Digital vs. Offset Printing
Two of the most common commercial printing technologies in use today are “Offset” and “Digital” printing — and one of the most common questions in printing is, “When should I use them?”
Knowing which type of printing is best for a given project can save money and headaches.
Offset, or conventional printing, has changed little since the original steam powered offset press was first developed in 1906. It involves a mechanical process of applying layers of ink to paper with a series of rollers. Each roller has its own specified ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black — or CMYK. As each of these rollers pass over the page, they transfer ink and build layers of colors, resulting in complete images and text on the page. Additionally, specialized colors called Pantones or PMS colors can be added to the layout if very specific colors are needed, for instance in a logo.
Digital printing eliminates the numerous steps involved in the offset printing process, such as creating films and plates for ink rollers. Most digital presses today apply ink in a single pass from a single ink head, similar to common inkjet printers found in homes and offices.
Many different considerations will determine which method is best, such as quantity, timing, and size of the printed piece. Offset printing is commonly used for higher quantity, larger format jobs while digital printing is best applied to smaller format, lesser quantity print runs. Tsunami Marketing’s production department takes all these variables and more into consideration to determine the best possible printing method for each job.
Offset Printing Pros
- Larger Runs A print quantity of over 500 units is typically well suited for offset printing.
- Larger Format For instance, a 40″ press can accommodate a flat page size of approx. 25″ x 38″.
- Specialized Colors & Techniques Offset presses can print PMS colors and utilize gloss/dull varnishes for added texture. Additionally, multiple press “heads” allow for an infinite array of colors and printing techniques.
Offset Printing Cons
- More costly and time consuming A typical offset press requires at least two pressmen to run a job, plus added maintenance, setup, printing plates and specialized inks, which result in higher print costs and increased turn around time.
Digital Printing Pros
- Small Runs Any print quantity under 500 units is typically well suited for a digital press.
- Variable Data Digital presses can print customized copy on each individual piece, such as names and addresses for postcards.
- Cheap and Fast Less setup and maintenance (no films/plates) results in cheaper pricing and quicker turns.
Digital Printing Cons
- Limited Size Most digital presses can only accommodate press sheets of up to 18″ x 12″.
- No PMS Colors Digital presses cannot print Pantones, though in recent years, they have become much more apt at closely matching PMS colors.
- Lower Quality The print quality from digital presses is not as refined as offset.