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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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Digital vs Traditional Offset Printing: Pros & Cons

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Every design project is different. When it comes to making a final decision on which commercial printing process to choose, designers must take into consideration the quality and volume they desire and their budget and timescale.

The two main forms of commercial printing are digital and traditional offset printing, both of which have their pros and cons. Before you make your final decision, weigh up their pros and cons against what you want from your print job and make an informed decision.

The Pros and Cons of Digital Printing

Digital Printing

PROS

Digital printing is incredibly fast, making it ideal for projects with a tight deadline. Traditional offset printing has a much slower turnaround due to the set up, so consider your deadline carefully when choosing which type of commercial printing to opt for. If the deadline is short and you’re running out of time, digital printing could be your best choice.

Budgetary concerns are extremely important when choosing how to print your project. If you have a low volume print job, digital printing is far more cost effective than traditional offset printing.

If you need a fast turnaround of a short print run you should use a digital printer to meet your deadline and keep the cost down.

One of the key advantages of digital printing is the accuracy of the proofing it allows. Extremely detailed samples can be made of your print job quickly and cost effectively, enabling you to hold a sample in your hands which will be exactly recreated in the final print run.

Another great strength of digital printing is how easily a design project’s text, images and colours can be customised during the print process without significantly slowing it down. If you need to customise different parts of the print run, for diverse marketing campaigns for example, Variable Data Printing presses are by far the best option in terms of speed and affordability.

Pantone Colors

CONS

What are the cons of digital printing? Well, despite digital printers constantly improving, they still can’t quite match the colour quality and sheer flexibility of traditional offset printers, which offer a wider range of paper, ink and finish options and use the Pantone Matching System and inks to deliver unparalleled colour accuracy. Digital printers use a four colour printing process utilising a colour matching process to simulate colours, which cannot compete with traditional offset printers.

Another weakness is that digital printer inks aren’t fully absorbed into the print paper, which means cracks can appear in the colour near edges which are folded in the finished publication. This isn’t a problem in traditional offset printing.

It’s also important to remember that traditional offset printing can be more cost effective than digital printing for higher volume print runs as the individual unit price comes down.

Considering the superior quality of traditional offset printing, a traditional offset printer is a better choice for higher volume print runs than a digital printer.

The Pros and Cons of Traditional Offset Printing

Offset Printing

PROS

The pros of traditional offset printing are clear. It remains the best quality type of printing available for graphic designers, particularly when image quality is concerned. Technology has developed so that the computer-to-plate system delivers superlative accuracy and quality.

As previously mentioned, traditional offset printing enables more choice when it comes to print materials. Many graphic design projects demand unusual paper types and sizes, specialised inks and finishes. If this is the case with your project you should use a traditional offset printer. Special effects like spot varnishes are far better quality when done through traditional offset printing.

The combination of the Pantone Matching System and the Pantone inks makes traditional offset printers the best choice when complete control is needed and colour accuracy is paramount. The four colour process used for digital printing simply cannot compete with traditional offset printers, so if colour counts opt for traditional offset printing.

If your graphic design project is high volume, traditional offset printing is not only more cost effective but can be quicker. Much of the costs and time involved with traditional offset printing relate to the preparation and press set up. However, if you have a high volume print job the unit costs are drastically reduced, because once the set up is complete the extra units are relatively cheap to print.

CONS

What are the cons of traditional offset printing? It is far more difficult to personalise and customise print jobs during the print run as the printer set up has to be adjusted. This  can be rather time consuming, particularly when compared to digital printing, which is perhaps the best option for print jobs requiring a lot of customisation within a short time frame.

Traditional printing is also slower and more costly for lower volume print jobs than digital printing. This is because of the time it takes to set a traditional printer up for a job, which raises the individual unit prices for shorter print runs. Digital printers remain the best choice for quick and low cost short run print jobs.

Summary

Your choice of commercial printing process will depend on your quality and volume demands, budget and time schedule. Carefully list what you require before following the above guidelines and making your final decision. Remember, commercial printers are there to help, so always contact them for further advice on your project.

What’s your preference? How do you usually decide on which printing method you use?

Photos by Shutterstock & Inkjet Catridges.



