Back to Blog List

Topics/Previous Posts

Digital or Offset Printing: How Do I Decide?

Black and White Printing

Which one is right for your project?

Copy, colors, images, design, paper stock, quantity…you’re already well into checking off steps in your design process for marketing materials. Then, as you reach out for a print quote, you’re stumped by a question: digital or offset printing?

What’s the difference?

It’s important to know which technique to choose—and the pros and cons of each. In this article, we’ll share what you need to know to end up with a great result and get the best bang for your buck.

When to choose offset printing

Offset printing is the best choice for printing large quantities. It’s available for a wide range of printing surfaces, like coated and uncoated papers of varying thickness and finishes. It’s also used for other surfaces, like plastics. Offset printing is also called lithography. To set up the print job, a printer burns the design onto metal plates, using one for each of four colors. These are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Abbreviated CMYK, they combine in various proportions to produce all colors in the design. Offset printing can also use custom colors. Then, rubber rollers apply ink to the plates and the design is transferred from the plates onto a rubber blanket. Finally, the paper runs between the blanket and an impression cylinder, where color is layered on to produce the final design.  

Pros and cons

Offset printing has some clear advantages, including:
  • Reliable, high-quality, crisp image quality without streaks or spots
  • Color accuracy
  • Lower per-piece cost for high-volume jobs
Offset printing does require an investment in plate set-up, which can drive up cost for low-volume print jobs. Other disadvantages include:
  • Longer production timeline because of the need to create plates
  • High cost of errors – if you don’t catch a typo or error in the plates, changes can be costly, depending on whether you must create a new plate and/or run the job again

When to choose digital printing

Digital printing is an ideal choice for printing small quantities or when you need fast turnaround. Any digital printer—including the one you may have at home—uses the same process. There are no plates and rubber rolls. Instead, the design is printed directly onto the paper with (depending on the job and the printer) liquid ink or powdered toner.  

Pros and cons of digital printing

Digital printing comes out ahead on:
  • Production turnaround – it’s faster to set up and run
  • Cost for lower-volume jobs
  • Image consistency, as the same quantity of ink or powdered toner is applied to each piece
  • Cost and ease of corrections or changes
This last point is important to know, if you catch an error or want to make a change, or even print two versions of a brochure. With digital printing, you can create batches within a single job or correct and rerun a job with new information. There are also drawbacks:
  • Limits to materials you can print on
  • Higher cost per piece for high-volume jobs
  • Lower quality and crispness
  • Lower color fidelity, as digital inks and toners cannot exactly match all design colors

How to decide between offset printing and digital printing

Still not sure which print process is right for your project? Weigh these five considerations:
  • Remember, high-volume print jobs are produced most cost-effectively with offset printing, while digital is best for lower volume.
  • How quickly do you need it? Digital is almost always faster.
  • Are you printing on paper? Or on a specialty material? For specialty materials, offset printing has the advantage.
  • Is color fidelity important? Are you using custom colors? If so, go with offset.
  • If you need to see (and approve) a proof before the job runs, go with digital printing.
Need more help? Learn more about our print services. At AlphaGraphics Wood Dale, we provide great choices at great prices. Remember, a free quote is just a click away. Or give us a call at 630-595-6800. We are conveniently located at 165 Hansen Court, Suite 111 in Wood Dale.

Back to Blog List

Connect With Us
Copyright © 2023 AlphaGraphics International Headquarters. All rights reserved
165 Hansen Court, Suite 111, Wood Dale, Illinois 60191 US