Offset vs Digital Printing is determined by your needs for the print job.  Offset printing offers a lower cost per piece than digital printing for high volumes and specialized inks.  But it needs a longer lead time than Digital Printing.  This article explains the difference between the two types of printing and why print jobs for each are handled differently and priced differently.  

What is offset printing?

 Offset printing is a popular high-volume commercial printing technique. It is also called lithography. With offset printingyour document is either burned onto a plate or printed onto a film that transfers the design onto the paper. Think of it acting like a rubber stamp. Each color that is used requires one plate, so a black and white print job only requires one plate.

CYMK vs RGB vs Pantone

If you are printing in full color, the job requires four plates (CMYK).  It is possibly to produce a nearly infinite number of colors.  For example, you might have a special Pantone color which is selected from a standardized color palette system. This color variation enables you to have that special unique feel to your work. One color caution to be aware of with offset printing is that pictures downloaded from the internet will not reproduce exactly.  The reason is that pictures downloaded from online sources are RGB (red, green, blue).  They are made for viewing on a computer screen, plus they are typically low resolution. If you want quality reproduction from online sources, you first have to convert the file to a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) profile, and set it to a resolution of 300 dpi or greater.

The benefits of offset printing

  • Extremely high-quality image
  • Can be printed on paper and other surfaces
  • Less expensive piece cost for high volumes
  • Variety of custom papers
  • Specialty inks, such as metallic or fluorescent inks in the offset process.

 The downside to offset printing

  • All prints are not always accurate, alignment can be slightly off
  • Expensive for less than 500 copies.

What is digital printing?

  Digital printing is best for small jobs such as flyers, memos, letters, documents etc., usually below a quantity of 500 or less. A lot of the steps from offset printing are removed, such as using color proofs, making plates and using film. Digital is able to print from online sources and has much shorter lead time than offset printing. There is also less waste of paper and the final product is more uniform and accurate. At Ultrex Printing, we use typically use digital printing because it is quicker, cleaner and in many cases, cheaper. We can also make mid-process printing adjustments, much more easily than with offset printing. This makes digital easier to customize without slowing down the process. Of course, there are a few downsides to digital printing such as not being able to have nearly limitless Pantone colors. Digital typically requires lower weight paper stocks, which some people view as a ‘lower-quality’ product. All that said, we do recommend offset printing when cost and quality suggest that it is the best choice.  

The benefits of digital printing

  • Lower costs for low volume runs
  • Fast turnaround time
  • Lower minimum print quantities
  • Inexpensive black and white digital printing
  • Improved technology has made digital quality acceptable for more uses
  • Each print is the exact same as the one before it
  • Lower paper waste
  • Easy to customize jobs

The downside to digital printing

  •  Limited paper types and thickness
  • Printer cannot print edge to edge (puts a white border around the outside)
  • Quality of photographs and graphics can be limited

Choosing Digital or Offset Printing

Offset and digital are both useful printing methods. Choosing the right method depends on your price range, type of project and the quality you are after. When you need larger runs, into the multi-hundreds or thousands, need a specific Pantone color, a custom paper choice, or a specialty ink such as metallic or fluorescent inks, then offset printing is the only choice. If it’s a small print run of less than approximately 500, or if individual information such as names and addresses are required, then digital is your solution. At Ultrex Printing we can supply both your offset or digital printing needs.  Let us know your preference or ask us for our recommendation, we are always happy to answer and questions you may have.