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Understanding the Difference Between Offset & Digital Printing

It can be very easy to get all muddled up in the different kinds of printing, M3 Printing is here to help! There are a lot of different terms that are commonly used and they often go hand-in-hand with wildly different needs and costs. We’ll go over a few here so that you can be more informed.

Digital, Offset, Large Format, and Color vs. Black & White

Digital and Offset

Two of the most common kinds of printing are Offset and Digital. Offset is what you probably think of when you think of large-scale print runs. Large presses have plates created which are then used to ‘offset’ the image from the plate to paper. In comparison most digital printing uses high volume laser or inkjet printers to transfer an image directly onto the material.

Offset printers are best used for high-volume jobs. The nature of the process means that they become significantly more cost effective at high volumes while retaining a high quality. This does mean that they take longer to produce. The majority of the material cost for offset printers is up front which makes it inefficient for smaller jobs or jobs that are not gang-run. Digital on the other hand is a much better choice for small runs.

Digital is much quicker and more flexible, allowing for easy modifications and special additions like variable data. The downside is that digital machines are more expensive for larger prints as rather than creating plates you’re printing each sheet individually.

Large Format

Large Format printing is printing that goes above the standard size for a regular commercial press. These prints required specialized machines to print. This includes anything from banners to large posters. The maximum size depends on the machine and material but usually these machines have a hard limit based on the width of the machine.

For example, banner machines often top out at about 8 feet in width. The length can go much, much longer since it is material being run through the machine.

Color vs Black & White

When deciding how to print you need to figure out if you want to print in full color or in black and white. Generally black and white is significantly cheaper than full color printing. You usually want to go for B&W if you’re just printing text and color if you’re doing flyers, posters, or anything that strongly requires color.

The grey area (pun intended) is when you only have a small amount of color. For many printers there is no meaningful difference between a full color paper and something that only has a splash of color in a logo. They are either using color or B&W. Thus if you know your image is mostly monochrome it might be best to consider if the small amount of color is actually needed as it will bring the cost up quite a bit.