Digital Printing or Offset Printing?

When the time comes for printing your business material, you have a big decision to make: whether to print everything that identifies your brand digitally, or use the traditional offset system. There are a great many differences between the two processes that merit serious thought so, in today’s post, I’ve decided to highlight the main differences between the two types of printing and clarify the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Digital printing

  1. Less costly: digital printing is a process that prints directly onto the paper, costing roughly half as much as traditional printing.
  2. Loss of colour precision: digital printing is a four-colour system and the four colours, cyan, magenta, yellow and black are printed as tiny dots that, when seen with the naked eye, appear mixed to create the various colours. This can produce a huge variation in colour results, exacerbated by the fact that the assorted settings and the differences between printers themselves mean the results will vary from printer to printer and from batch to batch. You can never be sure of the end result of the process.
  3. Loss of colour range: four-colour printing has limitations in terms of brightness, saturation and the range of colours available when the colours are mixed in this way. For example, offset is by far the best choice when brilliant red, orange, blue and purple are required.
  4. Proofing cost: proofing is used when very precise colours are needed. It can be costly, particularly when compared to the total cost of the job. However, it is often worth the expense because you end up with a much more finely tuned print.
  5. It can be quicker: given that it is necessary to sort out the settings before the print run, doing this on a digital machine can be much quicker, depending on the volume of work the printer has to deal with and your job’s place in the queue. Some print shops are able to turn jobs around in just one day, but three days is the more usual timeframe for digital printing.
  6. Limited choice of paper: digital printers are only able to handle a limited paper thickness and many digital print shops offer only smooth white paper. If however, you really want something thicker for, say, a business card, digital printing is not the right choice for you.
  7. Limited finishes: hot printing, metallic inks and embossing are services rarely offered by companies that specialise in digital printing. Some digital printers are not able to handle folding, punching or other special requirements.
  8. Limited choice of sheet sizes, styles, materials and formats: digital printers have a set menu of printing options. If you want to create innovative marketing solutions for brochures and striking business cards, digital printing may not be the best choice for your project. Large formats are not an option.

Offset printing

  1. More expensive: the price difference is mainly due to set-up costs. Film and plates have to be produced for offset printing and these additional elements obviously push up the total cost of the job. More time has to be spent on creating the plates and aligning the press, which also has to be cleaned after each run. Some jobs can cost about double the cost of digital printing.
  2. Excellent colour precision: the Pantone Matching System (PMS) offers extremely precise colour control. Pantone colours are pre-set and mixed very carefully. You can also consult colour charts to check, well in advance, the exact shade of the final colour. It is rather like going to a DIY shop and choosing the paint colours you need for decorating your house, you know exactly what the end result will look like. Therefore, if colour precision is important for you, traditional offset printing may well be the best solution.
  3. Brighter colours: because Pantone colours are created by mixing inks, they can be made much brighter and more intense. This means that if lively colours are a must for your brand image, offset printing is the choice for you.
  4. Proofing cost: proofing costs for four-colour printing are not usually a very high percentage of the overall cost of the job. However, the proofs may lack precision, depending on the type of printer used for the final print run, although colour samples are available on the Pantone colour charts. Low-cost laser or ink jet proofs can be printed to check the page layout and, with a little imagination, you will be able to visualise the end result.
  5. It may take longer: offset printing involves a number of extra steps. The film and the plates have to be created for each job, the press has to be set up, then, after the printing has been done, there is the drying time, followed by cutting, folding, etc.
  6. Types of paper: you can choose from a veritable rainbow of colours! From fiery red to the deepest blue, from sunflower yellow to pitch black. You also have a vast range of materials and thicknesses to choose from, including such specials as parchment and metallic paper. If you are thinking of using an unusual paper or other medium, offset printing is the best choice for you.
  7. Extra fine lines: this option provides really tight control, for even colours with no loss of continuity, making them look even brighter and more intense.
  8. Wide range of finishing techniques: offset printing offers a wide range of options for finishes. The metallic inks can be used for printing just as easily as non-metallic inks. Traditional print shops can provide embossing, punching and laminating services, making it possible to create truly unique materials that really stand out from the crowd.
  9. Innovative formats and different shapes and sizes all possible: traditional printing presses are capable of handling a vast range of paper formats so designers can give full rein to their creativity. There is an almost endless list of possibilities for personalisation, allowing you to choose special sizes and finishes for your job.