top of page

Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

You need to get a quantity of sales brochures or flyers printed and you’re asked, “are you looking for offset or digital printing?” You’re not sure how to answer, printing is printing, right? Well, not exactly. Although at first glance materials printed using the two printing methods look similar, there are some fundamental differences. We’ll examine their differences and discuss when it makes sense to choose one or the other for your next print project.

70% of people had higher brand recall with printed marketing compared to digital marketing.”

What is Offset Printing?

The offset printing process begins with the pre-press phase where the art file (or digital project image) is transferred (or burned) onto four (one for each CMYK ink color – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) metal plates (typically aluminum). Once the plates are loaded onto a press drum, which are used to transfer the image onto a rubber “blanket”, and then rolling that image onto a sheet of paper. It’s called offset because the ink is not transferred directly onto the paper. Because offset presses run so efficiently once they are set up, offset printing is the best choice when larger quantities are needed, and provides accurate color reproduction with crisp, clean professional looking materials.

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing doesn’t use plates the way offset does, but instead uses options such as toner (like in laser printers) or larger printers that do use liquid ink. Digital printing is a better choice when lower quantities are needed (for example, 100 brochures or a few hundred postcards). Another benefit of digital printing is its variable data printing (VDP) capability, which allows you to personalize each sheet with unique information. You’ll want to select digital printing when each piece needs a unique code, name or address. Offset printing cannot accommodate this need. Get more great ideas about print projects and capabilities.

While offset printing is a fantastic way to produce great-looking print projects, many businesses or individuals do not need large runs of 500 or more, and the best solution is digital printing.

How to Submit Art Files for Offset Printing

It is best to submit art files designed to the same size as it is to be printed and the resolution should be at least 300 dpi. Offset printers use the CMYK color system — combining the colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to produce all other colors. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the image files you send to the printer are converted to the CMYK format.

Generally speaking, a PDF file is your best bet when you’re having any kind of printing done. For offset printing, it’s typically the optimal format.

How to Submit Art Files for Digital Printing

As with offset printing, it is best practice to submit art files designed to the same size as it will be when printed and the resolution should be at least 300 dpi. Unlike offset printing, modern workflows allow digital printers to use color profiles that automatically match CMYK ink to RGB values to produce results that are much more similar. Additionally, commercial digital printers can use inks beyond just CMYK to closely match the wider color gamut of RGB.

No harm will be done if you stick to the old habit of creating “print-ready” files in CMYK, but advances in printing workflows and growth in the use of commercial digital printing have eliminated it as a requirement. In fact, some digital printers even prefer files with RGB colors. Printers may accept art files for digital printing in a variety of formats. Both PDF and JPEG are commonly used file types for digital printing.

When in doubt, ask a Praqtical Marketing Works print pro.

What are the Advantages of Offset Printing?

  • Highest possible printing quality, with greater detail and color fidelity

  • Large quantities can be printed cost effectively

  • The more you print, the cheaper the price per piece

  • A large variety of paper types can be used

  • Special custom inks such as metallic and Pantone colors are available

  • Supports special coatings and finishes, such as UV gloss, spot varnish, satin, and soft-touch

What are the Advantages of Digital Printing?

  • No set-up fees mean lower overall cost for short runs compared to offset printing

  • Print only the amount you need, when you need it

  • Lower minimum quantities (as low as 100 or 200 pieces)

  • Variable data capability (names, addresses, codes or numbering can be done easily)

  • Improved technology has made digital quality acceptable for more uses

Summary (Offset vs Digital Printing):

We probably shouldn't say Offset vs Digital Printing - both are useful printing methods. Each have particular benefits depending on your project’s requirements. Offset printing is the original, durable, and time-tested option. It’s best for large, cost-effective print runs. Plus, it guarantees excellent color options and the broadest range of custom coatings and finishes. You can also use a much wider variety of custom papers and specialty inks, such as metallic or fluorescent inks in the offset process. When you need larger runs of a project, into the hundreds or thousands, or are using a specific, brand-centric Pantone color, offset printing is the only way to go.

If you have a small run of 100 or so, or need variable data printing to print individual addresses or information, digital is your solution. Digital printing is a lightweight, cost-effective option for smaller quantity print runs. Its rapid turnaround and slick versatility make it hard to beat. Not to mention, new, innovative technology is continually advancing.

The best part is that Praqtical Marketing Works will help you determine how your needs can best be met with Offset vs Digital Printing choices. The high-level of quality with both techniques means you get a printed product that will make you look great! To get started on your next print project, talk to a Praqtical Marketing Works expert today (972) 814-4862.


bottom of page