Offset printing vs. Digital printing

What's the difference, and why does it matter?

When most people think of printing these days, they think of hitting print on a computer and a printer spitting it out on paper.  In reality, there is a lot more to it to get high quality, professional printed material.

Let's take a look at these two printing methods, their differences, and where it makes sense to choose one or the other for your next print project.

Offset Printing

An offset printing press uses plates to transfer an image onto a rubber "blanket" and then roll that image onto a sheet of paper.  The colors are mixed to specific PMS colors and produce an accurate color reproduction and crisp, clean professional looking printing.  Offset printing has more set up in the beginning than digital printing, and therefore is more expensive per unit for smaller quantities but comes out cheaper if running large quantities.

Digital Printing

Digital printing does not use plates the way offset does, but instead uses toner similar to a laser printer. When lower quantities such as 20 party invitations or 80 flyers are needed, digital printing is a better option because there is less set up time.  Another benefit of digital printing is the capability to print variable data such as when each piece needs a different name or address. Offset printing cannot accommodate this need because it prints using plates.

Some Advantages of Offset Printing:

  • Large quantities can be printed cost effectively
  • The more you print, the less you pay per unit
  • Larger selection of paper types (weight, color, materials, etc.)
  • Special custom inks such as metallic and Pantone colors are available
  • Highest possible printing quality, with greater detail and color clarity

Some Advantages of Digital Printing:

  • Setup costs are lower for short runs
  • Lower minimum quantities
  • Inexpensive black and white printing
  • Variable data capability (names, addresses, codes or numbering can be done easily)
  • Improved technology has made digital quality acceptable for more uses