In a world now spoiled with choice, there are two primary options for your printing job: offset and digital. When deciding how to print your project, is offset or online digital printing the best alternative? There are many factors to consider before you can make an educated choice.

We’ve come a long way since Gutenberg

The thought of the printing press summons to mind something nostalgic, earthy and almost romantic. The invention of the printing press around 1440 led to the beginning stages of a literate public and changed life on earth forever. Nowadays, printing itself is not a topic the average person thinks about for longer than it takes to hit Ctrl+P or perhaps load a new ream of paper when the machine’s beeping gets insistent. To some people, though, making specific choices in printing can be central to a marketing campaign, a unique invitation, or a one-of-a-kind poster.

The options today are vastly different from those of yesteryear. Continuing technological improvements have now moved us so far beyond woodblocks and stencils that the current printing arena has little in common with its forbears, particularly when it comes to the speed of production.

Offset printing focuses on options

Offset printing certainly has the longer pedigree, as online digital printing has only been around since 1991. An offset printing job involves the creation of a plate for each unique page. Ink is transferred from the plate to a rubber sheet, or ‘blanket’, then rolled onto the surface of the paper (or other various materials). Many types of paper size, texture, and weight can be used, in addition to allowance for nonstandard options such as metallics, foils, fluorescence, and varnishes. Offset printing is traditionally thought to have greater image detail and color consistency from copy to copy, and once the setup is complete, large printing jobs can be completed quickly.

Online digital printing is fast, inexpensive, and easy

In contrast, online digital printing does not require any setup time or plate creation and therefore, no setup fee. Electrostatic rollers, or ‘drums’ use dry or liquid toner to transfer images and text directly onto the paper. Despite having been originally created as a complement to offset printing (printers would digitally print the proof as a sample of the end result of the offset run), online digital printing emerged as a quicker, simpler method to quickly produce a wide range of prints. It is easy to print copies with variable data (like changing names and addresses), which would require additional plates to be made in offset printing. Online digital printing has made such advances in overall quality that the untrained eye can not spot the difference between an offset and digital copy. It is also enjoying a growth in popularity through the success of ad campaigns like Coca-Cola’s personalized “Share a Coke”, which require the changing data options that online digital printing offers.

They both have ups and downs

Like most bespoke services, the customized setup of the plates and the press in offset printing comes with a fee and longer initial turnaround, particularly for smaller runs. Once the plates are created, the printing process is faster than what online digital printing can currently offer for high-volume prints, but the setup is time-consuming. Digital is better for shorter runs because there is no upfront fee and the proof can be printed immediately. However, the larger the job is, the more expensive digital gets and the cheaper the cost per page of offset becomes. Another factor to take into consideration is that many printing companies require large minimums for offset that do not apply to online digital printing jobs.

It all depends on your specific needs

Ultimately, whichever option you choose, you will not have to decide between quantity and quality. Both printing options will result in quality work. If you’re feeling indecisive, the parameters of your printing job can and should dictate the means by which it is done.

The main factors to consider are:

  • The total quantity of copies you need – and how many offset plates would be needed for each sheet with unique content.
  • The turnaround time you need – and how the setup time may affect your deadline.
  • The type of paper and colors you need – and if exact color matching and customization are necessary for your project.

In Gutenberg’s day, arranging 2,000 characters by hand to create a single plate in an hour seemed like lightning speed compared to the painstaking task of hand-copying page by page. Today, we have the capacity to print at least a thousand copies in that same time frame, often far more. These technological marvels have made it possible for any company to use printed words and graphics to market themselves and their products. Any individual can self-publish a book or magazine. This access to printing offers all people the opportunity to express themselves, and that is the best kind of progress.

At Dazzle Printing, we are excited to work with you on any online digital printing job of quantities up to 2,500 copies. Our low prices, fast turnaround, and incredible quality make it easy for you to use anything from brochures to books to postcards to advertise, explain, or celebrate whatever you’d like to express in print. And our online calculators make it easy to check on pricing for any options you are interested in.

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