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Offset or Digital?

Consider these factors to get the best printed product at the best price.

By Jill Wangler, Director of Marketing

If you’re a CMO, print is a likely tactic in your overall communications plan. There are many options when manufacturing these products. Do you know enough to have an intelligent conversation with your managers, print procurement department, or even your marketing service providers? Don’t fret, we’ve broken down the basics here:

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, on the other hand, is more common for lower volume products.  Here digital presses reproduce images directly to media from a digital file created on a computer through the process of toner-based electrophotography.

So which is better? The truth is that they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Offset Press Advantages

  • Quality. Offset usually provides a higher quality finished product because it embeds the ink into the paper stock. This provides a smoother and often higher quality look.
  • Pantone Colors. Offset gives you the ability to utilize Pantone® (PMS) or “custom” colors
  • Varnishes and Aqueous Coatings. Most digital presses do not offer these options.
  • Variety of Stocks. Wider ranges of stocks, such as leather or thicker paper, can run through an offset printer. Many digital presses cannot handle thicker substrates.
  • Higher Volume. Offset is usually more cost friendly on higher quantity jobs.

Digital Press Advantages

  • Faster. Digital presses do not require the plate-making process of offset, so turn-time can be much less.
  • Consistency. If maintained properly, a digital press produces a consistent product with each run.
  • Lower Volume. Digital is typically less costly on lower quantity jobs (somewhere between 500-2000 sheets).
  • Customization. Digital technology allows the modification of the image (variable data) with each impression.  This is a great option for marketing campaign utilizing PURL’s (Personalized URL’s) and other personalized data to create a highly relevant message.

So in general: if you need a high quality piece with very specific color matching requirements, choose offset. If you need something very quickly, choose digital. If you have a very large volume, go with offset. If you have a variable product, digital is your option.

If you are somewhere in the middle on these options and still not sure, your print manufacturer can give you the options in dollars and turn times.

Consider getting to know the different technologies and see them in person. Schedule a tour and see the press running first hand; this will give you a better perspective on their differences.

In short, neither press is really “better” than the other. Rather offset and digital complement each other, each excelling where the other is lacking. Arming yourself with this knowledge will help you get the best printed product at the best price.

To learn more about these systems or schedule a tour at Fineline, email me JillW@FinelinePrintingGroup.com.

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