What Is the Difference Between Offset Printing and Digital Printing Equipment?

Offset printing and digital printing equipment are the most common technologies found in the commercial printing industry. Each represents a unique printing method which produces different results, and which is more appropriate for different types of print jobs.

When outsourcing printing, companies may come across these terms. Despite their similarity in appearance, the underlying technology is drastically different. Understanding these differences is key to effectively leveraging outsource printing as the cost-effective, time-saving strategy that it is.

Before outsourcing a print job, take the time to understand the difference between offset and digital printing and how they can effect your specific print project or printing needs. 


Offset Printing and Digital Printing Defined

Offset printing and digital printing are two drastically different types of printing technology commonly used by commercial printers. Understanding the difference is essential when outsourcing printing jobs.

What Is Digital Printing?

Digital printing uses technology very similar to a laser printer. During digital printing, lasers create an electrostatic charge which causes toner to “stick” to a drum. The drum is rolled over the paper, and then the heat fuses the toner to the paper. The printing process uses toner in a combined mix of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) dots to create the image. Digital printing equipment has a much faster setup time, but it may not produce the ultra-beautiful prints of an offset printer.

What Is Offset Printing?

An offset printing machine uses a series of etched aluminum plates to transfer an image onto a rubber blanket. Then the printer rolls that image onto a sheet of paper. Offset printing gets its name from this process and the fact that the ink is not applied directly to the paper, but rather to a rubber blanket. Due to this process, the setup takes more time, but it tends to produce more accurate color reproduction and crisp printing at larger quantities.


How to Choose Between Offset and Digital Printing For Your Print Job

Offset and digital printing each have their own advantages in different situations.

To break it down, use digital printing when:

  • A print project needs fewer or shorter runs
  • High speed/faster turnaround time and cost-savings are favored
  • The project requirements call for variable data or customized pieces (unique code, name or address)
  • There is a strong preference to print on demand, rather than maintain a stockpile

Digital presses are better suited for quick, short runs which need to leverage advanced technology like customization. For example, mailers, business cards, and personalized letterheads would be sent to a digital printer.

An offset printing machine shines in other scenarios. Consider outsourcing to an offset printer when:

  • Large runs are involved (the larger the run, the more cost-effective the project will be)
  • The printing job requires a wide range of custom finishes, unusual paper types, or specialty inks such as metallic and Pantone® colors
  • Printing on a wide range of surfaces is desired (including wood, cloth, metal, leather, etc.)
  • The highest possible color and clean image quality is favored

An offset press cannot handle variable data. However, offset printing has a greater range of color options because it can use actual Pantone® ink or metallic inks. Millions of organizations use the Pantone® Matching System each day to make sure they are using the appropriate colors for each project.

Once it is set up, offset printing is much cheaper at higher quantities. The more that is printed, the cheaper each piece becomes. Therefore, choose an offset printing machine for high volume, high-quality runs.


Short Runs vs. Large Runs

For short runs, digital printing does not have a setup fee so it can be far more economical than offset printing. However, because offset printing can print so quickly, the offset price per piece is not static – it decreases with quantity. Therefore for large runs, offset printing becomes more economical than digital printing because the setup fee is absorbed by the decreasing price per piece. 

A general rule of thumb is that quantities up to about 500 will most likely be printed digitally, and higher quantities will most likely be done with offset printing. Knowing the general volume cut off is especially important if you are doing a small short run order rather than of a larger run of books.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to offset or digital printing. It all depends on the quantity and type of print job you are trying to accomplish.


The Benefits of Outsourced Printing

Companies choose to outsource their printing because of the advantages this printing method offers.

  • Access to more powerful technology. By outsourcing a print job, a company gains access to commercial digital printing equipment and offset printing equipment to produce higher quality materials than what its in-house technology can create.
  • Reduced overall costs. Outsource printing is a viable strategy for reducing total costs by letting a company print only what is needed.
  • Quality printing done by professionals. Commercial printers know how to make the most of their specialized machines and understand print jobs more effectively. Companies can enjoy expert guidance for maximum print quality.
  • Increased efficiency of an in-house printing environment. Outsourcing a print job prevents in-house printers from getting tied up by a job that is too large or complicated for them to handle efficiently. Since companies rely on printers to do business, outsourcing helps prevent a department-wide slowdown.

Learn more about the benefits of RJ Young’s Outsourced Printing Services HERE.


Trust RJ Young with Your Outsourced Printing Needs

Offset printing and digital printing both have their advantages. However, each are most appropriate for different print jobs entirely. Working with an outsourced printing service provider who understands these differences can help save time and money while producing a high-quality job.

RJ Young offers full-service printing expertise for every job imaginable. From stunning visuals to top-quality branded items, companies who outsource their printing enjoy expert guidance, access to in-house graphic designers, and access to top-notch technology.

Outsourcing large and complex print jobs saves time and money, as well as helps you put your best foot forward in your printed materials. Contact RJ Young today to learn how you can outsource your printing.