The answer to the question what is the difference between offset and digital printing is – it depends on a number of factors, including what you want to print, what quantity you want to print, the quality you’re looking for, and what your timeframe is. In a nutshell, digital is clearly the best option for small runs required in a hurry, as long as you don’t need special papers or spot colours. If you have time up your sleeve, need a large quantity, and have special corporate colours to match, you can’t beat traditional offset.
How offset printing works
Offset printing is a very fast and efficient process and numerous impressions can be made from one set of plates. This means offset printing provides the best price per piece over long print runs, and also the highest-quality printing. It provides accurate colour reproduction, and crisp, clean professional looking printing.
Offset printing uses plates, usually made from aluminium, which transfer an image onto a rubber blanket, and then that image is rolled onto a sheet of paper. It’s called offset because the ink is not transferred directly onto the paper.
The design to be printed is burned onto metal plates – one for each colour. Typically, four colours are used (cyan, magenta, yellow and key black, abbreviated CMYK), but offset printing also allows for custom ink colours (most notably Pantone colours) to be used instead. Computers have made this process easier.
Then the design is transferred from the plates onto rubber rolls. The different colours of ink are spread onto the rubber and the paper is run between them. The paper goes through all of the rolls, layering on the colour, to arrive at the final image.
Advantages of offset printing
- The process produces prints with rich, smooth solids and crisp, distinct type and images without the streaks or spots found in lower-quality prints.
- Large quantities (e.g. more than 500-1000 pieces) can be printed cost-effectively – the more you print, the cheaper the price per piece.
- Superior image quality, with greater detail and colour fidelity (colour accuracy and balance), especially when combined with our computer-to-plate process.
- A large variety of paper types and sizes with custom finishes can be used.
- Special custom inks such as metallic, fluorescent, and Pantone spot colours are available, to perfectly match corporate colours.
Drawbacks of offset printing
- Low-volume jobs cost more.
- It takes longer to create the printing plates.
- Producing hard-copy proofs for offset printing can be expensive.
- If you don’t catch any errors on a plate and a run is ruined, the process has to start all over again.
Offset printing at City Print
Heidelberg Speedmaster 74, 6 colour printing press with aqueous coater.
Our highly accomplished offset print specialists take great pride in their work, ensuring that your collateral is professional and consistent. We offer a variety of inks, finishes and stocks that will make an impression on your customers.
We take our responsibilities to ensure sustainable printing very seriously. For example, we recycle aluminium printing plates, use predominantly vegetable-based inks and environmentally responsible papers, and our computer-to-plate system minimises the use of film, chemicals and paper waste in offset printing.
Digital technology has revolutionised printing
Digital printing is the process of electronically transferring stored digital images to the press, which then applies toner directly onto paper, skipping the proofs, plates, and rubber roll of offset printing.
A digital printing press works in similar fashion to a laser desktop printer. However, a commercial digital press is much bigger and faster than a desktop printer, and offers much better quality, performs many more functions, and has a greater variety of paper choices.
What is variable data printing?
Some common variable data printing jobs include personalised direct mail brochures, event invites, business card printing, mailing labels, forms, membership magazines and barcodes.
Because a digital press prints from a computer file, we can manipulate the output so that each piece in the run prints with different text or pictures, without halting or slowing down the press. Variable data printing is popular for direct mail – when each piece needs a unique code, name or address – as personalisation helps to increase the response rate.
Advantages of digital printing
- Static price per page.
- Shorter print runs of around 1000 pieces or less (for example, 100 brochures) are more cost-effective because we don’t have to set up printing plates.
- Faster turnaround times for printing.
- There is no ink drying time.
- Each print is identical.
- Lower minimum quantities can be printed (1, 20, or 50 pieces).
- Can change the information within a single print job, even from page to page (variable data printing).
- Easy to proof your product to ensure copy quality.
- More environmentally friendly as there is less waste (zero make-ready plates).
Drawbacks of digital printing
- Fewer options in materials to print on
- Less colour fidelity because digital uses standard inks that cannot exactly match all colours. Offset printing uses specially mixed inks, which will always result in a closer colour match.
- Higher cost for large-volume print runs.
- Slightly lower quality sharpness and crispness.
Digital printing at City Print
Digital printing press
What is print on demand?
Print on demand lets you print only the amount you need, when you need it. It involves short-run digital printing only, as it’s too expensive and impractical for offset printing. Print on demand means you can keep fewer copies of your printed materials in stock, lowering the costs of storage and handling. It also reduces the chances of getting stuck with obsolete printing. At City Print, we have a secure system to help you manage your print resources and print on demand. Or you can upload your file directly to our server. Find out more about how to prepare your file for printing.
The best outcome regardless of method
At City Print we’re experts in both digital and traditional offset printing, so we don’t have a vested interest in pushing one or other. We have a wealth of experience and advice that we’re more than happy to share with our clients.
As your trusted partner, you can just leave us to make the decision for you. We know which printing method best suits your price, quality or delivery expectation. We can help you make smart decisions when you’re choosing which method will best serve your project.
Contact City Print today to talk about your next printing job – whether you’re looking to print one or 1000, we can help you find the best solution.