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Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing:
Which is right for your next project?


The growth of digital printing technology has brought technical advancements, more options, and exciting new features to today’s commercial printing. It has also meant that there is some confusion when choosing the right option for your next printed project. This article endeavours to shed some light on the advantages and disadvantages of digital printing and how those compare to traditional offset lithography. It also includes a handy check list to make the decision between offset print and digital print even easier!

Most Common
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. The lithographic process is based on the repulsion of oil and water. The image to be printed gets ink from ink rollers, while the non printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non printing areas ink-free.

Mechanical Steps Eliminated in Digital Printing
Digital printing eliminates many of the mechanical steps required for conventional printing, including making plates and making the printing presses ready.

So … Which to choose? That all depends......

Advantages of Digital
• Shorter turnaround.
• Every print is the same. More accurate counts and less waste
• Cheaper low volume printing. While the unit cost of each piece may be higher than with offset printing, when setup costs are included digital printing provides lower per unit costs for very small print runs.
• Variable Data Printing is a form of customizable digital printing. Using information from a database or external file, text and graphics can be changed on each piece without stopping or slowing down the press or making new plates. For example, personalized letters can be printed with a different name and address on each letter. Variable data printing is used primarily for direct marketing, customer relationship development and advertising.

Advantages of Offset
• High image quality.
• Works on a wide range of printing stock including high gloss, heavy weight and textured stock.
• The unit cost goes down as the quantity goes up.
• Quality and cost-effectiveness in high volume jobs. While today’s digital presses are close to the cost/benefit ratio of offset for high quality work, they are not yet able to compete with the volume an offset press can produce.
• Many modern offset presses use computer-to-plate systems as opposed to the older computer-to-film work flows, further increasing quality.

Below is a check list to help you decide on the best option for you:

Quantity. Offset printing has a front-end cost load. Short runs may have a high unit cost. But as quantities increase, the unit cost goes down with offset printing. Very short runs can be much more cost effective with digital printing; while larger quantities are likely to have a lower unit cost with offset printing.
• 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.
• Colour. Digital presses use four-color process printing. If you need only black ink or one or two ink colours, offset printing may offer a more cost-effective solution. If you need four-color printing, digital may offer advantages in lower up-front costs.
• More on colour. If you’re planning to print using the Pantone® Matching System, offset printing will give you the best match, since it uses actual Pantone® ink. Digital printing simulates the colour using a four-color matching process, so some digital printers may offer less accurate colour 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 colour 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.

Use the above checklist to help you decide and talk to Johnston Press before submitting your job for advice on preparing files properly for the option you choose. We look forward to your enquiry.


The Principles of Offset Printing


Offset lithography works on a very simple principle: ink and water don't mix. In the pre press stage, digital artwork is put onto plates which are dampened first by water, then ink. The ink adheres to the image area, the water to the non-image area. Then the image is transferred to a rubber blanket and from the rubber blanket to paper. That's why the process is called "offset" -- the image does not go directly to the paper from the plates.


Types of Paper


The two main types of paper are coated and uncoated. As the name suggests coated paper has a coating applied that makes it appear smooth. Uncoated stock has no coating and can appear slightly textured to the touch.

Coated papers tend to give colours a more vibrant finish. It is important to note that when choosing a pms colour, the end result will appear duller and deeper on an uncoated stock and brighter on a coated stock. This is mainly due to the uncoated stock absorbing more of the ink.

Uncoated stock is ideal for using for corporate stationery, writing pads or projects where a textured finish is required.

Coated stocks are best used for brochures, catalogues, flyers or posters, any kind of marketing or promotional material where the desired end result is a glossy finish or bright colours.

Increasing awareness of the environment and climate change has meant that there are also a greater amount of environmentally responsible fibre sources available. These include, Virgin fibre, Recycled fibre and Alternative fibre.

Virgin fibre papers are manufactured from ‘purpose grown’ forests, so although they require a tree to be harvested, the tree is replaced by new plantings and all production of stock requires a chain of custody, thus making it extremely environmentally responsible.

Recycled papers reduce the pressure on new products by reusing old stocks. However paper can only be recycled a finite number of times and each time the paper is recycled fibres can break down. There are some important things to note about recycled papers. Firstly you cannot have recycled paper without first having paper made of virgin fibre and the recycling process requires a high level of energy consumption, such as they are not an end in themselves and cannot completely replace traditionally made papers.

Alternative fibre papers are produced from fibres other than wood pulp. The different material used ranges from denim and cotton to banana stalks, bamboo and sugar cane waste. Alternative fibres are environmentally responsible and a good way to use up produce that would otherwise be wasted.

Johnston Press offers all of these different types of environmental papers, why not talk to one of our sales staff about the best one for your next project.


CMYK versus Pantone Colour

  Colour can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions.  In a world of endless colour there are a few things to think about. There are two main ways to print colour, Process - CMYK and PMS - Spot.

In four-colour process (CMYK) digital or offset printing, primary colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black or the 'Key' colour) are mixed together to produce any and all of the colours that are seen in  magazines and colour books. This is often referred to as a ‘full’ colour print.

Spot colours, also known as PMS colours, and officially as the Pantone Matching System colours, are specific colour formula's used in offset printing that will reproduce accurately in print. Instead of simulating colours by combining the CMYK primary colours, spot (PMS) colours are pre-mixed with existing and published colour formula's. Because of this, you can rest assured that the PMS colour that you have chosen from your pantone booklet will be matched accurately every time.
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