Difference Between Offset & Digital Printing

What is Offset Printing?

Offset printing is the most common type of printing for high volume commercial jobs. It works by burning a design onto metal plates – one for each color. The printer then uses these plates to print the image using four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) or more depending on the needs of the customer.

Next, the design is transferred from the plates to rubber rolls. Ink of different colors is spread on the rubber. Then, the paper goes between them and picks up the color. The paper goes through all of the rolls to get the final image.

What is Digital Printing:

Digital printing doesn’t use plates the way offset does, but instead uses options such as toner (like in laser printers) or larger printers that do use liquid ink. Digital printing shines when lower quantities are needed; think of a run of 20 greeting cards or 100 flyers. 

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.

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 actually change the dates and locations for part of the batch to create two sets of cards for two shows.

What is the Difference Between Offset & Digital 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.