Sometimes your office laser printer just isn’t going to cut it. Despite the digital revolution, the business world still goes through a lot of printed materials. From corporate presentations to promotional campaigns, not everything you need to be printed can come off your office laser printer or even the humming monster that lives in the copy room. Sometimes you need the work of a professional team and high-end printing equipment that your office won’t have unless you, for some reason, have a private printing department. This is why professional printing services have been a part of the business world for over a century, though the technology has surely advanced during that time.

Whether you need high-gloss beautiful brochures and presentation materials for an upcoming negotiation with execs or ten thousand mailers printed for your next neighborhood campaign, your business no doubt has a favorite printing service to go to. The question is: exactly which service do you need?

Digital Printing vs Offset Printing

When choosing how to print and which services to select for your printing needs, most printing businesses will have two very different options: Digital printing and offset printing. For those unfamiliar with the world of printing, this choice can seem baffling, especially when you start looking at per-page pricing. The fast way to explain the difference is that digital printing is for small very high-quality batches of printed materials while the offset printing method can make very large batches more affordable. But why, you may be wondering. And we’re here to answer.

Digital Printing Explained

Digital printing services are more closely related to the printer in your office, only your printing service isn’t using consumer-grade equipment. Digital printing reads the page layout you want to be printed from a digital file and uses a combination of laser printing and high-end toner to create beautiful and precise printed materials. Digital printing is far more flexible in the size and variation of pages you want to be printed and is best for projects, presentations, demos, and many pages of written materials.

Digital printing is most often used for custom jobs, one-offs, and small copied sets because it prints each page uniquely, pixel by colored pixel, with articulating drums of toner that move across each page in a unique pattern based on what you want to be printed. This method offers far more control over color use because the color drums are capable of mixing for any color you need but you will need to specifically request wide-form printing to get larger print materials.

Offset Printing Explained

Offset printing services, on the other hand, do not print your pages line by line with articulating drums. Instead, custom etched metal plates are created which can be used like a very high-quality stamp to print hundreds and thousands of pages with the exact same content, design, and color balance. Offset printing requires one etched plate per color used and consumes several ‘primer’ pages of paper before the plates are properly inked. However, once the offset printing system is ready, thousands of copies can be made quickly and much more affordable than digital printing them.

The reason for this is that both the ink and each sheet of paper used in offset printing is more affordable, but the setup cost for plates and priming is high enough that this method is only worthwhile if you plan on printing very large batches of copies. Because of the need for individual plates per color, offset printing is far more color-limited in terms of mixing and detail but offset machines are more readily capable of large and wide material printing.

Which Printing Service Do You Need?

If you have a small set of detailed print materials to create or a very large number of copies that you need to have printed, the choice should now be strikingly clear. However, it may be difficult to decide if you would like several copies of your print materials and aren’t sure where to draw the line. If the design of your materials is highly detailed and color-variant, you will likely want to focus on digital printing while simpler designs are better for offset printing. But the real answer will almost always be in the cost analysis. If the cost of digital printing exceeds the cost of setup and the materials for an offset print, or if offset is still more expensive than the dozen or so copies you need, by all means, make the decision that best suits your budget.

And if you’re still not sure, contact us! Our printing experts are always happy to help a client determine the perfect way to get the print materials you need.