Understanding Industry Lingo – Digital VS Offset Printing

DO YOU SPEAK PRINTER? Digital Printing vs Offset Printing. What are they, how are they different, and when should you use one over the other?

Second in the Understanding Industry Lingo blog series, the below article provides a basic overview of the two most common printing methods that you will come across when working with a designer and/or printer, including the differences between the two methods and the pros and cons. It is helpful to understand the basics behind the two methods so that you can make an informed decision when deciding which printing option to proceed with.

Click here to read the first in the series: Understanding Industry Lingo – Colour Formats

Digital Printing

A commercial digital printer is a similar but much larger version of your common variety home inkjet printer. It was developed as a way to transfer a document from a digital device such as a personal computer, to a printed, physical reproduction – hence being named “Digital Printing”.

Used by printing companies that offer print-on-demand services, the Digital printing process is well suited to fast turnarounds, small quantities (typically less than 500 pieces) or custom print runs such as where variable data is required, think mail-merged, individual invitations.

The downside of digital printing is that you cannot use Pantone colours and, depending on the printer, the output is often lower quality than offset printing. However these days, digital printing can be of very good quality and most digital printers will be happy to provide you with a printed proof (you may have to pay for it) so you can check both quality and colour, prior to going ahead with the full print run.


  • Cost-effective for smaller quantities (less than 500)
  • Great option for variable data printing
  • Fast turnaround times
  • Easier to get a printed proof


  • Can be lower quality than offset printing
  • Smaller range of paper stocks, sizes and finishes available
  • Cracks in colour can appear if folding is required
  • Cannot use Pantone® colours

Offset Printing

Offset printing, also known as offset lithography printing, has been the standard form of commercial printing since the 20th century.

An offset printing press is much more complicated to run than a digital printer. It is a slower and more expensive process that involves creating plates for each ink that are used to apply each colour in layers to the print media.

Offset printing is better suited to large print runs, 500 pieces or more. The larger the quantity, the cheaper it becomes per unit comparatively to digital.

Offset printing delivers exceptionally high quality and is capable of printing in both CMYK or Pantone® colours or a combination of both. If a slower turnaround time is not an issue, or if you require Pantone® colours, very high quality or large quantities, then offset may be the way to go!


  • Cost effective for large quantities (500+)
  • High Quality
  • Larger range of colours (including Pantone®s), paper stocks, sizes and finishes available


  • Slower turnaround times
  • Harder to customise and personalise printing
  • Not often possible to get a printed proof

The main things to consider when choosing which printing option to go with are your jobs requirements for quality, quantity, budget and turnaround time.

Discuss your requirements and expectations with your printer as they will be able to guide you in choosing which printing process is best suited to your needs. A good printer will care about producing a good final product for you. Find a printer you trust to deliver great results and build a relationship with them.

As with understanding colour formats, making the effort to gain an understanding of industry lingo such as the different printing methods will not only help prevent misunderstandings but also give you a clearer idea of how processes work, why things are the way they are.

Stay tuned for the next in the series on Understanding Industry Lingo – Artwork Specification Requirements.

Now I would love to hear from you. Did you find this article helpful? Have you come across any other pros or cons for digital vs offset printing not mentioned above? Have you ever had a funny misunderstanding due to industry lingo? Share your stories, tips and resources in the comments below!

Happy Printing!


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July 25th, 2015 at 5:49 am

The posting was even now importance reading. go for it!

Regina Bed
July 30th, 2015 at 4:26 pm

This actually answered my dilemma, thank you!

July 30th, 2015 at 7:08 pm

Glad to hear it helped you out! 🙂

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