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Introduction to Offset Printing
This article serves as a basic introduction to offset printing.
Offset printing, also called lithography, uses a large printing press with a series of printing plates that transfer ink onto paper, which is then cut, folded, and bound to form a final product.
When you think of offset printing, think of the word transfer. Each step in this printing technique involves the transfer of images (text and art) from one material to the next. First, your images are digitally transferred onto a set of plates, which collect ink to transfer your images onto a rubber blanket that transfers images onto paper.
There are two primary types of offset printing: sheet-fed and web. The most common alternative to offset printing is known as digital or print-on-demand.
PrintNinja uses sheet-fed presses. These machines use pre-cut sheets of paper, called parent sheets, that are fed through the printing press one sheet at a time. They are best used for short or mid-range runs (250 to 10,000 units).
- Highest quality printing
- Wide range of specialty options
- Low per-unit costs
- High setup costs
- Medium minimum order sizes
Web offset printing presses use a roll of paper that is continuously fed through the printing press. They are far more complicated than sheet-fed presses and can be as large as an entire building. Web presses are used for high-volume printing (10,000+ units).
- Extremely low per-unit cost
- Extremely high setup costs
- Large minimum order sizes
- Lower quality than sheet-fed
Digital printing (also known as Print-On-Demand or POD) is not an offset printing method, but it’s a good one to understand. Digital printing uses equipment similar to a large home laser or inkjet printer. This approach is best used for small runs (1 to 150 units).
- No setup costs
- No minimum orders
- High per-unit costs
- Less consistency in color and quality
- Fewer specialty options
What Can You Print with Offset?
Offset printing can be used to print on paper, cardboard, plastic, and even chocolate! This printing method is a popular choice for card and board games, record jackets, and multi-page projects. Games and books follow the same printing process, but post-press is where the similiarties end.
Most of our Printing 101 resource pages focus on four-color sheet-fed offset printing since those are the machines used by PrintNinja’s factories. These presses use four colors of ink — Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) — to produce the vast majority of full-color projects printed worldwide.