Offset and digital are the two most common printing technologies, and the question is often asked, “Which is better?” There’s no real answer to that, because the best choice of printing methods depends on several factors specific to each job. Here’s what you need to know.
How They Work
Offset printing works by applying layers of ink to paper (or another surface) using a series of rollers. Ink is transferred from a plate to a rubber sheet, which is then used to roll the ink onto paper. Each roller has its own ink, which can be CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) or Pantone colors.
Digital printing does not use plates. Most digital presses apply ink to paper in a single step, from one ink head — similar to the inkjet printers found in many homes and offices. Digital printing uses a four-color matching process, mixing CMYK colors.
The Finished Products
The end results for offset and digital printing are very similar. The untrained eye won’t tell the difference. Some say that offset printing has a slightly better quality, but this is becoming debatable as digital printing technology is improving. There are some more options available with offset printing, such as heavier cardstock and special finishes.
Offset printing uses actual Pantone ink, so if you’re using Pantone colors, this will give you the best match. However, digital printing can simulate Pantone using its four-color matching process.
Because there is little visual variation, the main differences with these two printing methods really come down to setup, maintenance, cost, and time.
Which Method is Best for You?
The most important factors to consider are the price, quantities, and time requirements of each job.
Offset printing is less expensive — but only if you’re printing large quantities, because there’s setup involved. Every job must be made into a plate, and the press must be set up individually for each job. Once the process is started, however, offset presses can print very quickly, which helps lower the overall cost. The larger the print job, the lower the price per piece.
Digital is your best choice for printing small quantities (generally less than 500 units). Because digital printing doesn’t use plates, the cost can be calculated per printed piece. It’s also the best method for rush jobs – again, because there’s no setup.
Still unsure which type is right for you? Contact us — we're happy to help.