Offset Printing Vs Digital Printing | Printing Terminology 101

Offset printing and digital printing are two of the most common used methods for commercial print projects. They produce similar results in different ways.

Offset and digital printing are two of the most commonly used methods for commercial print projects. Though they produce similar results, these two methods are quite different and work best for different project requirements.

What is Offset Printing?

Offset printing, also known as offset lithography, is a common printing technique where the inked image is transferred from a printing plate to a rubber blanket, then finally to the printing surface. This method is best for large runs and provides accurate color reproduction resulting in a clean and professional product.

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing is a printing process that involves toner sitting on top of the piece of paper instead of being absorbed by it. The printing process uses toner in a combined mix of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black dots to create the image. This is typically used on short-run jobs using a large format or high volume laser or inkjet printer.

What’s the difference?

Both methods are useful and result in high-quality products. Your project’s requirements, such as quantity, color, budget etc., are what will ultimately determine which method is best for you.

Cost Effective

Offset printing prices decrease as the unit number increases. This is because of the initial cost of machine setup and plate requirement, as the machine has to be washed between print jobs for color changes. A longer run will prove to be more cost effective in this case.

Digital printing is cheaper for short-run printing because it has less of a setup cost, but a higher cost per unit.  As a general rule, digital printing is a more cost-effective option up to roughly 500 units.

Color Capabilities

Offset printing traditionally uses four ink rollers, one for each specified ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

The color application process of an offset press involves a measured amount of ink being applied to a printing plate, which is then transferred (or offset) from the plate to a sheet of paper via a rubber blanket. This process is based on the simple principle that water and oil do not mix. The images to be printed are put on a plate, then dampened by water and then ink. The ink is attracted to the image area and the water to all other areas.

Digital printing uses laser or inkjet printers with four-color-matching processes and the CMYK color mode. They can only print in grayscale and CMYK and are not able to print true colors such as Pantone or HKS. If your print job requires an absolute Pantone match, digital printing is not the right option.

Offset printing and digital printing are two of the most common used methods for commercial print projects. They produce similar results in different ways.
Take note of the difference in color between offset and digital printing, specifically the blues. (Bad Thoughts by Matt Gonos)

Don’t forget the stock

When it comes to color, it’s important to understand how the print method and the stock choice work together.  When working with uncoated stocks, there is the possibility for high ink saturation. Sometimes this can cause rub off or smudging, and a lamination on covers is a good way to protect your print. Since uncoated paper is so efficient at holding on to ink, colors tend to appear a little duller, and the spectrum of color becomes more limited. Alternatively, a coated stock does less absorbing of color, so it sits nicely on the surface and makes the colors more vibrant and bright.  

There are a variety of book paper options to choose from. What is the weight of the paper you want to use? Do you want the paper to be coated or uncoated? Should the paper be finished with a glossy or matte lamination? These are all questions you’ll want to answer in order to choose the best paper for your project. Get to know all your stock options: Book Paper Sample Pack.

Turnaround Time

Due to the setup, maintenance, and generally higher order quantities, turnaround time for offset printing can be slightly longer.

Digital printing is typically for smaller quantity jobs and does not require the same involved setup or maintenance between print productions which enables a quicker turnaround.

Printing with Printi?

Proofing Samples

Offset printing offers better pricing at higher quantities but is very expensive for a single proof because of the set up involved. It is much more cost effective to run a proof on a digital press.

When ordering a sample proof of your book, it’s important to think about the quantities of your final run. Printi offers free book samples for Perfect Bound, Saddle Stitch, and Spiral Bound books, but these proofs are run digitally. If you plan to order a higher quantity of books, they will be run offset and there will be some color variance between your proof and the final run.

Keep in mind

A good rule of thumb is that quantities up to about 500 will most likely be printed digitally, and higher quantities will most likely be printed offset. Knowing the general volume cut off is especially important if you’re doing a small batch order ahead of a larger run of books.

If you have any questions or would like us to quote a specific printing process, please contact us at and we’ll be happy to help.

Helpful Resources

What is Saddle Stitch? | Printing Terminology 101
What is Perfect Binding? | Printing Terminology 101
Types of Book Binding and When to Use Each
Let’s Talk Paper Stock | Types of Paper Explained

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Jackie Vlahos is the Content Specialist at Printi. She is an expert in design, marketing and anything in between. When she's not blogging her life away, she can be found with a camera in one hand and a coffee in the other.

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