Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing Costs

Most arguments you see on offset printing vs digital printing comes from the perspective of someone that has a interest in one or the other technology. We produce both offset and digital printing in our plant so we provide a rather neutral perspective on both sides.

A digital printing workflow has several advantages over offset printing in terms of cost. For example, digital prepress costs are usually lower than conventional prepress because the digital workflow eliminates many of the manual operations of conventional prepress. With digital printing, there is no need for steps such as process photography, manual stripping, and platemaking, although preparing print applications on the computer and processing them through the RIP may still be time consuming.

In terms of print output for the shortest runs, digital printing has a definite advantage over offset printing because there is no extensive setup required in preparing the press for the print run. Conventional offset presses require a lengthy makeready time, which adds a considerable cost to the total price of a short run application, therefore the cost per piece is much higher for the smallest print runs. When using offset printing, as the quantity increases, the price per piece decreases. When the quantity is large enough, the price per piece is lower than a digitally printed job of the same quantity.

The point at which it becomes more cost effective to use the traditional offset printing process may vary substantially, depending upon the application. In fact, when determining a cutoff level in which digital printing is a better choice than offset, you must consider the type of application that is being printed. Except for the smallest press runs, it is difficult to compete with offset printing costs when, for example, the job is a static, single sided document, in a quantity of 1,000 or more. However, if the application is a multiple page, full-color report or brochure, in a quantity of 100 or less, then digital printing is often the best choice. A similar job would be very expensive when using conventional offset printing because of the initial makeready time and the large number of plate changes that would be required. If a print project is a variable data application, digital printing is really the only printing process to consider.

A premium is usually charged for digitally printed variable data applications. The simplest applications are often priced 25% higher than conventionally printed jobs. Complex digitally printed variable data jobs are often 50% more expensive than conventionally printed (static) jobs.

Finishing charges for variable data jobs are often higher as well. Because all of the documents in a variable data application are unique and in order, any errors in finishing that occur on even one document, will necessitate the need for a reprint of the single document. If a finishing mistake occurs on a small quantity of pieces contained in a static application, there is usually enough of an overrun so that a reprint is not necessary.

Applications that are printed in regional centers, which allow easier distribution throughout the country (distributed digital printing), are often less expensive when using digital printing. With a digital workflow, document files can be sent anywhere in the world to be printed near the location where the application is needed. Transferring files saves time and reduces the cost of shipping because the application is printed near the point of distribution.booklet printing

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