Offset vs. Digital

In order to be able to decide between offset or digital printing for your next print job, you must first determine what’s right for your budget and project. There are several factors to consider before you commit to either print method: cost, quality, and time being the most vital. Before you choose which is more beneficial for you, you should also understand the process of each.

Offset Printing

With offset printing, the image is first set onto a plate, coated with ink, and the plate is flushed with water to ensure ink does not apply to areas that are meant to be blank. The image is then transferred (or “offset”) from the plate to a rubber blanket, and finally offset again onto the sheet of paper, producing a clean, crisp image.

Since offset printing uses a 4 color process, CMYK, this process is repeated 4 times, one for each color, until the desired colors are produced. The ink is applied as tiny dots, which when combined in different concentration levels of each, produce the specific hue.

GotPrint Heidelberg Speedmaster XL105 offset printer

Digital Printing

Digital printing, on the other hand, is a much more direct process, as it does not require as much pre-press work. One must keep in mind that digital printing technology can vary with different machines and printers, which will in turn, affect everything from the turnaround, to the quality of the prints. Typically, most digital presses use laser technology to expose the image onto a drum or belt, after which charged toner is attracted to the image, then transferred onto the paper.

At GotPrint, we have advanced digital presses with a plate cylander, blanket cylander, and an impression cylander, which means that the quality of the prints is very high and comparable to that produced by our offset presses. In addition, we use liquid ink, which produces optimal results.

HP Scitex FB6100 digital press and digital printing for GotPrint.com

Below, we’ve provided a list of the pros of each print method.

Advantages of offset printing:

  • Cost-effective for high-volume jobs
  • Produces higher-quality prints
  • More flexibility – compatible with different surfaces/finishes
  • Plates can withstand 1 million impressions

Advantages of digital printing:

  • Ideal for low-quantity jobs
  • Shorter turnarounds
  • Allows variable data printing
  • Proofs

Costs

Since the main cost associated with offset printing is due to the setup and platemaking process, it is only more cost-effective than digital printing when orders are gang run (which they typically are), and when the quantities of the prints are high (in the thousands). Higher quantities of prints and more jobs in a batch means more of that setup cost is shared, and thus, the cost per order goes down.

With digital printing, the unit cost remains the same throughout the print run, as the costs with platemaking are eliminated. Therefore, digital printing is the economical choice when you only need a small quantity of a particular job.

Quality

Digital printing has evolved at a very rapid rate in the past decade, making this print method more and more on a par with offset printing in terms of quality. Nevertheless, offset printing produces higher-quality prints, as the rubber blanket conforms to the texture of the printing surface, producing clean and crisp text and images. Moreover, offset printing allows for higher resolution, making it the preferred choice for fine art prints and showcase pieces.

employee preparing gang-run batches for offset printing at GotPrint
Offset printing is typically gang-run

Time

Turnaround time is a very important factor to consider, as most customers (especially brokers) find that they’re pressed for time (no pun intended). Although offset presses print at a more rapid speed than do digital presses, additional time is usually required for the pre-press setup, such as the preparation of plates, films, and color proofs. In addition, offset printing requires the job to be dried once printed, as opposed to digital printing, in which the prints can be bound, folded, and delivered to the customer right off the press.

For low-quantity printing, digital is the most time-efficient, as much of that setup process is eliminated, and orders are ready immediately after print. If you’re printing in quantities in the thousands, it may not be such a quick process (all of this can vary from printer to printer). A good rule of thumb is if your job is time-sensitive, and you can make do with a smaller quantity to start, digital printing is the way to go.

GotPrint chart displaying pros and cons of offset printing and digital printing

Customization and Other Advantages

One of the major benefits of digital printing is that it allows for customization of prints for direct mail marketing, such as is done with variable data printing. For example, you may personalize each mailer to have a specific graphic and message catered to that customer’s demographic, all of which can have a positive impact on your response rates. Also, with digital presses, you can easily create proofs, which help ensure your final prints are accurate.

Offset printing has a few customization options as well. There’s a wider range of materials on which you can print, including plastic, thick card stock, and wood. Furthermore, various finishes can be applied to the printing surface, such as UV, aqueous, and matte.

Both print methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but in the end, deciding on which to go with really comes down to what your priorities are for that specific project. Currently, GotPrint.com offers offset printing for all of our products except for signage, which is printed digitally. We also offer digital printing for tent cards/greeting cards in quantities of 25 and 50, which are ideal for personal use.

Nareh S.

With over 10 years of experience in content marketing and writing, Nareh enjoys creating content for blogs, websites, advertisements - just about anything you can think of. A self-proclaimed wordsmith, Nareh enjoys compelling, witty taglines and phrases. When not writing, Nareh enjoys traveling and eating a ridiculous amount of avocados.

5 thoughts to “Offset vs. Digital”

  1. Hi! We will be having books printed using recycled paper and soya-based ink. I understand the advantages and disadvantages of each printing method but would like to know which is better for soya-based ink on recycled paper.

    We’re having a book of about 101 pages printed, 500 copies, full color, 11″x17″ spread.

    Would appreciate your feedback on this.

    Thanks!

  2. Hello,

    Postcards are printed by offset, but we are able to print lower quantities of products digitally. In the future, as we offer more quantities, we can certainly print digital.

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