You’re almost ready to go with your company’s new brochure, annual report or other materials. The images are sharp and clear, the text is perfect, and the layout is exactly how you want it.
Now you’ve just got to transform this great design into something tangible(and make sure it still looks fantastic when a customer or stakeholder actually has it in their hands).
That means you need to print it—and it means you need to choose between digital and offset printing. It’s a more important choice than you might realize, because it can have big implications for your budget, your schedule, and the quality of the final piece.
Which one is right for you? That’s impossible to say without knowing more about your project. But let’s take a look at how digital and offset printing works, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The offset printing process
If you’ve ever seen a newspaper press, you’ve seen offset printing. Here’s a basic explanation: The process begins with the image being transferred from a metal plate onto a rubber roll. Ink is then applied to the roll, and paper (or another material) is fed through to produce the final printed product. For full-color printing, multiple rolls are used (for cyan, magenta, yellow and black, commonly referred to as CMYK) adding layers of color that combine to create the image. (See a visual demonstration here.)
- Advantages:Offset printing produces high image quality, and it’s great for high-volume jobs because the metal plates used in the process can last for many impressions (more than a million, in some instances). It can be used with a wide variety of materials, and it’s a cost-effective way to create quality prints in large numbers.
- Disadvantages:Creating plates and setting up the press takes time, so turnaround is longer—and if you find an error in your materials after the process has begun, new plates have to be created before printing can resume. The cost also can be high for short production runs.
The digital printing process
Whether you know it or not, you probably have a lot of experience with digital printing at home or work: If you’ve used an inkjet or laser printer, that’s it. This process is much easier to explain: An inkjet printer takes a digital image and transfers it directly onto paper by shooting liquid ink. A laser printer does something similar utilizing powdered toner.
- Advantages: Digital printing provides speed and flexibility; because there’s no need to create metal plates, each piece can be unique if desired. For example, you could print a run of postcards that each feature a different individual’s name and address. Digital also is less expensive than offset for small print runs, and advances in technology continue to bring the cost down for larger runs.
- Disadvantages:The quality of images can be slightly lower than offset printing, and depending on the size of the print job, the cost can be higher. Also, the material and size options for digital printing are more limited than those for offset. Also, folding a printed piece can “crack” the toner. Be assured that these disadvantages are being tirelessly attacked by the makers of digital presses, and the quality and material selections of the newest generation of digital presses is impressive.
So how do you choose?
As we said, every job is different, but here are some general guidelines.
- Choose digital: Projects that need to be done quickly; print runs under 500 pieces or so (one-off prints, advertising banners and event signage); variable-data projects (the postcard example from earlier, personalized direct-mail campaigns).
- Choose offset:Large jobs with over 500 pieces that don’t require personalization; printing on unusual materials (such as metal or plastic); projects where perfect color reproduction and/or the highest-quality images are essential.
When you work with Chalkbox, we’ll make sure your design looks perfect, of course. But we’ll also make print recommendations for your specific project based on your needs, your budget, and your schedule. Check out our work, and then get in touch to see what we can do for you.