February 1, 2023

Whether you are printing a novel, a brochure for your business, posters for an upcoming event, or business cards, you’ll want a quality product at a reasonable price. There are two main methods that might be used in printing your project; traditional offset printing or digital printing.

Offset Printing

With offset printing, prints are printed using wet ink and printing plates. With offset printing, words and images are printed in layers, and the ink is given time to dry between each layer. Getting a project printed this way will take a considerable amount of time, but there is a lot of attention paid to quality every step of the way. Only a few originals are made this way, and the remaining copies are copied from the original. While getting the original right carries a certain amount of expense, producing copies is actually more effective. The first copy of each page is actually a plate made from rubber or metal, which of course is more expensive to produce than an image on paper. Large print runs are how the costs are justified. Those who have a large fixed amount of copies they need may choose offset printing, even when it takes longer to receive their finished project.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is achieved by either copying a hard copy of a print, or by printing those copies from digital files.  Those with “print-ready” copy are able to send the file to their digital printer of choice and have the copies they need printed out and distributed. It is common for digital print runs to be smaller than offset printing jobs, because the cost of producing the first few copies is not vastly different from subsequent copies. When the technology of digital printing began, the quality of the finished product could be questionable in some cases, depending on the type of paper or other material the words and/or images were to be printed on. With advances in technology, digital printing will have the intended level of quality, but there are some types of paper that hold offset words and images much better.

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Print on Demand commonly utilizes digital printing, as it makes it practical to produce short print runs depending on the number of copies needed. Underestimating is no big deal, because more copies can quickly be remade without breaking the bank. If an error is discovered in the original print run, it is also easier to modify the source file and make corrections. You can also adjust old sales material from last year’s specials, modifying dates and prices, while keeping the consistency of your brand. If you are using a mailing list, it is even possible to personalize individual copies using a mail merge program while keeping the content otherwise consistent.

Choosing Between Offset and Digital Printing

For those who need large print runs of identical copies, such as larger newspapers, magazines, or books forecasted to produce many sales, offset printing is still the go to option. At minimum, you should require at least 500 copies, and the more copies you need, the more cost-effective printing this way will be. Offset printing is also done for large quantities of smaller items, such as business cards. If you want your business card to look as bold and professional to the 700th person you hand it to as it did with the first, offset printing can help you retain that level of quality. Products meant to be displayed, such as posters, also benefit from the extra quality that comes from offset printing.

Getting that first copy with offset printing is both cumbersome and expensive, so a good editor is a must before going to press. An offset printer is usually a large machine and requires a good deal of manual help in order to get things just right.

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With smaller print runs, the digital printing process can begin with an email attachment. The first print run can be just a few copies, without demanding the investment that is needed for offset printing. Many people and businesses like to begin with a very small print run in order to give themselves a chance to look over the “hard copy” (or proofs) of the finished project before it is distributed.   Digital printing is much faster to produce, so you can get the printed product out quicker, and correct mistakes quicker and easier. For many materials, good quality is perfectly sufficient, and the superb and sharper image that can be achieved with offset printing is not worth the extra time or expense. For other jobs, like wedding invitations, it may be worth it to pay more for cleaner copies, even if your print runs aren’t huge.

Whatever you choose, it is important to consider what you have to say, the likeliness that your message could change, and whether or not you want to prioritize image over content. By discussing your project, as well as possible related projects with a printing professional can help you decide whether offset printing, digital printing, or perhaps some mixture of the two is best for your personal or business goals.