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Digital vs. Offset Printing

Well, it’s not so much a battle — digital vs. offset — as an ongoing coupling of new and old technology. The print industry hurries along just like any industry that both relies on and drives technology. The effect on printing has been both to reduce the stages between the computer (typically) and press and to continue developing digital printing as a viable, large-scale solution — potentially replacing the traditional press.

You can find extensive discussions, debates, and diatribes online about the superiority of one over the other, but you can also find considered analyses that honour the strengths of both types of printing. Some of the decision comes from personal preference and some from the capabilities or limitations of each process. For a print shop, the choice is also affected by how each technology can best improve and expand the services it can offer.

Budget Printing houses both digital and offset production, and here we give you an overview of each so that you might better understand the differences. In any case, we are always willing to talk with you about how best to run your print job.

Offset

Printing presses have been in use for hundreds of years, firstly to reproduce books (instead of individually by hand) and on through to our modern world of literature, marketing material, stationery, etc. For the most part, this is an ink-based system using printing plates to translate a design onto sheets or rolls of paper.

Pros

Consistent high image quality
Rapid production once set up
Ease of running identical job again later, from same printing plates

Cons

Generally not suitable for small quantities due to setup and waste
Requires constant supervision

Spot Colour Offset Printing

Printing with one or two inks (colours) is a great method for striking, crisp designs that use colour for a bold look and at less expense than full colour printing. These jobs often make use of a specific colour, such as an official corporate colour.

Full (Process) Colour Offset Printing

Depending on the amount of colour or types of images used in your print job, full-colour printing may be your best option. This is the type of printing you often see used for life-like images. 

Digital

Almost everyone has a computer and a printer. Going directly from computer screen to printed page is not a new invention, but for high-end and high-volume production, a print facility requires a special breed of digital device.

Pros

Speed of setup
Variability: capable of printing many unique designs at once (computer-driven)
Job preparation features like stapling and folding are built in to some machines
Can typically be run unattended

Cons

Not (yet) economical for very large quantities
Cannot reproduce some colours (e.g. certain Pantone colours, metallic, fluorescent) nor special treatments (e.g. varnish)

Black-and-White (Monotone) Copying

The classic photocopier continues to evolve, now capable of huge volumes in a short time, and with such features as stapling, collating, folding, and more. Production machines (unlike standard office copiers) can be used for a variety of print jobs, such as documents, multipart forms, even some business cards. The speed of these machines, along with their evolution into robust production systems, allows a print shop to offer fast, quality runs on everything from a simple photocopy to large, tabbed binders, and more.

Digital Colour Printing

Laser printing is one of the most rapidly evolving print systems. Much of the focus is on making high-end production machines that rival the strengths of offset printing (as described above). Computer-driven, this technology especially offers the ability to customize every copy of a print job (such as with a unique name, an evolving marketing approach); this would be an unreasonably expensive and complicated achievement on a traditional press.

Summary

The above is of course a very cursory look at how digital and offset printing compare. As a print customer, your option for either method is usually made simple by the type of job you require, the quantity you will be ordering, and how soon you need it.