Digital and Offset Printing, Compared

If you’re just starting to explore the differences between digital printing and offset printing, as well as which process might be most beneficial for your business printing needs, you’ll probably find many absolute statements: “Digital printing is rapidly eclipsing offset printing,” or “Offset printing provides much higher quality than digital printing.” But the reality is that these two printing processes exist side-by-side for a reason, and it’s not always so clear-cut which is the better choice; digital and offset printing both have their advantages, and both have their drawbacks. To help you decide which would be better for your needs, here’s a summary of the pros of digital and offset printing, compared:

The Pros of Digital Printing

One of the greatest strengths of digital printing is that it offers a very fast turnaround time. That factors into several situations. First of all, it allows you to get a project out quickly if need be. But it also facilitates more proofing opportunities (since you’ll be able to get a proof almost identical to the final project before moving forward) and is a key component in digital printing’s customization options. Variable data printers can even switch out some components in a run so that each individual copy is printed with unique information — for example, names and addresses on direct mailers.

For those reasons, digital printing can be very affordable. If you are looking at a short run (meaning fewer than 500 identical copies) or need customization, it is almost certain to be less expensive than traditional offset printing due to the setup fees that come along with the latter option.

The Pros of Offset Printing

It’s not true that offset printing will always offer higher quality than digital presses, since digital technology is rapidly advancing in the printing industry, just as it is in most fields. But in general, the greatest advantage of offset printing is that it produces very high-quality products and vibrant, perfectly matched colors. Glossy magazines, for example, are almost always produced on offset presses. Offset printing also allows for a wider range of substrates (the surface being printed upon), inks and specialty finishes to be used.

And in certain cases, offset printing can actually be the most affordable choice. Offset printing tends to have significant setup fees (since the process requires the creation of custom plates and blankets used to transfer ink), but the price per unit for identical copies is often quite low. So if you need 5,000 company cards printed, offset is likely the better choice.

Did you know that digital and offset printing both have their places in the commercial printing industry? Discuss what printing choices you’ve made in the past — and what different printing services you might consider given this new information — in the comments.

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