Offset printing makes use of plates and ink to create an image on paper (though originally, the technique was used to create images on tin in industrial England). This requires plates to be created which is time consuming and labor intensive; the plates are created by burning and mounting reverse images upon the film, typically now computer driven, and by adjusting the output to balance the color and contrast. For this reason, offset printing is not susceptible to making changes, and especially not in the middle of a print run which makes it imperative that proofs are carefully checked prior to giving approval for the print run to proceed.
Digital printing does not require this heavy labor-input or the cost of creating the plates upfront – everything is software driven, so the first printed piece can be created without incurring great set-up costs. The catch with digital printing is that offset printing provides greater quality of reproduction and when large print runs are involved, the overall cost drops dramatically because the high set-up costs are spread over a large number of pieces.
The question arises as to when a client should opt for offset printing as opposed to digital printing, so here are a few guiding hints and tips to consider.
If you are seeking to create a great impression with a glossy marketing brochure, you are going to want the enhanced quality provided by offset printing methods. Digital printing does deliver high quality reproduction levels and which is catching up with traditional offset methods, but it still lags some way behind them.
Print Run Sizes
The size of print run will determine the economics of the case – print runs of less than a 1,000 will favor using digital printing methods as the high set-up costs are not present, however the variable cost of digital printing is relatively higher than for offset printing. Larger print runs will cause a financial argument to move towards using offset printing.
The number of repeat print runs you are likely to need will also form part of the financial case. If you are going to need extra print runs, you should ensure the printer is aware of this so they keep the plates – this will avoid the need for incurring the set-up costs all over again when you place a re-order.
If you have a rush job that needs to be done overnight, it is unlikely you will be able to source an offset printer who can manage the job for you. Digital printing on the other hand, involves setting up the print run using a computer and software – changes can be made on the fly and there is a dramatically reduced turnaround time. Offset printing is more suitable when you have enough time to provide adequate notice to your printer so proofs can be created and properly checked before the print run takes place.
There are obviously more issues than these few factors in determining whether you should use an offset printer or opt for digital solutions – quality, time and cost are amongst the most important ones however, and you should discuss your immediate and long-term job requirements with your print partner to assess which is the best method of delivering the material effectively for you.