The growth of digital printing technology has brought technical advances, more options and exciting new features to today’s commercial printing. It also meant there is a bit of confusion in choosing the right option for your next print project. This article tries to shed some light on the advantages and disadvantages of digital printing and how they compare to traditional offset lithography. It also includes a handy checklist to make the decision between offset and digital even easier.
Offset lithography is the most common high volume commercial printing technology. In offset printing, the desired print image is burned onto a plate and then transferred (or offset) from the plate to a rubber sheet and then onto the printing surface. The lithographic process is based on the repulsion of oil and water. The image to be printed receives ink from the ink rollers, while the non-printable area attracts a film of water, keeping the non-printable areas free of ink.
Elimination of mechanical steps in digital printing
Digital printing eliminates many of the mechanical steps required for conventional printing, including platemaking and setting up presses.
So … which one to choose? It all depends …
Advantages of digital
• Shorter response times.
• All prints are the same. More accurate counts and less waste
• Cheaper low-volume printing. While the unit cost of each part may be higher than that of offset printing, when installation costs are included, digital printing offers lower unit costs for very small runs.
• Variable data printing is a customizable form of digital printing. Using information from an external database or file, text and graphics can be edited on each part without stopping or slowing down printing or creating new plates. For example, custom letters can be printed with a different name and address on each letter. Variable data printing is primarily used for direct marketing, customer relationship development, and advertising.
Benefits of compensation
• High image quality.
• Works on a wide range of media including glossy, heavy and structured media.
• The unit cost decreases as the quantity increases.
• Quality and profitability in high volume jobs. While today’s digital presses come close to the cost / benefit ratio of offset printing for high quality jobs, they still can’t compete with the volume an offset press can produce.
• Many modern offset presses use computer-to-plate systems in place of older computer-to-film workflows, further increasing quality.
Below is a checklist to help you decide which option is best for you:
• Quantity. Offset printing has an initial cost. Short runs can have a high unit cost. But as quantities increase, the unit cost decreases with offset printing. Very short runs can be much more profitable with digital printing; while larger quantities are likely to have a lower unit cost with offset printing.
• Print support. Do you need or want a special paper, an unusual print surface or finish or a unique format? The options are constantly increasing for digital, but offset printing still offers maximum flexibility.
• Color. Digital presses use four-color printing. If you only need black ink or one or two colors of ink, offset printing can offer a more cost-effective solution. If full color printing is required, digital technology can offer lower initial cost benefits.
• Learn more about color. If you plan to print with the Pantone® Matching System, offset printing will give you the best match as it uses real Pantone® ink. Digital printing simulates color using a four-color matching process, so some digital printers may offer less accurate color matching on projects.
• Turn around. If you need it fast, digital usually offers faster delivery.
• Revision. Digital offers accurate proofing as it sees an actual sample of the printed part. Accurate proofing for offset printing can be expensive.
• Personalization. Without a doubt, digital printing offers the cheapest way to personalize marketing materials, direct mail articles, letters, etc.