Is Digital Printing as Good as Offset Printing?

 

Our production department fields a lot of questions regarding printing for digital, offset, and large format projects. Here is a recent question about digital printing and some tips for success:

 

Q:  Is digital printing as good as traditional offset printing?

Our digitally printed ETMG 2013 Desktop Calendar

Digitally printed ETMG 2013 Desktop Calendar

A:  Digital printing has come a long way and is now on a par with offset printing, at least to the naked eye. Most people will not be able to tell the difference. Digital printing is an excellent solution and comes in at a lower cost when printing smaller print pieces and quantities.


Here are some things to keep in mind when managing a digital print project:

 

Not all print jobs will fit on a digital press. In most cases your digital printer will have a press that can accommodate a maximum imprint area of 12 x 18”, so anything larger than 12 x 18” will need to print on an offset press which can accommodate a larger sheet size. Also smaller deliverables with larger print runs, meaning larger quantities, are more economical to print on an offset press.

The good news is that HP has recently come out with the HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press which uses a 29” sheet size. But it may be some time before this larger digital press becomes more commonplace in press rooms.

 

Discuss inks and finishes with your vendor. Some digital print houses can print spot PMS (Pantone  Matching System) inks or offer special varnish options. Be sure to ask your digital printer if they can accommodate your special ink or varnishing needs before submitting your quote request. It is also a good idea to check if any special services are done in-house or sent out to a trade finisher as that will make a difference in both your cost and timing.

 

Not all paper options are approved for the digital press. If there is some flexibility with the paper choice for your design, it is best to ask your agency or the printer for their paper recommendation to ensure best quality printing is achieved on a digital press.

 

Digital press operator performing press check on a proof.

Digital press operator performing press check on a proof. Photo: iStockphoto.com

An added benefit of going with a digital print solution is the proofing process. Outputting a proof for a digital print job is less expensive, and often more accurate, than offset print proofing solutions. A digital press allows for a first article proof to come off the press for approval of color and other elements. The proof you receive is actually the first printed version of your design. What you see is what you will get. If your digital print project has multiple pages, folds or special bindery requirements be sure to ask for an assembled prototype proof to review for approval before proceeding with the full print job..

 

Personalization and variable data printing are perfect for the digital press. This benefit of digital printing allows for added cost savings by enabling mailing labels and postage indicia to be printed directly on your mailer. But the variable data is not limited to text. Brochures or datasheets can be personalized with product information and images tailored to the recipient within the same design template and on the same digital print run.

 

Digital printing is also a great option if you are short on time. Many web-based digital print houses offer same or next-day turn for smaller jobs and a three-day turn is pretty standard in the business. By comparison, an offset print project can require a few days to receive a proof and then 3 – 5 days after proof approval for print, finishing, and bindery.

Regardless of which type of press you decide to use to output your print project, always review your project specifications with your printer early on in the design process and be sure to review a proof before printing.

 

Resources:

Moquin Digital

HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press

Pantone Matching System (PMS)

 

Further Reading:

How Using Print Brokers Reduces Printing Costs

The Proof is in the Proof!

Print Possibilities: Not So Square Anymore

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