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Offset vs. Digital Printing

Offset printing or digital printing? It seems like a complex decision, but it isn't when you understand each of their differences and benefits. More often than not, the outcome you expect for each project can help make the decision for you.

Choosing between offset printing and digital printing for business projects depends on a variety of factors. Printing is more than a simple process of applying ink to paper, but the decision is less difficult if you consider each factor involved. In addition to print quality, business printing projects need to consider printing costs, production time for each job, the quantity required, the type of paper that must be used, color fidelity and format. Naturally, every new project will differ in each of these categories.

The primary differences between offset and digital printing are quality and method. Offset printing is based on a technology called lithography, in which the desired image is engraved into a plate. The plate does not directly contact the sheet, but transfers the ink through a rubber blanket placed over it. This is how it got its name, because the image offsets from the plate to the blanket and then from the blanket to the paper. Whereas digital printing involves a high-speed laser that exposes an image onto photosensitive material, which attracts electrically charged toner. These charged toner particles are then transferred to the paper and fused with heat and pressure.

Different results occur from each method, especially in terms of quality. If quality overrides all other considerations, then offset is the best choice. Offset can be imaged to a higher resolution, whereas digital printing can't, and is therefore necessary for projects like fine art prints. Offset can also print to a wider range of papers types and has a high reproduction speed.

If a project needs to be printed quickly and requires a limited amount of copies, then digital printing may be the best choice. Unlike offset, digital printing can begin as soon as the image file is sent to the printer. Another benefit of digital printing is that sheets can be handled immediately after printing, which is handy when the project requires bindery operations such as folding, cutting or padding.

An important tip to remember before you print is to prepare the document in a language that can be understood by the printers. This can be achieved using special design programs created specifically for this task. These programs are difficult to use without prior experience or knowledge, therefore having your documents professionally prepared will ensure they are correct and ready for print.

Of course, the importance of proofing can't be stressed enough. In a perfect world, files would transfer to the printer flawlessly, producing the exact design, layout, typesetting and color desired for each project. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Proofing is a necessary step that will save you from exaggerated costs and time caused by overlooked errors. Once the proof looks acceptable, printers have the green light to continue production.