What is the difference between offset and digital printing methods and which method should you choose for your project? Here, we'll answer your questions by explaining both printing methods, including which projects are best served by each printing method and the advantages to choosing that route.

Offset Printing

Offset printing dates back to the late 1800s and is essentially an advanced form of lithography. The term offset refers to the process involved in this type of printing: the image is created on a plate and affixed to a cylinder. Ink is applied to the cylinders, transferred to rubber rollers, and then transferred to the paper; thus the term offset printing. There is an additional step - where the ink is transferred to rubber rollers before being transferred to the paper - that does not occur in lithography.

Offset printing is typically recommended for high quality print needs and special printing such as envelopes and letterhead.

Some of the benefits of offset printing include:

  • It can be very cost effective when printing large quantities
  • Prints are highest quality with maximum color fidelity and detail
  • Specialty inks can be used to create the image you desire
  • Various types of paper and mediums can be used

Digital Printing

Digital printing is much newer than offset printing - it has been in use for approximately a couple of decades. There are two types of digital printing presses or printers: those that use toner and those that use liquid ink. Printers that use powdered toner transfer the toner to a plastic blanket, which transfers the toner to the paper. Heat is used to cure the toner. Printers that use liquid ink transfer the ink directly to the paper and then cure with UV light.

Digital printing is often recommended for projects with variable components. For example, if you were printing 100 letters and each addressed a different customer by name, digital printing would be the only route. Digital printing is also recommended for less than 100 copies of most items including brochures, postcards, etc.

Some of the advantages of digital printing include:

  • Lower setup costs; ideal for small runs (Less than 500 prints)
  • Black and white printing is very cost effective
  • There is no minimum quantity necessary as there is in offset printing
  • Ability to accommodate variable data

Offset printing is superior in quality than digital printing; as illustrated here, both serve a specific purpose in the printing realm. Whether you should go with digital or offset printing will always depend on the details of the project at hand. A good printing vendor will clearly explain your options and assist you in deciding which route will best suit your needs.