Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing

Digital Vs Offset Printing Pros and Cons


So you have a print job you need to get printed, but you're not sure which type of printing you should choose. The type of printing you should use really depends on the job and what you're trying to accomplish.  4 Color Offset printing and digital printing are both double edged swords. Each of these printing methods has benefits with strings attached. We'll highlight some important things to consider when thinking about using offset printing or digital printing for your next print job.


Digital printing is perfect for small print jobs and short run print jobs. Because of the way digital printing technology works, it's easy to print one-offs or print just a few pieces of something. If you need to print quantities less than 200 pieces, then digital printing would be the method you're looking for. Generally, digital printing is great for quantities like 100, 75, 50, 25, and sometimes even less.
Offset printing is better suited for larger print jobs with quantities of 200 and more. Basically, offset printing takes care of quantities all the way up to 100,000 plus (keep adding zeros).


Offset printing has been around for hundreds of years and breaks down the automated process of digital printing into manual processes. You might think - well, that sounds backwards! To some extent, sure, but actually it allows for more control over the entire process. Offset printing presses still require skilled pressman to operate the equipment and trained prepress teams to make sure the artwork files are printed correctly, whereas digital printing presses only take the push of a button. With a digital printing press, it might only require one piece of equipment to print, finish, cut, bind, etc for a single print job. With offset printing, there are separate pieces of equipment for printing, finishing, cutting, and binding. When you break down a process like this, you have more control over the quality of the product.

Offset printing offers higher resolution prints, or DPI (dots per inch) in printer terms. This means images and text print sharper with offset printing than digital printing. Even if you increased the resolution of your image and printed using digital printing, it would not come out as refined as an offset print.


Because digital printing was designed to have little to no setup, and print low quantities, it only makes sense that it would have quicker turnaround times than offset printing. This is why your local print shops can offer 1-2 day printing turnarounds. When you place your order and leave, your job gets put into a queue. That's the only wait time digital printing has. The actual print job will likely only take a few minutes. Then you return the next day and pick them up.

Offset printing requires, on average, anywhere from 1-2 weeks turnaround time because the process is longer and broken down into separate parts.


Although digital printing is quick and often more affordable, your options are really limited. When it comes to choosing paper stock and finishes for your print job, there aren't a whole lot of options. For example, a business card print job that's printed with digital printing may only have thin stock options with little to no finish or coating options. But an offset printed business card has a variety of choices from type of stock, thickness of stock, type of coating, and lots of special print effects and applications like spot varnish, foil stamping, embossing, etc. Digital business cards usually cannot be spot varnished or foiled because it's simply not economical.


Digital printing has little to no setup costs, which saves you money initially. It also offers flexible lower quantities, which means you don't have to print 500 pieces if you don't need 500 pieces. If you only need 10 pieces, you can print 10 pieces. So it allows you to only spend what you need and keeps the digital printing cost per page low.

Offset printing has setup costs, but are later translated into indirect savings. Because offset printing requires making a plate, transferring it to a blanket, then onto paper, cost are adding up even before the job actually prints. The cost savings in offset printing comes from the economies of scale of production. As you print higher quantities, the offset printing cost per page decreases. For example, if you print 250 flat matte business cards which costs you $40, then the price per piece is $0.16. But if you print 1000 flat matte business cards which costs you $55, then the price per piece goes way down to $0.05. The overall price increase is marginal, but the unit cost savings is significant.