Digital vs. Offset

Among the most common methods of printing are digital and offset. Each method has its own advantages and potential liabilities in the pursuit of the best balance of speed, cost, and quality. 


In most cases, digitally-printed products can be completed faster than offset-printed products. Offset printing requires the production of printing plates, the scheduling of run time on more complex machinery and, in some cases, additional drying time. The Print Lab operates both digital and offset machinery, however some more complicated procedures are done using outside vendors, requiring additional time to ship and receive materials. 


For many printed products, the quality of digital printing has risen to match that of most offset presses. The notable remaining differences are the absence of varnish for digital pieces, the tendency of digital inks to crack at the folds, and limitations in the ability of digital presses to run on textured and heavier-weight stocks. Keep in mind there are also limited paper sizes that can be run on digital presses. 


Short runs belong on digital presses, and longer runs belong on offset presses. Digital presses are far less expensive to set up for a run, but their cost per copy remains the same throughout the run. Offset presses are expensive to set up to begin a run, but their cost per copy usually declines dramatically as the run gets longer. Comparisons usually depend on sheet size and how many final products can be printed on each parent sheet for later finishing, but a general rule of thumb on an 8 ½” X 11” product is that fewer than 1,000 are more economical when printed digitally. 

More information and guidance is available from the Print Lab.