Digital vs. Offset Printing – Which is Better for Your Project?

© Balint Radu / Fotolia
© Balint Radu / Fotolia

Depending on your print project, the answer will vary as to which print process is ideal. There are many factors to be considered before you choose to have your prints run digitally or offset. In order to make an educated decision, it is important to understand each method, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Digital printing is the computerized reproduction method in which your chosen electronic file is printed directly to the printing surface by the machine.  The most popular methods of digital printing include inkjet or laser printers that deposit pigment or toner onto a wide variety of substrates including paper, photo paper, canvas, and other materials.

Offset printing, or lithography, takes your chosen image and burns that onto a plate.  The image is then transferred, or offset, from the plate onto a rubber blanket, then from there to the printing surface. The process is based on the repulsion of oil and water. The plate is wetted by water, where the image to be printed repels water, but picks up oil-based ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area retains the water, but repels the ink.

Let’s take a look at the important factors to be considered when choosing a print method –

  • Quantity: Offset printing is the best for high quantity runs. Due to the fact that offset has more upfront costs short runs will have a higher per unit cost than seen in digital printing.  Short runs are best kept to digital print methods.  Much of the setup and maintenance seen in offset printing is eliminated with digital printing.
  • Turnaround: Digital printing is quicker than offset. If you need something done fast, digital is the way to go. The mechanical steps are eliminated in digital printing so there is no need to make films or plates as image is printed directly to chosen media.
  • Proofing: Digital print methods offer accurate proofs as actual samples of the printed piece are provided. Offset proofs are rather expensive when accurate colors are desired.
  • Size: Offset presses accommodate larger printed pieces, whereas digitally printed pieces have size and paper stock constraints.
  • Color: If the print piece requires the use of the Pantone Matching System, offset printing will provide an accurate match. With digital printing, the Pantone color(s) cannot be matched exactly, but there is the ability to get rather close to desired colors.
  • Customization: Hands down, digital printing is the way to go with customized print pieces as offset printing does not allow for it. Digital print methods can print variable data on each individual piece, such as names or addresses without stopping or slowing down the process.

Quick Re-Cap:

Digital Printing

  • Quick turnaround
  • Cheap low volume printing
  • Ability for customized pieces
  • Accurate proofs
  • Pantone (PMS) color matching not accurate
  • Limited Size

Offset Printing

  • Best for large quantity runs
  • Lower unit cost as quantity increases
  • Accurate Pantone (PMS) color matching
  • Larger format size pieces
  • More time consuming/ involved setup process
  • Expensive proofing process

How will you print your next project after considering all of these factors?

If you still have questions, or need additional guidance, the team at Avalon is ready to answer all of your questions and get your project printed for you, whether you choose digital or offset. Contact your local Avalon by clicking here.

If you liked this blog you might also be interested in reading: Color Matching: Screen vs. Print

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Ian Gattie