If you’re a business working with commercial printing companies, you’ve probably heard a lot about digital printing methods in the past few years. You might have heard that digital printing — meaning that a project file is sent directly from a computer to a toner-based printer — can offer high print quality at high speeds for low prices. That’s true. But all the talk about digital printing can sometimes overshadow old-fashioned offset printing, which is actually still the most popular commercial printing process around. Here’s what you should know about offset printing:
- The Offset Printing Process
Offset lithography was first developed more than 100 years ago, and the process actually hasn’t changed too much in that century. First, a custom plate (usually made of thin metal, though not always) is created. Then the plate is used to transfer the desired image onto rubber “blankets.” The process is quite complex, but essentially, these blankets are rolled over the paper or desired printing surface — each with a different color of ink — to create the final image and color combinations.
- Printing Quality
The most frequently cited advantage of offset printing over digital methods is that it provides a clearer, more refined quality. It may also be able to produce more vibrant colors. It’s important to remember, however, that those differences will depend on the quality of the individual presses a print company uses, as well as the skill of its printers.
- Setup and Turnaround
Because custom plates must be created before offset printing can get underway, there is setup time to take into account. Unlike with digital printing, you can’t expect to get something printed in only a few hours. However, once the plates and blankets have been created, offset printing can print each copy of a project very quickly.
- Price Per Piece
For many businesses, printing decisions come down to price. There are two things to consider when pricing an offset printing project: the setup fee and the price per unit. The price per unit on offset printing is generally lower than what you can get for a digital process. That means that the larger your run (how many copies of a project you want), the more the initial setup fee is counterweighted. It will depend on your project and printing company, but the number at which a project becomes cheaper using offset methods is often somewhere between 500 and 1,000.
- The Verdict
The bottom line is that neither offset printing nor digital printing has a claim to the title of “best” printing method. You’ll need to consider your desired quality, turnaround time and run when figuring out which is the better choice. When choosing a print company, it’s wise to pick one that can offer you a choice between digital and offset methods for a wide variety of projects. That way, you’ll be able to make cost-effective decisions on a case-by-case basis.
What other questions do you have about choosing between offset printing and digital printing? Join the discussion in the comments.