Comparing offset and digital printing | Which is better

When ordering polygraphic production the printing house may offer two types of printing: offset and digital. And it’s not always clear what is the difference between the two types and which one to choose.

Let’s understand how offset printing differs from digital printing and which one is better for creating various printing materials.

How does digital printing work?

How digital printing works

The principle of digital printing is very simple – in a printer (inkjet, laser or dye-sublimation, depending on the task and the equipment used) is sent to an electronic layout of the document to be printed on paper, and the device prints it.

The main advantage of the digital method is speed. Documents, prints, images and everything else can be printed on paper in seconds. Of course, the exact time of preparation depends on the workload of the printing house, issues of pre-press editing, the volume of the circulation and the required postpress operations.

Besides, digital printing is possible in very short editions starting from 1 copy. What’s more, you can individualize each item. For example, print five postcards with the recipient’s unique name on each.

And finally, it is always possible to promptly make changes to the layout. Thanks to this, if after receiving samples an error is detected, it can be corrected.

However,This type of printing procedure also has disadvantages:

  1. Comparatively low color saturation, contrast, and number of shades. Although, of course, the specific parameters of “visual characteristics” depend on the equipment used. However, the use of offset in the vast majority of cases provides increased brightness and saturation. As a rule the digital method means using standard palettes – CMYK or 3-4 Pantone colors. Offset printing, on the other hand, does not limit designers and printers;

  2. High cost of the specimen. Moreover, the relatively high price remains even for large print runs, so that printing products in thousands of copies is better to print on offset.

Nevertheless, if you need to print something urgently or in small print runs (up to a few hundred copies), it’s more appropriate to use the digital method. But it is worth noting that for full-color, detailed images with lots of shades and gradient transitions better suited sublimation technology, which is offered not in all printers, or offset – and in this case it is better to overpay than to get not the brightest result.

How offset printing works

How offset printing works

Offset printing, as the name implies, requires the use of offset – a special printing plate through which toners are applied to paper. And the main problem of this type of rendering is long preparation time. Offset requires assembly, cutting, simple preparation… all of which takes time.

But offset technology allows the use of non-standard dyes. For example, to output an image with a four-tone palette for more contrast and detail in shades. Or print with additional inks – “gold”, “silver”, varnishes and other materials.

By brightness and saturation of the finished materials in most cases the offset technology is comparable to sublimation technology. However, the ability to use additional paints allows for unusual, impressive solutions.

The second advantage of offset printing is the low cost per print. This is why it is recommended for large print runs. So, in most cases magazines and newspapers are printed using offset technology.

tNevertheless, the office printing has disadvantages:

  1. Very long prepress. So, from the order placement in the printing house to its receipt can take several days or even a couple of weeks if the layout involves complexities (the use of the most “metallic” paints and varnishes);

  2. Expensive for small print runs. Offset, as mentioned above, has to be prepared first. Because of this the price of a copy on the circulation up to 500 units becomes incommensurably higher than with the digital method;

Impossible to customize or quickly make changes. Once offset has been produced, there is no way to change it. So the layout should be checked many times before sending.

On the other hand offset printing is perfectly suited for large print runs and the preparation of really impressive printing products.

What is better to choose?

It is better to use three parameters – run size, production speed, saturation requirements and non-standard design tricks.




Number of copies

From 1 item, and in large quantities the cost may be insignificantly, but decrease

From 500 units. The more – the lower the cost per print. Up to 500 items – possible, but not practical because the price would be too high

Speed of production

Maximum speed. Can take from a few minutes to one or two days depending on the print run

From 2 business days. And most of the time is spent on offset printing

Color requirements

A standard palette of four CMYK tones or three Pantone

Four-color palette plus any additional shades – “metal”, varnishes, paint with glitter

It is possible to make changes

Yes, if it is printed in several runs

No. It is technically possible to make changes, but they will require making a new offset, which will increase production time and cost

Thus, offset technology is better suited for large volumes, and digital is better suited for small operational printing.

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