Photo Credit:

If you’re in the market for brochures, business cards, posters, or other marketing materials, you already know that you’re going to need to come up with the perfect design, color scheme, copy, and layout. However, even after you’ve checked off all of those boxes, there’s another very important decision to make: choosing between digital vs. offset printing.

In this post, we’ll cover the differences between the two printing techniques and show what their benefits and drawbacks look like. We’ll also list the factors that should go into your decision as you choose the best process for your project.

What is Offset Printing?

Offset printing is the most common kind of printing for high-volume commercial jobs. Ever seen videos of newspapers running through big rolls? That’s offset printing.

Here’s how it works: First, the printer burns the design onto metal plates—one for each color. Typically, four colors are used (cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key), abbreviated CMYK), but offset printing also allows for custom ink colors (most notably Pantone colors) to be used instead.

Next, the design is transferred from the plates onto rubber rolls. The different colors of ink are spread onto the rubber, and then the paper is run between them. The paper goes through all of the rolls, layering on the color to get the final image.

What are the Pros to Offset Printing?

  • Superior image quality that is reliable – count on offset printing for clean, distinct type and images without streaks or spots
  • Better color fidelity, which refers to both the accuracy of the colors and their balance in the design. Because offset printing can mix custom color inks for each job, it’s naturally going to get the colors spot-on.
  • Works equally well on almost any kind of material
  • For large-volume jobs, you get more for your money. It costs a lot to start an offset job. You have to invest money into creating the plates, which takes time. However, once you’ve invested it, all of the materials are ready to go, and you’ll actually spend less on big offset jobs than a digital print, which is about same per piece no matter how big the job gets.

What are the Cons of Offset Printing?

  • High cost of low-volume jobs
  • Longer timetable since plates need to be created
  • Worse fallout in case there’s an error. If you don’t catch a typo on a plate and ruin a batch it’s harder to fix and the process starts all over again.

What is Digital Printing?

When digital printing came onto the scene, it saw how much work offset printing was doing and the mechanical steps it required, and said, “nah.” This technique skips the proofs, plates and rubber bed and applies a design directly to the printing surface, either with liquid ink or powdered toner.

The inkjet or laserjet you hook up to your computer at home? That’s a digital printer. Large printing companies have ones that are bigger, faster and more precise, but it’s the same concept.

What are the Pros of Digital Printing?

  • Faster turnaround time.
  • Each print is identical. You risk fewer odd variations caused by imbalances in water and ink.
  • Cheaper for low-volume jobs. The price per unit drops for offset printing, so at some point, they crisscross.
  • Changing information within a single print job. For example, say you were printing out postcards advertising a concert. You could actually change the dates and locations for part of the batch to create two sets of cards for two shows.

What are the Cons of Digital Printing?

  • Fewer options in materials you can print on.
  • Less color accuracy because digital jobs use standard inks that cannot exactly match all colors. Offset jobs use specially mixed inks, which will always be a closer match. Digital is improving and getting closer with blended inks, but those inks still do not match as well as a custom mix.
    Higher cost for large-volume jobs.
  • Slightly lower quality, sharpness, and crispness.

How to Decide Which Printing Method to Use

Given all of these factors, here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider which method to turn to for your printing projects:

  • Are you in a hurry? If so, go digital.
  • How big is the job? If it’s over 500 pieces, strongly consider offset.
  • How particular are you about the colors? If it’s highly important to keep things on brand with your Pantone logo color, go offset.
    Do you need a special, custom style? If so, digital will offer that at the best price.
  • What are you printing? Business cards, thank you notes or high-end brochures? Again, higher volumes over 500 pieces is best for offset.
  • While personal preference certainly plays a role, the differences between digital vs. offset printing allow you to make some smart decisions when you’re choosing which method will best serve your project. Like anything else, working with a team of professionals can give you a great deal of added insight.

Here at Charley Grey, we can help at any stage and with any part of the process, from concept to printed piece. Don’t hesitate to call us if you want a professional eye to take a look at your next project: (317) 207-2015.