Offset or Digital Printing: Which one suits your needs?

Offset or Digital Printing: Which one suits your needs?

Sooner or later you or the company you work for will need to have something printed. It may be a large quantity of small documents, or a single one that's over-sized. Either way, you have two printing options: offset or digital. How do you know which one to choose? Let’s examine both, starting with the older printing process.

Offset Printing

If you’ve ever watched a movie about newspapers and their reporters, there’s always a scene where the paper is being printed on machines with huge rollers (and usually someone shouts, “Stop the presses!”). Those printing machines? They’re used for offset printing.

How does that work? A metal plate (usually aluminum) is placed onto Roller A, which is then coated with ink. The ink from Roller A is transferred to Roller B, which is made of rubber. Roller B is then pressed onto the final medium (be it paper, plastic, wood, etc.) beneath it, and the image is transferred. This printing process is “offset” because ink is transferred onto the rubber first instead of directly onto paper. The rubber helps produce clearer, sharper images.

Advantages of offset printing

  • Cost-effective with large quantities -- Because of the physical template, offset can easily print in massive quantities. The more prints produced, the cheaper the price per piece.
  • High-quality prints -- Quality of printing is superior, with clean and distinct images without spots or streaks.
  • Better colour-fidelity -- With offset printing it is easy to create custom inks. Whether the colour is in Pantone or a special mix, offset can get it spot-on.
  • Printing on a variety of materials -- You can print on a variety of paper qualities, even those with custom-finish. Aside from paper, you can also print on plastic, film, and other materials.

Disadvantages of offset printing

  • It’s more costly for low-volume jobs.
  • Production timelines are longer because the plate has to be created first.
  • Mistakes can be costly, especially if spotted after plates have already been created.

Now let’s examine your other option: digital printing.

Digital Printing

Desktop printers at your office or home are used for digital printing. Unlike offset printers, these printers have no printing plates. Instead, they transfer a digital image directly onto paper using various options, such as inkjet or laser printing. Usually, the ink or toner does not penetrate paper the same way that conventional ink does; instead, it forms a thin layer on the surface. A fuser fluid is required to ensure the ink adheres to the paper.

Advantages of digital printing

  • Great with low-volume or one-off printing -- Digital printing allows you to print only what you need and when you need it. Turnaround time is faster, and compared with offset printing, it costs much less with low-volume printing jobs.
  • Generally lower-cost -- With no need for plates, set-up costs are lower. Printing in black & white is also cheaper.
  • Identical printing -- With images directly printed onto paper, there are fewer mistakes from inconsistent ink mixtures.
  • Flexible data-printing -- Digital printing allows you to change details in a document during a single printing job. For example, if you’re printing tickets for a concert, dates, times, and other details can easily be altered so you can print two (or more) sets of tickets.
  • Quality of print output is always improving -- With advances in print technology, the difference in quality between offset printing and digital printing is narrowing. In simple printing jobs, the difference is hardly noticeable to ordinary consumers.

Disadvantages of digital printing

  • In terms of overall sharpness, clarity, and crispness of images, offset is still slightly better than digital, though the gap is decreasing.
  • The current ink technology used for digital printing does not allow for the flexibility of mixing colours the way offset does. And a limited colour palette means lower colour-fidelity. It will take several years before digital printing technology will rival the blended inks of offset printing.
  • Digital printing is more expensive for high-volume printing jobs.

There are many variables involved in a printing job. How many copies need to be printed? How many colours? What are the dimensions of the final product? What kind of material will it be printed on? Will it be displayed indoors or outdoors? Fortunately, you don’t need to be overwhelmed by all these questions.

If you’re in and around Central West and in need of printing services, we at G.K. Craig Printing are ready to take on the job. With four decades of experience and excellence behind our name, we offer quality print work, whether offset or digital, letterpress or branding. Get a free quote from us, or contact our friendly experts today.