The Difference Between Offset & Digital Printing


When searching for a printer that is right for you and your project, you'll find there are several options available. The most common types of printing are offset printing and digital printing. But what's the difference?

Offset Printing

Offset printing does not apply ink directly to the paper. Instead, the ink is applied to a plate, and each color requires a separate plate. The printing standard colors of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) mean it's possible to use as many as four plates for each print. Once inked and aligned, these plates are used much like a stamp to leave semi-transparent levels of ink onto a sheet of paper. These colors, layered on top of each other, create the final image.

Digital Printing

Digital printing works in the same CMYK color scheme, however, the ink is applied directly to the paper by way of an electrical charge. Because the information for digital printing comes digitally, it can be adjusted to create custom content. That way, when printing postcards or invitations, each can be personalized to the recipient by name, and even with a different art piece! In off-set printing, different plates would need to be set up for each change in name or picture. However, digital printing makes all of those changes with no hassles or hiccups.

Which is Better?

That depends on what your project is. If you have one product with no variable information that you need to print in enormous amounts (think tens of thousands), then offset printing may be what you want. Because offset printing requires only the initial set up, this means that for each additional copy you print, the cost will drop. The more you print, the more you save. However, that saving doesn't kick in unless you buy loads. Be sure you need as many copies as you are ordering, otherwise wasted product = wasted money.

In contrast, if you need to print only a few items, (think anywhere between one and several thousand), digital printing is more cost effective because it doesn't require the same set up fee. Instead, you pay for the price of each project you print. Because you can print the amount you need when you need it, digital printing helps save additional costs such as warehouse storage, as well as the wasted cost of the ink and paper that isn't used. Digital printing is also the best option for personalized print projects. Because of it's adaptability, cost efficiency, and accuracy, here at Alexander's, we only use digital printing.

But What About Quality?

Some argue that offset-printing's tried and true printing methods lead to better color and sharper images. However, the world of digital printing is continuously advancing. These days, if there is a difference, it's a small one. Here at Alexander's, our high quality Indigo Digital Presses leave no difference in quality. They even allow for the addition of custom colors! Keep an eye on this blog for more information on our Indigos!


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