Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing

We get questions ….

Our Customer Service team reports that one of the most common questions they get is “What is the difference between Value and Premium?”

(For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, our bookmarks, business cards, mini business cards, postcards and rack cards have two price sets: Value and Premium. For an example go to Business Cards and click the Pricing link.)

The difference is that Value products are printed on a digital press, and Premium products are printed on an offset press.

Offset printing is a technique where the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket, and then to the paper. Digital printing is a method of printing in which the data and images are printed directly from a computer onto paper.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of both methods is critical in making the correct choice.

Offset Printing Pros & Cons
Offset printing produces sharper and cleaner results than digital printing and is economically superior for high volumes. Offset printing can accurately reproduce colors from the Pantone Matching System, while digital methods only simulate Pantone color using four-color printing. Offset printing works well on a wide range of printing surfaces, including various grades of paper, wood, cloth, metal, leather and plastic. Offset presses are also more likely to accommodate larger paper sizes.

The time and cost of setup makes offset printing a poor choice for small quantity jobs. Traditional offset presses are not as eco-friendly as digital presses, except for waterless offset presses, which can match the greenness of digital.

Digital Printing Pros & Cons
The primary advantages of digital printing are that it is fast and inexpensive for low quantities. For this reason digital is the preferred choice for variable data printing. Variable data printing is used primarily for direct marketing applications such as personalizing letters with a different name and address on each letter. For projects involving only black ink or one or two ink colors, offset printing may offer a more cost-effective solution. Compared to traditional offset presses, digital printing is better for the environment because it doesn’t emit any VOCs during the printing process. However, new waterless offset presses also eliminate VOCs.

For high volume runs digital printing can’t compete with the ability of an offset press to produce results cheaply and quickly.

Offset vs. Digital Quality
The quality difference between digital and offset presses can vary from almost negligible to significant. Most photographs and text will reproduce well on a high-end digital press. However, if a job has large solid areas of color, offset printing will achieve much better print quality. Offset printing also usually offers more finishing options than digital printing.

Offset vs. Digital Printing

Digital Printing
Offset Printing
Low Quantities
High Quantities
Special Substrates
1 Color Printing
4 Color Printing
PMS Color Match
High Quantity Price
Low Quantity Price
Fast Turnaround
best (waterless press)
good (traditional press)


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