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Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing: Which is Best?

If you have to print a catalog, brochure, poster or direct mail piece, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use digital or offset printing. These are two common printing methods, and they both have their advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we’ll take a look at these two printing methods to determine which one is best for your needs.

What is Offset Printing?

Offset printing is a traditional printing method that is popular for large print orders. Offset printing is an older method than digital printing. This process uses aluminum plates that transfer an inked image onto a rubber sheet, which is then used to print onto the desired material. The offset printing method is best used for large-scale printing projects that require high-quality output and long print runs.

Offset printing’s main advantage is that it uses a wider range of materials, including custom colors and Pantone inks, which makes it ideal for printing projects that require precision in color and detail. It’s also the most cost-effective for large batches of prints.

You’ll typically see offset printing in book printing and other larger print products. Offset printing also delivers beautiful, high-quality results that can’t always be matched with digital printing.

How Does Offset Printing Work?

The first step in the offset printing process is to create four custom metal plates with text or images for your print project. The plates will hold the four ink colors used in offset printing — cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Next, each of these plates is wrapped around a rotating rubber cylinder. The paper is run through each cylinder, placing the ink on the paper. The four layers of ink blend together to create the final product.

Although the process takes longer to set up than digital printing, it can produce a large number of high-quality prints in a short amount of time.

Pros and Cons of Offset Printing

Offset printing has its advantages and disadvantages. While it produces high-quality results, it won’t work for every project.

Advantages of Offset Printing

  • Offset printing is great for large projects. If you need to print a large run of books, magazines, posters or anything else, you can get more for your money with offset printing. You must invest money upfront to get the plates made, but the overall cost for a large print run is usually going to be cheaper with offset printing than with digital printing.
  • Offset printing provides superior image quality. Another reason people love offset printing is that it results in beautiful quality images. The results are crisp and clear, and the colors will be true to the design. Offset printing is also great if you need special finishes like embossing.
  • You can use offset printing on any material. If you’re working with a nontraditional material, offset printing can still create excellent results.

Disadvantages of Offset Printing

  • Offset printing is expensive for small print runs. Because custom plates can be costly, offset printing isn’t ideal for smaller jobs.
  • The offset printing process takes longer than digital printing. This is because it takes time to get the plates set up.
  • It’s harder to correct errors with offset printing. If an error occurs during the printing process, it’s harder to fix because of the nature of the printer and the plates required.

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing involves printing digital-based images on different types of materials such as paper, plastic and fabrics. Unlike offset printing, digital printing does not require plates as it is a direct-to-print process. Instead, this method uses either inkjet or laser technology. This means that digital printing is highly versatile, cost-effective and offers high-quality output that is perfect for short print runs.

The main advantage of digital printing is its ability to print only the number of copies you need, as compared to offset printing, which typically has a minimum print run. It’s ideal for projects that require a smaller quantity of prints — such as business cards, flyers or brochures. Digital printing also is capable of variable data printing, which means that each print can be unique — perfect for customized marketing campaigns.

Digital printing has become very accessible — there’s a good chance you have a digital printer at home or at your office. But many printing companies also offer professional quality digital printing services and the latest print technology that may be best for larger or professional projects.

How Does Digital Printing Work?

There are two types of digital printers – laser printers and inkjet printers. Inkjet printers use very small ink droplets to create the final print. Laser printers are a bit more complex. They have an internal laser that projects the image onto a printing drum. The image attracts toner particles, which are then bonded to paper with heat.

Pros and Cons of Digital Printing

Like offset printing, there are advantages and disadvantages to using a digital printing strategy. Here are the pros and cons of digital printing.

Advantages of Digital Printing

  • Digital printing is great for small projects. If you’re only making a few prints, digital printing is much cheaper than offset printing.
  • Digital printing is fast. Because you don’t have to wait for custom plates to be developed, you can get your prints made quickly.
  • You can adjust the image from print to print. If you need to change a detail in the print or fix a mistake at any point during the run, it is easy to do.

Cons of Digital Printing

  • Digital printing is expensive for large orders. If you’re printing thousands of copies, the costs for digital printing will add up very quickly. This is because the cost per print stays the same no matter how many prints you make.
  • Digital prints aren’t as crisp as offset prints. Inkjet printing may also smear in rare cases.
  • You’re limited in size and materials. Digital printers have limits regarding the materials you can and cannot print on.

Differences Between Digital Printing and Offset Printing

While these two printing methods can both be very effective, there are some key differences between them. Understanding these differences can help you decide which one is best for you.


Offset printing generally creates sharper, high-quality images with more color authenticity. But there are also many digital printers that produce high-quality results.


The rate for digital printing stays the same no matter how many copies you make. This makes it a cheaper option for small projects, but it can be expensive for larger ones. Alternatively, offset printing is expensive at the outset but gets more fairly priced as you make more copies.


Offset printing provides more options when it comes to size, materials and finishes. Digital printing has more limitations.

How to Decide Between Digital Printing and Offset Printing

When deciding between two printing techniques, it helps to compare the following factors. And remember, if you’re looking for customized support, it can be worthwhile to turn to professional print services such as Print Bind Ship.

We offer tailored guidance on the best print techniques for your projects. Get in touch with Print Bind Ship to understand the customized services we offer as well as to receive quotes for your printing needs.


If you’re short on time, digital printing will get the job done quickly. Offset printing takes time because you have to create custom plates.


If you’re only making a few prints, digital printing is a better option. Offset printing is more effective for large projects.


Offset printing provides slightly better color authenticity because you can use custom inks. With digital printing, you are limited to the inks that are compatible with that specific printer.


Offset printing works on a variety of materials, whereas digital printing limits you to specific types of paper.


If you need to make a proof before starting a project, digital printing is a much faster and more affordable option.

Type of printing

The type of project you’re doing will determine the printing method you use. A large book or magazine run will likely require offset printing as will anything with unique materials like T-shirts. Smaller projects like business cards, posters or direct mailers can often be done with digital printing. Every situation is different, and it’s always helpful to consult a professional printer to see what they recommend.

Partnering with the Professionals for Print Services

Now that you understand the differences between digital and offset printing, it’s time to start your printing project. Working with a third-party logistics firm like Print Bind Ship can help ensure that the entire printing process runs smoothly. Contact us to get started with a free consultation.


What is the difference between digital printing and offset printing?

Digital printing uses an inkjet or laser printer to transfer ink or toner onto the paper. Offset printing uses a printing plate to transfer the ink onto the paper. Digital printing is more cost effective for smaller print runs, whereas offset printing is better for larger print runs.

Which type of printing produces better quality?

Offset printing tends to have better quality as it uses a higher resolution and a wider range of paper types. But digital printing technology is constantly improving and can produce high-quality prints that are comparable to offset printing. 

Which printing method is more environmentally friendly?

Digital printing is considered to be more environmentally friendly as it produces less waste and uses fewer chemicals. Offset printing can produce a lot of waste because it requires printing plates and ink mixing. Both methods have eco-friendly options such as using soy-based ink and recycled paper.

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