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Offset Versus Digital
Many customers get confused about Digital Printing versus Offset printing and which one is most appropriate for their printing project.
Offset or “traditional” printing involves a mechanical process of applying layers of ink to paper with a series of rollers. Each roller applies a specified ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (or CMYK) to the paper. As each of these rollers pass over the paper, they transfer layers of ink and complete the image on the paper. Offset presses that have the capability of a fifth color color can lay down additional inks for spot colors (Pantone or PMS colors).
Offset printing is based on the principle that water and grease do not mix. The offset technique employs a metal plate which contains the image to be printed. The plates are custom made for each print job and are treated so that certain areas attract ink while other areas attract a water solution which repels ink.
Most offset presses require a significant amount of “make ready” time to prepare the press before printing actually begins. And there is a fair amount of paper waste as the press begins to run in order to get the press “up to color”. Proofing on an offset press can be more challenging than digital printing since it’s not economical to ready an offset press for just one printed proof. Instead other, more economical devices are used to simulate what the final product will look like. Most importantly offset printing has a large front-end loaded cost structure (plates, make ready, paper waste.) which means short runs (low quantities) may have a high per-unit cost. But as quantities increase, the unit cost goes down with offset printing. Very short runs can be more cost effective with digital printing; while larger quantities are likely to have a lower unit cost with offset printing.
In contrast, digital presses use a laser to “write” a latent static charge on a rotating drum which then attracts the ink (or toner on some presses) to the drum, applying a different color ink with each rotation. Digital presses don’t require the “make ready” that offset presses do and usually the first print out of a digital press is of high quality and therefore have little/no paper waste. Digital printing eliminates the numerous and time consuming steps involved in the offset printing process. Proofing on a digital press is typically more accurate since the proof is printed using the exact process as will be used on the final press run. If you need it fast, digital usually offers a much faster turnaround.
Many different considerations will determine which method of printing is best for your particular project, such as quantity, timing, and the physical size of the printed piece. Offset printing is commonly used for higher volume, larger sheet size jobs while digital printing is best applied to smaller format, lesser quantity print runs. While one printing method might give you a slightly different “look” than the other, both printing methods can give you excellent results.
Offset Printing Pros
- More economical on larger runs
- Larger Formats available (typical sheet size is 60”)
- Wider range of paper stocks available
- More durable, less prone to scratching or scoffing
Digital Printing Pros
- Very economical for small runs
- Very fast turnaround times
- Variable Data (each individual printed sheet can be unique)
- Very accurate proofs
Offset Printing Cons
- More costly for small runs
- Longer lead time required
- Large amount of waste
Digital Printing Cons
- Not competitive on longer runs
- More susceptible to scratching or scoffing
- Smaller Sheet Size (typically 12”x18”)