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Determining Off-Set or Digital Printing

Alphagraphics STL recently completed a campaign entitled “Rethink Print,” where we put the spotlight on the merits of our best-selling product: print media. Today we are discussing the merits of offset printing and digital printing.

Our goal is to equip customers to make wise decisions, so we’re updating one of our best blog posts on this topic from a few years ago.

We hope you enjoy it…

At Alphagraphics, we’ve found that many of our customers like to be involved in determining how their projects will be produced.

When it comes to printing, our shop relies on two different processes: we refer to these as ‘offset’ and ‘digital’.

The ‘Big Picture’ Difference

Offset lithography is the most common high volume commercial printing technology. In offset printing, the desired print image is burned onto a plate and is then transferred (or offset) from the plate to a rubber blanket, and then to the printing surface. Digital printing eliminates many of the mechanical steps required for conventional printing.

“So…which is better?” Well, that depends on several factors.

‘Pros’ of Digital
Determining Off-Set or Digital Printing-1

Printing digitally in CMYK.

A Digital Printer

  • Digital printing is a quicker process.
  • Because the process is computerized, every print within a digital job is typically the same.
  • Cheaper low volume printing: when setup costs are included, digital provides lower per unit costs for small quantity jobs.
  • Digital allows for customization through ‘Variable Data Printing’. When doing a direct mailer or targeted marketing job, this is the process we prefer to use. Digital printing allows for quick, efficient file processing with consistent results.
Advantages of Offset


Determining Off-Set or Digital Printing-2

An Offset Press

  • This older process always yields a higher image quality.
  • It also works on a wide range of printing surfaces including paper, wood, cloth, metal, leather, rough paper and plastic.
  • The unit cost goes down as the quantity goes up.
  • Offset allows for quality and cost-effectiveness in high volume jobs. New technologies allow this older process to create an even higher quality product.

Not Sure Which is Right Choice for You?

That’s where we come in. At AlphaGraphics, our capabilities in digital and offset printing allow us to focus on what success looks like for you and your job, within your desired budget.

Still like to make your own decisions?

Here are some things to remember when planning your next print project:

  • Quantity: With offset, low quantities tend to cost more. Of course, as quantities increase, the unit cost goes down. With digital, the low quantities are cheaper. The computerized process also allows for variation at high quantities.
  • Printing medium: Do you need or want a special paper, finish or unusual printing surface, or unique size? The options are increasing continually for digital, but offset printing still offers the most flexibility.
  • Color: Digital presses use four-color process printing. If you need only black ink or one or two ink colors, offset printing may offer a more cost-effective solution. If you need four-color printing, digital may offer advantages in lower up-front costs. Determining Off-Set or Digital Printing-3More on color: Offset printing tends to yield higher quality, vibrant ink work.
    • To get technical, if you’re planning to print using the Pantone® Matching System (PMS), offset printing will give you the best match, since it uses actual Pantone® ink.
    • Digital printing simulates the color using a four-color matching process, so some digital printers may offer less accurate color matching on projects.
  • Turnaround: If you need it fast, digital usually offers quicker delivery.
  • Proofing: Digital offers accurate proofs since you see an actual sample of the printed piece. Accurate color proofing for offset printing can be expensive.
  • Customization: Without question, digital printing offers the most affordable way to customize marketing materials, direct mail pieces, letters, etc.

We hope this information helps you to begin determining what is important to you on your next project, and talk to us before submitting your job for advice. At AlphaGraphics, our full-service capabilities and resources in digital and offset printing enable us to focus on success for you and your print requirements, your budget, and your timeline.


Note: This blog appears as an updated/revised version of an earlier post written by Mike Donnelly, former owner of AG STL.  “Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing: From the Desk of Mike Donnelly” was originally posted on 3/11/2013 and can be found in our blog archives.
AG Staff Writers

Posted by AG Staff Writers