When you have something that needs to be printed, you'll have to make a decision whether to print it using a conventional press (sometimes referred to as Offset, Lithography or Litho) or a digital press. Which is better? That depends! There are advantages to each, so choose a printing process that offers both and your printer will help you decide which process is better for your print run.
To get you started, here are some of the differences between digital printing and conventional/Offset printing:
The biggest difference between a conventional printer and a digital printer is the process they use to print an image. Conventional presses require plates that transfer each color of ink onto your paper separately and blends of them as necessary. Digital presses spray the ink onto the paper.
Because of the way conventional printers operate, it is much more of an art form than digital printing and when done right it can deliver higher image quality and a higher quality print job.
Conventional presses use a process called Raster Image Processing (RIP). Your PDF file is converted to a plate language that burns dots onto the metal printing plate by laser. Those dots are used to transfer the ink onto your paper – again, it’s more of an art form - each color is done separately and blended onto the paper as necessary. The printing plate is mounted on a cylinder and the paper is run through the press by an operator.
Using conventional printing, you’ll have more flexibility when it comes to the material you want to print on. You can print on all types and weights of paper, plastic and other materials quite easily.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in digital printing technology. Digital printing eliminates some of the more “manual” steps mentioned above that are required for conventional/offset printing and can offer new and exciting features to today’s commercial printing as a result.
If you have a very small print quantity for your print job, you may find that digital printing offers a lower cost. This is because conventional/offset printing includes a set-up charge. When the set-up charge is factored over a very large job, it becomes inconsequential but when factored over a small run, it can increase your price-per-piece cost compared with digital printing.
Because some of the more “manual” steps are eliminated in the print process with digital, if you have a short deadline, you may find that digital printing offers a faster turnaround time.
One of the biggest advantages with digital printing may be the ability to customize your printed items. Known as Variable Data Printing, this feature allows information from a database or external file to be merged with your print job so that each piece can be customized – for instance, a different name and address can be custom printed on each piece of a direct mail campaign.
How To Choose The Right Printing Process
Which printing process you choose depends on the nature of your print job. If high quality with exact color matching is essential, then your best option would be to use conventional/offset printing. If time is of essence, then digital printing will offer an advantage over conventional/offset printing. You may find that digital printing will offer benefits such as the ability to customize your direct mail campaign that conventional/offset printing does not allow.
Regardless of your needs, it is always best to consult with your print professional as you are planning your print project. They will have the experience and expertise to make the best recommendation for your particular project and ensure you have the best possible outcome as a result.