Blog | Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing Explained

January 10, 2024

Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing Explained

So, one might think that printing is just printing, right? Not exactly. There are a variety of different methods to print with the most common being digital printing and offset printing. We’ve been talking a lot about digital printing lately, due to the recent installation of our brand-new HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet press but offset is still a printing method that we use extensively at Friesens and will continue to do so.

When comparing a digitally printed book and an offset printed book, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but each method has different ways in which they shine. Let’s look at both of them, their differences, and where it makes sense to choose one or the other.

What is Offset Printing? This is a tried, tested, and true form of printing that has been around for over 150 years. Development of the offset press came in two versions: in 1875 by Robert Barclay of England for printing on tin, and in 1904 by Ira Washington Rubel of the US for printing on paper. It’s a technique in which the inked text or image is transferred from a plate, typically aluminum, onto a rubber “blanket”, which is then rolled onto a sheet of paper. It’s called offset because the ink isn’t transferred directly onto the paper. Many book pages are printed at the same time on large sheets or reels of paper, which is then folded and cut to produce 4, 8, 16, 32, or 64 smaller sheets (called a GATHERING or SIGNATURES).

What is Digital Printing? This method of printing, introduced in the 1980s, doesn’t use plates the way offset printing does, but instead uses options like toner or liquid ink. This method is superior when lower quantities are needed. Generally, this process deposits pigment and toner, respectively, onto substrates. They don’t permeate the substrate but form a thin layer on the surface that is adhered by toner. Digital printing evolved from the demand of needing only a few copies printed at a time.

When to use offset printing?

  • if you’re printing lots of copies (2,000+ for black & white, 1,000+ for colour accurate, 3,000+ for pleasing colour)
  • if you’re printing a book where fine detail and accurate colour is important, like an art book for a museum
  • if you want to be able to choose from a variety of paper types

When to use digital printing?

  • if you only need a small number of copies (under 2,000 for black & white, under 1,000 for colour accurate, under 3,000 for pleasing colour)
  • if you want to save on costs
  • if you need to be able to have copies printed in a short amount of time

Ready to print? Get in touch to learn about Friesens digital and offset book printing options.

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