Even just a few years ago, most designers felt the same about digital printing as they did about the concept of “desktop publishing”. But the reality is that digital printing has made huge strides in respect to quality over recent years. And as the options for quality printed materials have grown, so has the confusion.
me: I’ve got some printing quotes for you.
client: “No we are all set- we get cheaper pricing from our guy.”
me: Ok…that’s great. Are they printing digital or offset?”
client: What’s that? I don’t know. What’s the difference?
Offset printing has been around for over a century, and works by transferring ink from a plate to a rubber sheet, which then rolls the ink onto paper. Exact color matching, larger sheet sizes, more paper options, and superior image quality are just a few of the benefits of offset printing.
Digital printing is when a digital image is sent directly to an inkjet or laser printer that deposits pigment or toner directly onto a wide variety of substrates including paper, canvas, etc. Digital printing is done without a printing plate—saving time and money in many cases.
It takes a trained eye these days to tell the difference between digital and offset, but not all digital printing is the same—there are huge variances in quality. “Some machines produce color output that more closely matches offset printing.” says Gina Deschamps of Deschamps Printing in Salem, MA. “We run HP Indigo Digital presses. In our opinion, the Indigo press looks closest to offset printing.”
Consider Digital Printing if:
- you require a quick turnaround time
- you have low quantity job (1000 or less); ideal for smaller formats (i.e. business cards, datasheets)
- your content and messaging changes frequently or you are creating something with a short shelf-life
- you have a low quantity job that has a high page-count (books or manuals)
- you have variable data/image items like customized postcards.
Consider Offset printing if:
- you have high quantity job (more than 1000-1500)
- if your job is a larger format piece such as a pocket folder or a 6+ panel brochure.
- if you need to assure that you match exact ink colors (PMS matching)
- when you want to print something that makes a statement with superior image quality, different paper stocks or finishing techniques.
There is a place in the market for both offset and digital printing, and there are so many great options available today. At the end of the day, your printing vendor should be able to help you decide the best way to approach your project if you give them the information they need to give you cost-effective options.