Offset vs Digital Printing

Choosing the Right Print Process

Professional printing typically falls into one of two printing processes: digital and offset printing. Choosing the right printing process for your print job takes a variety of factors into consideration. Knowing the difference and the pros and cons of each printing method could save you time, money and a lot of stress on your next print job.  

Offset Printing

Offset printing has been around longer than most of us have been around. While technology has certainly advanced and changed throughout the century, the fundamentals have largely stayed intact. Offset printing transfers images from a printing plate onto rubber. From there it is then transferred to the paper or other printing surface. Typically this printing uses a combination of 4 separate rollers containing the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black, also known as CMYK printing. In addition to printing CMYK, offset printing machines can also be calibrated for printing Pantone colors. In general it offers high image quality and identical print runs from the first to 1,000 print. Offset printing typically has a longer set up time and turnaround as plates need to be made and the machine calibrated, however once setup is complete, printing higher quantities is easier and cheaper, making it ideal for high yield print jobs. 

Digital Printing

Digital printing typically refers to any print job performed by an inkjet, laser, or thermal printer. Digital printing is considered to be generally faster than offset printing for smaller print yields, but the cost per individual print typically remains the same. Digital printing also uses the CMYK color printing combination but lacks the ability to print true Pantone color. In larger print runs, identical reproductions are harder to achieve when compared to the accuracy of offset. 

There are advantages and disadvantages no matter what method you choose. Typically offset printing is ideal for high yield print jobs consisting of 500 or more copies or when accuracy is imperative. However if you need a limited number of high quality copies, digital printing may be your best bet. With shorter print times and the ability to customize individual prints, digital printing makes it easier to make changes and adjustments on the fly.