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  • Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing

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    Online Printing, Small Business Printing

    Whether you have published projects before or this is your first time sticking your toe into the publishing pool, learning about how the publishing process works is a necessary step.

    The words offset and digital are key terms in the publishing world, so let’s talk about what differentiates offset vs digital printing, when each process is the best choice, and what you need to know about each process so you can choose the best type of printing for your next project.

    How Printing Works

    The printing processes used in offset vs. digital printing both result in beautifully crafted images that are transferred onto paper or other materials. But offset printing and digital printing are very different methods with unique aspects to the material used in the process of printing.

    Offset Printing

    This traditional method of printing has been around for hundreds of years, and it still produces gorgeous prints today. In offset printing, a printing plate and a printing press are used to transfer a copy of the image to paper or other material.

    The original image is placed on the plate and then the areas intended to be transferred (the words, designs, or elements of a picture) are coated with ink. The press is used to transfer, or “offset,” the image, and then the process is repeated with tiny dots of each of the four ink colors to create the desired effect.

    Digital Printing

    Unlike offset printing, the digital printing process is a one-step procedure that takes digital-based images and transfers them to any variety of materials utilizing a high-quality printer. Often large-format printers or high-volume laser or inkjet printers are used in digital printing.

    The digital process typically involves a laser and toner ink to make the image transfer. But even though different digital printing machinery may have small differences in how the digital process is accomplished, all digital printing is done in this single-step process that allows a full-color print to be produced on the chosen material at one time without the need for any ink drying time.

    Printing Capabilities

    Not only are the processes of offset vs. digital printing different, but each type also has different printing capabilities in regard to the volume of printing that is completed.

    Offset for Large Quantities

    Since offset printing requires setting up each individual page before any printing can occur, it is best used when each page to be printed is a large volume to balance out the necessary setup time. For example, if a customer needs 100,000 copies of a 10-page booklet, then the total quantity of 1,000,000 copies would be made using 10 plate setups for an offset printing job.

    But if a customer has a booklet with 80 pages and needs only 25 copies of the booklet, using offset printing does not make sense, because the printer would have to create 40 separate plates to use but would only run each plate 25 times.

    This would be inefficient and time-consuming and ultimately would not be a job that an offset printer would choose to complete. Since each page requires its own plates and preparation as well as potentially pressing each page more than one time when multiple colors are used, only very large volume print jobs make sense using offset.

    Digital for Small or Large Quantities

    Unlike offset, digital is appropriate for both large and small quantity printing jobs. A modern printing job like a printing request to make 25 copies of a novelist’s first book as advanced reader’s copies would be perfect for a digital printer to complete.

    A typical novel of a few hundred pages would not need a separate plate to be created, as an offset printer would use, and instead would simply print each page on-demand using a high-volume printer.

    But digital printers can also handle larger volumes as well. If that same author is now ready to print hundreds or thousands of their new novel that is also a few hundred pages in length, a digital printer can also set up their high-volume printers to run those pages just as easily.

    Color and Paper Size

    Both types of printing can create beautiful, high-quality prints, but there is a difference between offset and digital printing color and quality.

    Offset’s Color Controls and Large Paper Printing

    Since offset is developed using strict color controls due to the use of Pantone ink, businesses or individuals who need perfectly consistent colors may choose offset printing. Offset printers set up the plates and then do test runs to check the color representation and the quality of the printing, ensuring exact color matching on print jobs.

    Printing with the offset method uses larger printing presses between 29 inches and 40 inches in size. These larger page sizes make projects like posters, book covers, or even foldable brochures possible to be made using offset printing methods.

    Digital for Smaller Paper Sizes

    Print jobs completed using digital methods produce high-quality colors and crisp photos and graphics, but the colors used on these digital devices may vary slightly. The capabilities of laser and inkjet printers are always improving, as well, ensuring an increasingly good quality of the digital method over time.

    One difference between offset and digital printing is the smaller page size that digital printers use. Usually, 19-inch sheets are used on digital printers but some may use up to a 29-inch sheet. Since digital printers are limited in this size frame, some jobs that may be better suited for digital become offset printing jobs to accommodate the larger sizes of paper that offset can handle.

    How Does Cost Compare?

    One of the biggest differences between these two types of printing methods is the pricing. Offset printing on its face is more expensive than digital simply because of the required plates that offset uses.

    But for very large printing jobs, using offset may be more cost-effective. For most small or medium-sized jobs, digital is less expensive, because the setup costs are less than those of offset printing and the printing job itself can be completed much more quickly.

    Offset vs Digital Printing: When to Use Each

    While both printing methods are commonly used and well-respected by those in the printing industry, it is advisable to use offset printing in some cases and digital in others.

    When to Use Offset

    • When the project contains a large quantity to print
    • When time is not restricted (set up, ink drying time)
    • When the printing surface is anything other than paper
    • When printing surface size needs to be larger than 29 inches

    When to Use Digital

    • When the project contains small or medium quantities
    • When the project has a short turnaround time since the digital requires minimal setup time and a project is usable immediately after printing
    • When a project requires customization (for example when personalizing pages within a project)
    • When a formal proof of a project is required
    • When 19 – 29 inch printing surface size fits the project

    Choosing the Best Printing Process for Your Project

    Creating a project that is ready to be printed is the first step in publishing. Picking out the printing process and company you want to work with will bring your project to life, but make sure that you choose the method that matches your needs.

    Digital printing companies like Dazzle Printing are the perfect solution for authors and creators who have smaller or medium-sized jobs to print. The quick turnaround time and reasonable price point make digital printing the best choice for many.


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