If you are one of those people who believe that digital printing is some kind of glorified colour photocopying process, then you’re going to have to change your chip and think again.

Gone are the days of poor quality digital printing. Today’s machines produce excellent quality printing results which are indistinguishable from the traditional offset printing equivalent.

There are still some differences, however, that you should bear in mind when deciding between digital and offset print solutions for your printing requirements.

Firstly, there is a cost element. You will hear many people claiming that digital is cheaper… and this is true. But only on short print runs. In this sense the comparison with a photocopier is a fair one – you will pay per copy. So 100 copies of a piece is going to cost 10 times the cost of 10 copies. More or less – most digital printers will offer some kind of discount for larger quantities, but these will be small and will not impact significantly on your decision.

With offset printing on the other hand, there is a very large up front cost associated with machine set up. Thus the first copy to come off the machine essentially bears all that cost, and the subsequent copies only really use us the machine time, paper and ink.

Think of it this way… if you were to print 500 copies of a booklet with a digital printer, each copy would be costing you more or less the same amount. If you print 500 copies with a traditional offset printer the first copy costs almost the same as the entire job, the other 499 copies are essentially included for free.

This means that there is a cut off point where the most cost effective choice shifts from being digital to offset. In our experience this cut off point is around 350 copies – of almost anything. Here the cost of digital production is more or less the same as offset. Lower than this and digital will most likely be cheaper, above this you should be looking at an offset solution.

But cost is not the only consideration to make.

Timing is important. With the advent of desktop publishing and especially computer to plate technology, we can go from a piece of computer based artwork to print ready files in an instant. The end result of this is that we have moved to much quicker turnarounds on print projects with artwork approvals coming often only hours before a piece is needed in its finished printed version. If you are up against a tight delivery deadline then often digital printing is going to be your only option – even though the offset option may be cheaper. Pages come off a digital press ready to be folded, cut and bound. Not so with offset printing which still needs some drying time before it can be manipulated in most cases.

And then there is the finishing. Many digital printers have developed their business as an extension to a copying service. Others are smaller offset printers who have bought a digital machine to complement their existing options. The major difference is often in the finishing options that each can offer. The traditional printer who now offers digital print as an option will usually have an industrial guillotine, laminators, folders and stapling stations that the copy shop will not have. As a result the copy shop finishing will be of an inferior quality and the look and feel of the finished piece can be sadly compromised. Quality finishing is an often overlooked element in the production process.

Ask your print broker to explain if the options being presented are digital or offset and, be sure to also ask about the finishing capabilities of the proposed printer before making your final choice.

In many cases the quantities required will make the decision for you, but when you find yourself in the grey areas where costs are similar, remember, it’s not all about the cost per copy!

Ask us for a quote and we will always make a recommendation between digital and offset printing.