its many advantages, offset printing isn’t right for every project. It’s cost-effective for large jobs but is too expensive for small runs. For example, you wouldn’t use offset printing for a single set of documents or a couple of dozen brochures.
Also, offset printing requires a little setup before the run can be initiated. The plates have to be created and set onto rollers, plus there needs to be a test run to ensure enough ink is flowing. If you’re trying to make a tight deadline, offset printing likely isn’t your best option.
Benefits and Downsides of Digital Printing
Just like offset printing, digital printing can be an excellent printing solution, but not always. Consider the benefits and disadvantages of digital printing before you start your project:
Digital printing is cost-effective for short runs, especially if you need your projects quickly. There’s no setup involved since projects print directly from the computer file to the printer, so you can get your final products quickly.
Also, digital printing allows you to print the exact number of copies you need. Many printers will require you to purchase specific quantities with offset printing, but digital printing gives you more flexibility, which translates into greater control over project costs.
Since digital printing doesn’t rely on standard metal plates, you can print variable data like names, addresses, tracking codes, and other information. This is especially helpful when you’re trying to print direct mail campaigns or sales letters that contain recipient’s information. This feature isn’t possible with offset printing since you would need a separate set of plates for each change in data.
Digital printing also has its own set of disadvantages. Though it can help you save money on small jobs, it’s not a cost-effective solution for larger runs. You’re usually paying a flat fee per copy regardless of how many copies you order. This can quickly get expensive.
Also, you’re limited in the types of paper, finishes, and inks to use in your printed projects. Metallic inks are often no-gos, and specific colors don’t always translate exactly. Digital printers are limited on paper sizes they can accommodate. Some digital printers can handle wide formats, but printer availability will vary by provider.
When to Use Offset vs. Digital Printing
There are no set rules when it comes to using offset vs digital printing. Rather, businesses need to look at projects on a case by case basis to determine their current needs.
As a general rule, if you need a large number of copies, require specialty ink, paper, or larger paper size, or don’t need the project right away, offset printing may be the way to go.
If you have shorter runs, need your printed projects quickly, and special features like color, ink, paper size, and paper type don’t really matter, you should talk to your printer about digital printing.
In addition, you’ll also need to consider your overall budget, as costs between offset vs digital printing can vary widely per piece. It might be best to compare the cost of each side by side to see where your best price point lies. A good print shop can create this quote for you so you can make an informed decision for your project.
Bottom Line on Offset vs Digital Printing
The good news is that you have two main types of printing available to you to accommodate your needs. There is no one size fits all printing, so it’s good to know that can choose the type that best fits your project specs, budget, and desired turnaround time.
Now that you know a little more about the process, you’re better positioned to explore your options and make your project the best it can be.
If you have more questions, be sure to contact us!