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Digital v. Offset Printing

Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY! Remember the radio commercials where the announcer would start off speaking very loudly, with the last “Sunday” being yelled at you? Well, that type of marketing works for some – others find humorous or emotional marketing to be more effective. Print marketing is the same way. Some folks don’t really care how well the piece is designed, what colors are used, or whether there is white space that allows your message to breathe. (I won’t go into whether Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts are used… that is for another blog entry.) I’m here to tell you that print marketing really does matter, and it is an extension of your company’s perception. How do you want your customers/potential customers to perceive your business? Are you in business to make the world a better place, or just make a buck?



So, what is the difference between Digital vs. Offset Printing, and what are they?
Offset printing (otherwise known as traditional printing) is the printing technique in which the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. Digital printing (which has been referred to as a glorified color copy but is really much more than that today) is a method in which digital based content is applied directly to a surface (usually, but not limited to, paper).


Digital Printing
Digital printing began to receive a wider acceptance in the commercial printing world in the late 1990’s (remember the “indigo”?). There are no metal plates required, making low quantities and quicker turnaround times feasible – even as quickly as same day. The unique ability that digital printing has is that it allows you to have variable data. This includes not only text, but graphics as well, which can be customized PER PIECE for a personal marketing experience.


Digital Pros

  • quicker turnaround with less setup
  • cost effective for lower quantities (typically less than 500)
  • allows for variable data and graphics
  • less expensive for smaller quantities
  • hard copy proof is exactly what the finished piece will look like


Digital Cons

  • sometimes give you streaks from toner lines in solid areas
  • ink is baked on top of paper and will crack when folded
  • limited paper stock sizes, textures and colors
  • consistent color accuracy typically not available


Offset Printing
Offset printing has a strong command of the industry mainly due to the control of color. Have you ever heard of “Coca-Cola Red”? Well, there is good reason for that. The Coca-Cola Company uses a very specific ink formula (known as a “spot” color) that allows consistency whenever their red is printed. Yes, it costs more, but the color of their red is just as important as their mark. Offset printing quality is also superior, allowing you to not only have different line screens that produce sharp results, but also a much wider variety of substrates (paper stocks) that can allow your per-piece cost to be much cheaper in higher quantities. Offset printing is really the only option for large quantities since the presses can print around 18,000 sheets per hour.


Offset Pros

  • superior quality with sharper images
  • printers can match any color exactly – around the world
  • allows for spot (Pantone) colors for exact color matching
  • liquid ink is absorbed into paper and reacts better when folded
  • larger size sheet sizes – up to 38×50
  • cost per piece is much lower with larger quantities


Offset Cons

  • setup can much longer (plates, proofs and drying)
  • proof is provided on exact paper stock or accurate representation when specialty paper is used
  • variable data capabilities cannot match digital


So, why did I write on this?
The designer part of me always chooses the quality side of printing. It takes a lot of time and effort to come up with a good design and strong message, so the delivery should be just as powerful. The former-business-owner side of me might choose cheap materials to maximize profits. But at what expense? The rule for me is “will this piece ever be printed again, or is it part of family of printed items?” If the answer is yes, then the reprint needs to match the original perfectly – mainly in brand colors and logo. There is nothing worse that having a series of newsletters or postcards come to your mailbox that you happen to save, and realizing that the colors don’t match between them. Believe me, people notice.


Most folks take time to make sure their socks match when they leave the house each day, and check the mirror to make sure things are in place. Well, your marketing materials should reflect that same image. If you don’t really care about things that personify your character, then by all means, go for the cheapest/fastest every time.


With digital printing, colors can shift depending on whether it’s raining. Humidity can greatly affect the technology and give you different results from a piece that was printed a week or month ago. If you ever plan to have a piece reprinted, the odds of you getting the colors to match the original set of materials are almost zero. It’s like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. The quality will only get worse each time.


p.s. Please, please, please don’t ever get your business cards digitally printed. It screams “I’m cheap and I don’t care, now what can I do for your business”. Just poke me in the eye and get it over with!


With Love,

John Clavijo Sig





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