What's the Difference Between Offset and Digital Printing?

Offset printing uses plates to transfer your document onto a rubber “blanket” and then roll that image onto a sheet of paper with wet ink. It’s called offset printing because the ink does not transfer directly to the paper but hits the blanket first. There is one plate for each color being transferred to the page. Therefore, for a full -color document, there are four plates, 1 each of cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K) - which is called 4-color offset printing. You can also do single-color offset, 2-color offset, as well as other combinations. Generally these documents involve using Pantone PMS spot colors and are used when a client wants to match a specific color that cannot be duplicated with traditional 4-color offset printing or digital printing.

Digital printing doesn’t use plates but instead generally uses toner, like a laser printer; although larger printers do use liquid ink. Digital print is your go-to choice when you only want a small quantity of items or you need variable data printed (VDP) on a piece. Offset printing cannot accommodate VDP. Digital printing is what used to be thought of as copying, but since we are more apt to use digital files now over hard copies, the term copier has become outdated.

What Are the Advantages of Offset Printing?

  • Large quantities can be printed cost effectively

  • The higher the print quantity, the cheaper the per piece price becomes

  • More paper types and custom finishes can be used

  • CMYK, Pantone inks and metallics can be used


What Are the Advantages of Digital Printing?

  • Able to print small quantities efficiently

  • Costs are lower for short runs versus printing offset

  • Quicker turn times to meet short deadlines

  • Variable data printing capabilities

  • Improved technology has made it much more comparable in quality to offset