Digital vs Offset Printing

Understanding which printing method is best for a given project can save you money, time and headaches!

Many customers get confused about the differences between Offset and Digital printing and often wonder which method is best used for their particular printing project.

Offset printing uses a technique where an inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a metal plate to a rubber blanket, then onto paper. First the image being printed needs to be broken down into the primary printing colors of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Once the computer has created separations (individual files for each color) then four separate printing plates are made (one for each color). These plates are then mounted onto the press in separate “towers”, each holding a different color ink. The press applies ink onto the plate and then transfers the ink to a secondary drum wrapped with a rubber blanket. The rubber blanket holding the ink then transfers the image to a piece of paper. When these four individual colors are printed one on top of the other they combine to create a full color version of the original image.

Most offset presses require a significant amount of “make ready” to prepare the press before printing actually begins. That “make ready” consists of imaging the metal plates and mounting them on the press and then running a few hundred sheets of paper through the press to get the press “up to color”. Proofing on an offset press can also be a little challenging since it’s not economical to ready an offset press for just one printed proof. Instead other, more economical devices are used to simulate what the final product might look like. Offset printing has a front-end loaded cost structure (plates, make ready, paper waste.) which means short runs (low quantities) may have a high per-unit cost. Conversely as quantities increase, the unit cost goes down with offset printing. Very short runs can be more cost effective with digital printing; while larger quantities are likely to have a lower unit cost with offset printing.

In contrast, digital presses use a laser to “write” a latent static charge on a rotating drum which then attracts the ink (or toner) to the drum. Digital presses don’t require the “make ready” that offset presses do and usually the first print out of a digital press is of high quality and therefore have little/no paper waste. Digital printing eliminates the numerous and time consuming steps involved in the offset printing process. Proofing on a digital press is much more accurate since the proof is printed using the exact process that will be used on the final press run. If you need small runs, and/or you need it fast, digital is usually a much better option.

Our customer service team is happy to discuss with you which printing method is most suitable for your project. Many different considerations will determine which method of printing is best for your particular project. While one printing method might give you a slightly different “look” than the other, both printing methods can give you excellent results.

Offset Printing Pros

● More economical on larger runs
● Larger Formats available (typical sheet size is 40”)
● Wider range of paper stocks available
● More durable, less prone to scratching or scuffing

Digital Printing Pros

● Very Economical for small runs
● Very fast turnaround times
● Variable Data (each individual printed sheet can be unique)
● Very accurate proofs

Offset Printing Cons

● More costly for small runs
● Longer lead time required
● Large amount of waste

Digital Printing Cons

● Not competitive on longer runs
● More susceptible to scratching or scoffing
● Smaller Sheet Size (typically 12”x18”)

Experience the Telepathic difference. If you can think it, we can print it!