Compare and Contrast: Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing

Frank Salsa asked:

In our modern business world, there are numerous options when it comes to printing. With new advancements in printing technologies, it can be difficult to understand what printing style is right for you and your business. Learn more about some of the advantages and disadvantages surrounding both digital printing and traditional offset printing.

What the Printing Processes Involve

Offset printing, also known as offset lithography, is still the most commonly used high volume commercial printing option. For this style of printing, the image is placed on a plate, offset onto a second plate, and then onto the actual surface that the consumer wants printed. This printing technology takes advantage of the repulsion nature of water and oil to keep nonprinting areas free from ink.

Digital printing streamlines many of these steps. With digital printing, there is no need to make films or proofs, or even the plates for printing. Instead, the image is transferred directly onto the surface to be printed.

Advantages of Digital Printing

Digital printing has some advantages over traditional offset printing. For starters, the turnaround for prints is much shorter. Secondly, every print looks exactly like the first print, and there is no need to balance colors and water. Digital printing tends to be less expensive to set up, especially if you only need to print a small run. Plus digital printing allows consumers to take advantage of variable data printing, where graphics or copy can be altered on each individual sheet without slowing down the process.

Advantages of Offset Printing

While digital printing offers many advantages, offset printing still has its own advantages. Images tend to be of a higher quality when produced with offset printing. Offset printing can work on a wide variety of mediums, including paper, leather, metal, plastic, and more. If you have a large run to print, offset printing can be cheaper. And many of today’s offset presses utilize computer to plate technology that allows for even better quality than before.

How to Decide

If you are not sure whether offset printing or digital is right for you, here are some printing issues to consider:

• Color – If you only need one or two colors of ink, offset printing can be more cost effective than digital printing, which uses a four-color process. Conversely, if you need more than two colors, then digital printing may be a better choice. And if you must have accurate coloring, then offset coloring tends to be more accurate than digital printing.

• Customization – If you need to customize your final product, digital printing is the most affordable way to go.

• Printing medium – While the options for digital printing are expanding, offset printing still offers the most variety, particularly if you are looking to print on something other than paper.

• Proofs – If you need proofs, digital printing offers you an actual sample, which in contrast, can be expensive to receive from offset printing.

• Quantity – If you have a short run, digital printing is likely to be more cost effective. Larger runs, however, are usually less expensive using offset printing.

• Turnaround – Digital printing generally is faster than offset printing if you have a tight deadline.

Both styles of printing offer their own advantages. If you are unsure, your printing company should be able to recommend the best style of printing for your project.

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