A Crash Course in Digital Printing

Robert Johnston asked:

Digital printing is the process by which printed materials are produced on a laser printer, ink-jet printer or dye sub printer. Digital printing is different from traditional printing methods, like offset printing, in that there is no transfer of ink from a printing plate to the paper. Your desktop inkjet printer at home is considered a form of digital printing, albeit a primitive form. Digital printers generally use toner instead of ink, so colors aren’t quite as vibrant on a digital printer.

It’s important to know the basics about digital printing for any kind of printing you do from poster printing to brochure printing. Digital printing is usually cheaper than offset printing, so knowing what kind of projects you can use digital printing for can save you money.

When you should use digital printing

Generally, you should consider using digital printing when you have a small print job of less than 100 pieces. You don’t have to pay for the set-up fees that are associated with offset printing and you most likely won’t need the printer to save what would have been your printing plate when you print small jobs. A small run of 50 dinner menus in black ink will cost about $300 less if you print them digitally rather than traditionally.

You should also use digital printing for text-only projects. If you have color photos in your brochures, you’d be better off with offset printing. Digital printers can certainly print color photos, but the photos won’t be as sharp and the colors won’t be as saturated as they would be with an offset printer.

Photo considerations

If you have a small print job, you can try to find a printer with a DI (direct imaging) press. These small digital presses use ink instead of toner. The downside of using this kind of press is that you can’t print items that are bigger than approximately 14” x 18” like posters. For poster printing, you almost have to go with an offset printer just for the size. If you’re printing a brochure with small photographs a DI press will create better photos than a toner-based ink-jet printer would. A DI printer gives you the best quality for the price.

Variable data printing

A digital printer is your best choice for variable data printing, known as VDP. VDP is personalized printing – printing different addresses on postcards, for example. A digital printer can change the name or address on each postcard while an offset printer cannot. With offset printing, the same image is printed over and over again, meaning any variances have to be handled manually. Not so with a digital printer. You can save a lot of time and headache by going with digital printing if you need personalized printing.

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