The printing world is all about choices; the stock you’ll use, the colours, the size of the document and the size of the print run. There’s a choice to be made when printing that most folks are unaware of; that choice is between printing methods, namely offset or digital printing. This difference is about the technique used to print; both are incredibly useful, depending on the project you want to complete.


Digital printing is the kind of printing you’ve most likely used yourself; your home printer and your office printer are digital printers, using drums filled with toner to print the documents you need. This setup is great for home offices because it enables you to quickly print a wide variety of documents; the cost of the equipment is also quite inexpensive.


Offset printing, conversely, works more like the printing presses that have been used long before computers. Rather than a computer directing where things need to be printed, etched plates press down to apply ink to the document; in a CMYK setup, there are four presses, each of which applies a given colour. These setups are quite a bit more expensive than digital, because you need to buy printing presses; they also take quite a bit longer to get running, as you have to apply the ink to the presses, and the press needs to run through some scrap copies before the ink is ready to go.


Given the laborious process that goes into offset printing, you might wonder why it’s used at all. First, it’s much better at large print runs; the ink for offset printers is less expensive than the drums of toner you need for digital printing. Second, offset printing will give you higher fidelity copies than digital; because the ink is created specifically for the offset printer, you can get exact coloration using the Pantone Color System®. Finally, offset printers can be used for custom-sized papers and print jobs that can’t be duplicated by digital printing.


Digital printing isn’t without its advantages, though. Because the information is consistently fed to the printer by a computer, rather than manually etched onto plates, you can vary what documents are printed in a given print run using variable data printing. Smaller print runs are much more cost-effective using digital printing; imagine putting in all the work to get an offset printer running just to print ten copies! It’s important to note here that the number of copies is what is relevant, not the number of pages. Say you want to print 500 copies of a book with 200 distinct pages. For each copy, you’d have to have 200 different offset printing setups, which isn’t worth the effort for only 500 books - you should go digital. Crank that number up to 50000 and offset printing makes sense.

Your print shop will be able to guide you towards the right printing method for you, depending on how many copies you need and the level of customization and fidelity that you require. Don’t hesitate to get a quote before going in to get a print job done; the more information you have, the better you can budget for and plan your printing project!