This continues to be a common question, and with good reason. When you move beyond the limits of a Xerox or home laser printer, the printing process becomes quite complicated. In general, it’s not easy to say whether the offset or digital printing process is better, but on an individual project level, one will likely be better suited to your needs over the other.
How do the presses work?
An offset press uses plates, rollers, liquid ink and a rubber blanket. There is a plate and a roller designated for each different ink color in a design: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow or Black (CMYK). Some presses have extra rollers for PMS/Pantone colors. The image is offset in ink from a plate to the rubber blanket, which conforms to the texture of the paper or medium and lays the final image. Each color is layered until the design is complete.
As you can imagine, the set-up process for this type of press is involved, time-consuming, and requires manual adjustments made by a press operator. This process is custom and required for every job, whether the print quantity is one or one million pieces. So, the more pieces that are printed, the more set up cost gets spread out, making offset printing much more cost effective for large runs.
A Digital press uses a laser, drum, single ink head and a static charge. The image comes directly from an electronic file. The laser creates a static charge on the drum, which attracts ink to the appropriate places and the drum rotates to lay down a different ink color with each rotation.
This process requires very little setup, maintenance and manual attention, making a minimum quantity of one totally feasible.
Here is a comparison chart to help you decide what’s best for your project:
[col col=4] [/col]
[col col=4]More cost effective for higher qty’s.[/col]
[col col=4]More cost effective for lower qty’s.[/col]
[col col=4]Turn Time[/col]
[col col=4]A minimum of several days to accommodate plate making, manual set up, testing and adjusting, and dry time. (Coating can be applied to help with dry time).[/col]
[col col=4]Very quick – low set up time, no plates, no dry time.[/col]
[col col=4]Min Print Qty[/col]
[col col=4]Several hundred.[/col]
[col col=4]Costly and less accurate. Proofs are not usually printed on the press or or stock the final piece will be printed on. An actual sample proof is expensive, due to the set up costs.[/col]
[col col=4]Cheap and accurate. Can print an actual sample of the piece on the stock to be used.[/col]
[col col=4]Paper Options[/col]
[col col=4]Wide variety of paper textures and weights, even wood, metal, cloth, plastic and perforated stock.[/col]
[col col=4]Somewhat limited.[/col]
[col col=4]Max Press Sheet[/col]
[col col=4]Process (CMYK) and/or spot colors (PMS). Adjustments can be made by the press operator to match a proof with the Pantone Matching System.[/col]
[col col=4]4-color process (CMYK) and RGB. Color adjustments must be made to the art file.[/col]
[col col=4]Finishing Compatibility[/col]
[col col=4]Preferred for pieces that will be foiled stamped, embossed, spot varnished or die cut because of precise image positioning. Also accepts varnishes and coatings well.[/col]
[col col=4]Not preferred. Digital inks don’t respond as well to coatings and varnishes, foil stamping or embossing.[/col]
[col col=4]Unique Features[/col]
[col col=4]Can print metallic and fluorescent inks and a variety of coatings and varnishes.
High volume capability.[/col]
[col col=4]Variable capability for personalized pieces like letters, envelopes, tickets and labels.
Multiple page pieces can be collated on press, reducing bindery costs.[/col]
So, which press is best for my project?
Overall, offset is best for large quantities, large sizes, pieces containing Pantone colors or only black ink, and higher end pieces that require high quality imaging, special paper, inks or finishes.
Digital is generally best for quantities less than 1,000, smaller dimensions, variable data, 4-color design files and jobs that are needed very quickly.
If you would like assistance with your print project, we are happy to facilitate printing from your print-ready files, make your files press-ready, create a print design from scratch or just answer your questions. Find out more here or give us a call: 303-218-5287.