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15 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Frank Reply

    Another con for digital printing, the maximum size of the paper used is A3.

  • Christelle Reply

    Hi Jacob,
    You summed it up quite well. Actually I liked the detail about the cracks in the paper for digital printing, I didn’t know about that.
    To me, color accuracy and quality are the biggest elements that would push me to consider offset printing even if the volume wouldn’t necessarily justifies it. I love the fact that we can add a custom ink in the offset machine. Mind you some large digital machines have that option too now, I have even seen some that offer a special volume varnish, it’s pretty amazing!
    I actually look forward to seeing how digital printing continues to improve, because with cross media campaigns and web-to-print systems, digital printing offers so many marketing opportunities, it will be brilliant once it’s couple with very high quality!

  • Bryan G. C. Reply

    I’m kinda new to the technical aspects of printing, so one part of your text got me a little confused. The volume seems to be a huge point to be considered, but how much is high and low volume, in numbers?

  • Shivan Reply

    Great read. I sometimes get one or two trial digital prints of the artwork as a preview to check on the size, proportions, feel, etc. This is done before executing the offset prints for large volumes. One more factor that depends will be the size of the artwork. If the artwork is small, like Frank mentioned, multiple copies can be printed on a single A3 sheet using the digital printer. For the same volume, an offset would work out to be expensive and more time consuming efforts.

  • Cheltenham Web Design - Roshan Reply

    Great article, as a Designer I am knowledgeable of the different print processes, however budget from our clients perspective can be a factor that has the ultimate decision on the print process we choose.

  • Ken O'Brien Graphic Design Reply

    Very informative article. I’ve spent most of my life setting up artwork for print which would be run on off-set printers, but now that I work for myself, most of my clients are small companies, only requiring short runs so digital printing is the way to go 90% of the time for me. I know exactly what you mean about the cracking that occurs. Printing a cover digitally for a book, when saddle-stitched often cracks appear along the fold. It’s a pain!

  • Web desain Reply

    For a low budget project i used digital print, because it much faster.

  • Drew Reply

    Concerning the cracks that can occur with folding digital prints, a great solutions is to have the paper scored after printing. It will provide a much better fold with less cracking!

    Also, Kodak NexPress (a Digital press) has a feature called Dimensional Clear Dry Ink. It provides an effective alternative to offset UV/spot UV coating. It outputs an amazing raised/textured layer above the ink that rivals the quality of any offset varnish.

  • PR Agency Reply

    I think that it is important not to overlook the advances of Digital printing. There are digital printers that have 8 colour printing and the stock that is used also has a huge influence too. But a great article and thanks for sharing.

  • Peter Duncan Reply

    Excellent write up. However it is also key to to realize that “digital” and “offset” are hugely vague terms… I would put an HP T300 or Indigo up against any Heidelberg sheetfed or web. I’d say it’s best for the designer to ask their printer’s about the equipment they use and to also take the printer’s advice and use this information to learn more about the print process. While asking the printer about their presses, also ask them about their finishing techniques, no digital printing company worth their salt will allow cracking in any of their media. The same goes for an offset environment. I guess it boils down to the quality of your provider, and less about the technology they use.

  • cathlyn Reply

    Interesting, but I am all for digital printing. I think you will get people using digital printing for more of the mundane type or mass printing on demand, whilst the traditional offset printing will be relegated to the more special types of prints. You need to understand printing history really to see what type of printing has what features. See here: http://printology.blogspot.com/2012/11/offset-printing-history-understanding.html

  • Natashia Maki Reply

    I think that it is important not to overlook the advances of Digital printing. There are digital printers that have 8 colour printing and the stock that is used also has a huge influence too. But a great article and thanks for sharing.

  • Benton Gorman Reply

    I think that it is important not to overlook the advances of Digital printing. There are digital printers that have 8 colour printing and the stock that is used also has a huge influence too. But a great article and thanks for sharing.

  • Lance Wyatt Reply

    can you help me find an industrial digital printer , with a fast efficent delivery system for stock stand up pouch bags, that have been manufacturedin bulk from the reel

    We have a demand for small run printing of stock stand up pouches , instead of labels and are searching for a solution

    Thank you Lance

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