Digital and Offset Printing Compared

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When you contact a commercial printing company with a new project in mind, you may be given a choice between digital or offset printing methods. With digital printing techniques becoming so popular — and with good reason — you may be wondering if there’s ever a reason you would want to use offset printing. While you may not be familiar with all the intricacies of both process (and don’t need to be), you might be surprised to learn that offset printing still has its place in the industry. Here’s a little background to get you started and help you make an informed decision on your next project:

Digital Vs. Offset

You’re almost certainly familiar with digital printing techniques, even if you don’t know it. Commercial digital printers work similarly to your office printer, where the printer gets a digital file from a computer and then layers ink to create it. Offset printing is a much older technique; in fact, it’s been used for over a hundred years. In offset printing, a custom plate is created based on a project, and then that plate is used to transfer ink onto the desired medium (called the “substrate”).

Printing Quality

It’s commonly said that offset printing produces better-quality prints than digital methods. Offset presses can often handle larger projects and achieve more vibrant colors. But digital printing has advanced quite a bit, and it’s likely that (as long as your print company is using a high-quality, state-of-the-art digital printer) you wouldn’t be able to see any difference between the products of offset and digital processes without experience and training.

Turnaround Time

One advantage of digital printing companies is that they can often offer very fast turnaround, since no plates need to be made before a project is printed. However, once plates are created, offset printers can work more quickly on additional copies than digital printers can.

Price Per Unit

This is what it all comes down to for many business applications: which process is a better deal? Well, that largely depends on how many copies of a project you need printed. Offset printing can have a significant setup fee that covers the making of the necessary plates, while digital printing doesn’t. But after that initial fee, offset printing actually has a lower price per unit. So if you’re printing 3,000 identical pieces, then offset printing may turn out to be a better financial choice. But if you only need 500 of something, or you’re working on a project that needs individual customization (direct mailers, for example), then digital printing offers a very affordable way to take on those smaller and more unique projects.

Do you have any information to add on the differences between digital and offset printing? Share your knowledge or ask questions in the comments.

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