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Digital Printing vs Offset Printing: Which One Should You Use?

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 going to be 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. The press is very large and uses custom plates to print each page. Because this type of press is so large, it is most cost-effective for large batches of prints. 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 the text or images for your print project. These plates will hold the four types of ink used in offset printing – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. 

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

Although this process takes longer to set up than digital printing, it can produce a large amount 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 very high quality results, it’s not going to work for every project. 

Pros 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 will need to invest money up front 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 why 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 design. Offset printing is also great if you need special finishes like embossing. 
  • You can use offset printing on virtually any material. If you’re working with a non-traditional material, offset printing can still create excellent results. 

Cons of offset printing

  • Offset printing is very expensive for small print runs. Since the cost of the custom plates can be quite expensive, offset printing just isn’t going to work 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 much harder to correct errors with offset printing. If there is an error during the course of the printing process, it’s much harder to fix because of the nature of the printer and the plates required. 

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing is a newer form of printing that uses either inkjet or laser technology. Digital printing has become very accessible – in fact, there’s a good chance you have a digital printer at home or at your office. However, many printing companies also offer professional quality digital printing services. 

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 of using a digital printing strategy. Here are the pros and cons of digital printing. 

Pros of digital printing

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

Cons of digital printing

  • Digital printing is very expensive for large orders. If you’re printing thousands of copies, the costs for digital printing are going to add up very quickly. This is because the cost per print stays the same no matter how many prints you are making. 
  • Digital prints aren’t as crisp as offset prints. They can 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 vs 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. 

Quality

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

Cost

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

Options

Offset printing will provide you with more options when it comes to size, materials, and finishes. Digital printing has more limitations. 

How to decide between digital vs. offset printing

Time

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

Volume

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

Color

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. 

Material

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

Proofs

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 printing method you use will also depend on the type of project you’re doing. 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. 

Where to go from here

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.