Offset versus Digital Print

Let’s start with a very topical subject – to print offset, or to print digital – which is best?

First, let’s narrow down what we mean by ‘digital print’.

Whilst we use some of the most technologically advanced digital print gear in the market, not everyone else does. Our most commonly used digital press is the HP Indigo – This is a true digital offset press – it uses liquid inks much like an offset press, and the image is transferred to a rubber blanket before impressing on to the sheet – in the same way as an offset press. It’s pretty much as close to offset as you can get – in fact, some might argue the result is actually better.

But this is a an extremely expensive piece of kit and if you were to trundle off to any old copy centre to get your business cards printed there’s every chance they’ll print them on a machine not much better than your office photocopier, and they’ll call it ‘digital print’.

So the term ‘digital print’ can be misleading.

But let’s assume you’ve chosen a digital printer with the right sort of gear (that’s us, in case you missed it), let’s now explore the difference in the processes between good quality offset and good quality digital (because there’s bad quality offset out there too if you’re unlucky enough to find it).

The Digital Press is reasonably quick to set up, so it has a low set up cost, but is more expensive to run per sheet printed.

On the other hand, the Offset Press is expensive to set up (plates are required for every colour separation) but it has a low cost per sheet to run.

So if your run size is small, digital will usually be more cost effective, but if your run size is large, offset will generally be cheaper.

But what do we mean by “small run size”. It comes down to how many ‘press sheets’ are being run. In most cases, the press sheet is SRA3 in size on a digital press and we fit 20 business cards up on a sheet. If you need 1000 cards, then we are only printing 50 press sheets (plus a few for ‘make-readies’ or copies to set the machine up on). 50 press sheets is a very small run so it makes sense to do this on a digital press.

However, if you are doing 5000 A3 posters, we only fit one poster on a press sheet so it means a run of 5000 press sheets – this is a quantity that is probably better suited to an offset press.

The next deciding factor is timing – It can take 4 to 5 days to run a job on an offset press but just 1 to 2 days on a digital press, so if you are desperate for your job to be printed urgently, it may be better to print digitally, even if it works out slightly more expensive.

If you’re not sure the best process to use, give us a call or drop in and see us. We’re happy to work out costs both ways and give you any advice we can to determine the best process for your job.