A question that often comes up when customers place an order is “why is there a quote for digital and a quote for offset printing?” Often a customer might have heard these terms from a friend or business acquaintance that has gotten printing done in the past. Some swear by digital for the cost effectiveness and some swear by offset for its color accuracy. Either way is a good choice it just matters on the end use for you. We will take a look at a few examples and a little history of each technique.
Digital printing was started in the early 1990’s. The first digital printer was called Indigo and was the beginning of the digital printing age. Color management, personalization, lower quantities, and faster turnaround times have made digital printing a very popular resource since its advent. Lower quantities meant you could print exactly what you needed at the time. This made digital appealing to the small business owner and office desktop publisher. Every office has a small printer now or a Xerox machine to make copies and scans from. Full color digital printing is not only for paper products but now vinyl and label material can be run digitally as well. Color accuracy used to be a problem for digital printing. With recent technological advancements color matching has become very accurate when compared to Offset printing. Fluorescent colors and metallic inks cannot be printed digitally, though, and must be run as a separate spot color or not at all. The drawback for digital printing is that if you have a larger demand for say 50,000 brochures, a digital press cost per piece is exorbitant. Digital printers are simply not made for running large amounts of paper.
Offset printing is described by Wikipedia as a “printing technique in which the inked image is transferred (or "offset") from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface.”* Depending on how many colors your project has there can be anywhere from 1-4 plates and even sometimes a 5th or 6th plate for a varnish or special color. 4 color process can be run and produce full color images such as what you see in a magazine, brochure, or a booklet. Offset presses print using the CMYK method. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. The black plate is represented by K because it is the Keyline plate that everything else is aligned with, but also, K is not the first letter of any other color.* What we think of as modern offset printing really started in the 1950’s and as the technology has advanced so has the updates to the process. The way we print now is very similar to those early days but has been more refined and has had more technological and digital elements incorporated into it.
Each color has its own plate and is printed in a certain percentage of ink. CMYK is a subtractive printing method because if you have 100% of all of the colors you have Black. If you have 0% of all the colors you have white.
Offset printing can give great results on larger press runs. Larger press sheets (example: offset 19”x25” compared to digital 13”x19”) can be used resulting in more pieces being printed per sheet than on a smaller digital sheet. Pages can be printed in such a way that when folded you can get multiple pages of a booklet together. This results in more pieces being able to be run at the same time out of one sheet instead of having to trim out multiple sheets. Accurate color control is one big plus of offset printing. If you have a specific color for your logo or want a metallic/fluorescent ink that can be accomplished easily with offset printing. You could run a 4 color process poster and then have a 5th specific pantone color printed on top. When you’re looking for color accuracy and large press runs offset is the way to go. The downsides to offset printing is that it does take slightly longer than digital printing. The artwork has to be transferred to a set of plates and then scheduled to run on the press. There is more spoilage on an offset press as well for setup. This sometimes results an overage or deficit in quantity. It is an industry standard to include the overs/unders in the final invoice typically up to 10% of the original quantity.
No matter the project or quantity there are options out there to help you get your printed pieces from an idea to a physical completed piece. Just ask your salesperson or customer service rep for more info on the stocks, inks, and printing methods that can be used on your particular project.
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