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Offset vs. Digital Printing


Offset vs. Digital Printing

Confused about the difference between offset vs. digital printing? We can help clarify.

Catalogs and magazines have remained a powerful marketing tool for brands and businesses. Even today in the world of ecommerce, companies like Anthropologie and Patagonia rely on print materials to engage their customers and reassert their brand with stunning visuals and engaging stories.

Positioning your catalog or magazine as a marketing tool starts with yielding the most value out of your print dollar. Often the biggest question you’ll face is deciding between printing digitally (print-on-demand) and offset printing, also known as lithography. We’ll walk you through what you can expect from both these options in terms of quality and budget.

What’s the difference between print-on-demand and offset printing?

Digitally printed, print-on-demand is a convenient and flexible printing process that prints much like your printer at home. Requiring little, if any, setup costs print-on-demand makes it simple to quickly execute and distribute printing projects. On the other hand, offset printing uses a large printing press that transfers ink from custom-made plates onto large sheets of paper called parent sheets. These sheets are then cut and bound to create your project. Offset printing requires higher setup costs, but as we’ll outline below is ideal for higher quality projects.

How will color come across?

The ink applying process for print-on-demand and offset printing is completely different, which directly impacts how your project will look. Print-on-demand uses toner, powder that is fused to the paper’s coating during the printing process. Conversely offset printing transfers real ink to your paper in four layers of color: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Each color requires its own custom metal plate, which is why this process takes up to a week. Unlike print-on-demand, the offset printing process is ideal for photos, drawings, and rich visuals as it prints color to a degree that print-on-demand can’t compete with. If you’re interested in black and white printing, print-on-demand is still a good choice, but will lack the depth of color that offset printing inherently brings to the table.

What about materials and binding?

The ink applying process also directly affects the type of paper that can be used for both print-on-demand and offset printing. Because of the way toner is applied, the paper used for print-on-demand is required to have a glossy coating that comes across as shiny in person. Conversely, the paper used for offset printing absorbs ink, increasing the number of material options for your project. For instance, if you’re seeking a sophisticated, matte feel that uncoated paper provides, offset printing is the way to go. Offset printing can also accommodate irregular paper sizes, contrary to your options for print-on-demand.

Print-on-demand can also limit your binding options as many vendors only offer saddle stitched, or folded and stapled, binding. Offset printing can open the door to higher quality binding options. PrintNinja offers perfect bound catalogs, where pages are gathered, sewn, and then glued into a cover to create a sturdy, square spine that won’t fall apart in transit.

What makes sense for you?

If you don’t know how many copies you need, print-on-demand makes it possible to quickly print and distribute. Likewise as the “on-demand” suggests, you can instantly print more as needed, but this advantage caps out on runs over 500 copies. After this threshold, though it takes longer, offset printing is more cost effective per unit, especially in print runs from 500 to 1000 units. Likewise, creating a product that looks and feels professional requires the finesse that offset printing facilitates.

Ultimately print-on-demand is a great option for shorter printing runs that aren’t heavily focused on visuals. Transforming an average publication into a high-end marketing tool however, greatly benefits from the flexibility that offset printing can facilitate.