Commercial offset printing has been widely available for decades and has been refined to a point where incredibly intricate and colorful images can be reproduced with amazing clarity and detail, and in very large sizes and quantities. Digital printing on the other hand is a relatively new comer to the party but is based on established Color Xerographic principals common to most laser printers and copiers we use in our daily lives at the office, but this technology is usually limited to smaller print sizes and lower quantities.

Offset printing presses utilize liquid ink, in thousands of possible pantone colors, applied via printing plate and transfer rollers to large sheets or rolls of paper, and require considerable skill and training to operate. Digital printing presses simply employ mixtures of cyan, magenta, yellow and black toner, which is electrostatically applied to smaller sheets of paper and then fused with heat, requiring little of the skill set that offset printing demands.

The biggest deciding factors in whether to produce a printed piece using commercial offset printing versus using digital printing are:

  • Quantity
  • Quality
  • Size
  • Turnaround time
  • Cost

Digital printing definitely offers lower costs on most low quantity jobs, and the reason for this advantage over offset printing is that digital printing requires relatively little setup, doesn’t require a press crew to operate, and does not utilize any expensive printing plates. This price advantage disappears on larger quantity jobs because the set up costs on digital presses are minimal, so there is never the enormous economy of scale that can be realized on large offset printing jobs. Once all of the up front and set up costs are realized on an offset printing job, it becomes very economical to just keep the press running longer and longer, reducing the per-piece price the longer the press is run and the higher the quantity produced.

Beyond quantity and cost considerations, there is the question of quality. While digital printing quality continues to improve, offset printing is likely to offer certain quality and production advantages well into the future, including the ability to use precisely mixed spot color inks, shiny metallic inks, and various varnishes and coatings, as well as being able to produce a much sharper image on a more diverse selection of paper and synthetic stocks. And because the liquid inks used in offset printing are generally absorbed and “become a part” of the paper, while digitally printed toner is simply fused to the surface of the paper, offset printing typically produces a much more robust, scratch and rub resistant product.

As you can see by this brief discussion, there is much to consider in choosing a technology for your next print job. At Epic Marketing, our staff has years of hands-on experience with both of these technologies, as well as insight into post-print finishing and the limitations that the printing process imposes on how a printed piece can ultimately be finished, distributed and used. You can count on Epic Marketing to always weigh all of these factors and recommend the best possible solution to produce the finest possible printed product, on time and most economically.

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