The Difference Between Digital Printing & Offset Printing

Traditional offset printing

is produced on a printing press using printing plates and wet ink. This type of printing takes a little longer to produce as there is more setup time and the final product must dry before finishing can take place. At the same time, offset printing traditionally produces the highest quality available on the widest variety of stocks and offers the highest degree of control over color. Further, offset printing is the most economical choice when producing large numbers of prints of a few originals.

Digital printing

used to be called ‘copying,’ but that term is now outdated. Today, instead of copying a hard copy original, the vast majority of digital printing is output directly from electronic files. Digital printing is the quickest way to produce short runs, especially when there are a many originals. The quality level of digital printing is now extremely close to offset printing. Although digital printing works well on most stocks today, there are still some papers and jobs where offset printing works better. There are also some stocks and jobs where digital printing will perform as well as, or better than, offset printing.

If you’re in the market for brochures, business cards, posters or other marketing materials, you already know that you’re going to need to come up with the perfect design, color scheme, copy and layout. However, even after you’ve checked off all of those boxes, there’s another very important decision to make: choosing between digital vs. offset printing.

In this post, we’ll cover the differences between the two printing techniques and show what their benefits and drawbacks look like. We’ll also list the factors that should go into your decision as you choose the best process for your project. And naturally, we’ll look at some examples so you can get the best sense of both digital and offset printing in action.

Offset printing
Offset printing, also called lithography, is the most common kind of printing for high volume commercial jobs. Ever seen videos of newspapers running through big rolls? That’s offset printing.
Here’s how it works: First, the printer burns the design onto metal plates—one for each color. Typically, four colors are used (cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key), abbreviated CMYK), but offset printing also allows for custom ink colors (most notably Pantone colors) to be used instead.
Next, the design is transferred from the plates onto rubber rolls. The different colors of ink are spread onto the rubber and then the paper is run between them. The paper goes through all of the rolls, layering on the color, to get the final image.

The benefits of offset printing

  • Superior image quality that is reliable. Count on offset printing for clean, distinct type and images without streaks or spots
  • Better color fidelity, which refers to both the accuracy of the colors and their balance in the design. Because offset printing can mix custom color inks for each job, it’s naturally going to get the colors spot-on.
  • Works equally well on almost any kind of material.
  • For large volume jobs, you get more for your money. It costs a lot to start an offset job. You have to invest money into creating the plates, which takes time. However, once you’ve invested it, all of the materials are ready to go, and you’ll actually spend less on big offset jobs than a digital print, which is about same per piece no matter how big the job gets.

The drawbacks of offset printing

  • High cost of low-volume jobs
  • Longer timetable since plates need to be created
  • Worse fallout in case there’s an error. If you don’t catch a typo on a plate and ruin a batch it’s harder to fix and the process starts all over again

Digital printing

When digital printing came onto the scene, it saw how much work offset printing was doing and the mechanical steps it required, and said, “nah.” This technique skips the proofs, plates and rubber bed and applies a design directly to the printing surface, either with liquid ink or powdered toner.

The inkjet or laserjet you hook up to your computer at home? That’s a digital printer. Large printing companies have ones that are bigger, faster and more precise, but it’s the same concept.

The benefits of digital printing:

  • Faster turnaround time
  • Each print is identical. You risk fewer odd variations caused by imbalances in water and ink.
  • Cheaper for low volume jobs. The price per unit drops for offset printing, so at some point they criss-cross.
  • Changing information within a single print job. For example, say you were printing out postcards advertising a concert. You could dactually change the dates and locations for part of the batch to create two sets of cards for two shows.

The drawbacks of digital printing:

  • Fewer options in materials you can print on
  • Less color fidelity is possible with digital printing because digital jobs use standard inks that cannot exactly match all colors. Offset jobs use specially mixed inks, which will always be a closer match. Digital is improving and getting closer with blended inks, but those inks still do not match as well as a custom mix.
  • Higher cost for large-volume jobs
  • Slightly lower quality, sharpness and crispness

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

More To Explore

Photography

Photoshop How to

The most typical questions people ask sometime is how to touch up or enhance digital photos? most common mistakes made by photographers are that they

Read More »

Do You Want To Boost Your Business?

drop us a line and keep in touch

small_c_popup.png

How can we help you out

Let's have a chat