A Look at Printing and Where it Fits in the Marketplace
We’ve compiled some answers below to some frequently asked questions about printing. This can help you determine what’s best for your print project and provide some details pertaining to the subject. As time passes, some of this information may require an update. If you need additional information, please feel free to contact us or call, so we can help.
What is Digital Printing?
The Set Up
Digital printing uses computers to send digital data directly to the printing press for print jobs. This saves time and reduces costs that occur with traditional offset printing, due to not having to use printing plates. The digital file can come from an image, PDF, flash drive, or produced using a desktop publishing software.
Adobe In-Design, Illustrator and Photoshop are the preferred tools used by professionals to create designs for printing. The design files must be thoroughly checked before sending them to print. A composition professional takes the digital file and inspects it for potential problems before going to press. This ensures the page layout, typography, color, and images are all congruent with the job specifications. Once the file inspection is complete, the files are sent to the pressroom awaiting print.
Modern digital printing machines use either a toner (powder), or an inkjet (liquid) based system to deliver pigment to the printed surface. Both technologies are fully capable of delivering high-resolution quality pieces.
Toner-Based Digital Printing
Toner-based digital printing systems use cartridges containing a fine powder that adheres to the printed surface. It adheres via a fuser, literally fusing the image to the sheet. It’s a popular choice for digital print shops around the world.
Inkjet-Based Digital Printing
Inkjet printing systems use liquid inks in their printing process. Inkjet printheads contain tiny holes that allow liquid ink to flow uniformly onto the print surface using controlled pressure. A computer monitors the ink flow passing through the cartridges to ensure proper coverage. Inkjets can be used for printing textiles, glass, canvas, PVC and a wide variety of substrates. Inkjet printers are usually more cost-effective to run per page when compared to toner-based printers.
Products produced with digital printing are the same as you’ve come to expect from offset printing. This includes familiar marketing collateral like brochures, flyers, business cards, reports, books, and catalogs. Because of the expanded capabilities of digital printing presses, you can print on a wider variety of different materials. Some of the materials digital printing is best for include large format (posters & large banner printing), signage and printing on rigid or curved surfaces like water bottles. The ability to print books (perfect bound) as well as use variable data for direct mail makes digital printing a great choice for businesses, authors and agencies.
Since the inception of digital printing, a new sector of business has evolved commonly known as print-on-demand. This provides any business the ability to quickly brand promotional products with their logo as part of their marketing efforts. Print-on-demand has opened up more business channels by allowing small quantities and short batch runs. Digital printing has dissolved the expensive point of entry once associated with offset printing. It delivers high-quality products that can be produced quickly. This gives consumers more control over their marketing campaigns.
Offset vs Digital Printing
Wondering whether to choose offset or digital for your print job? Both offset and digital printing are widely used for common printed pieces like brochures, business folders, flyers, booklets, reports, manuals, posters, postcards, business cards, etc. Price, quality, and turn-around times are often at the forefront of making the best choice before purchasing a print job.
Most of the printed material in the world today has been produced using offset printing. It’s also commonly referred to as traditional printing, conventional printing & offset lithography. Offset printing began at the turn of the century and it’s still considered stable and reliable in the global marketplace today.
The offset printing process used for sheet-fed and roll-fed (web) paper is identical. Today’s modern printing presses include the use of computer technology for enhanced usability and control. This allows the pressmen to identify problems quickly and increase productivity while reducing downtime.
The four-color offset printing process makes use of metal printing plates that contain small dots (halftones) that absorb ink. The ink from the metal plate and is then applied to a rubber cylinder (blanket) then transferred to the paper (stock) creating an impression. This is process is where the term “offset” has been derived from.
Four colors are applied one-by-one onto press sheets in order as follows:
- Cyan – C
- Magenta – M
- Yellow – Y
- Black – K
These four colors when combined together can produce nearly any color variation on the spectrum. This includes high-resolution images and features a wide color gamut.
Offset Printing Advantages
Although digital printing technology is still growing rapidly, it won’t replace offset printing anytime soon. Offset printing clearly has a long history in the marketplace and will continue to survive for years to come.
Some advantages of offset printing include:
- Speed (capable of more than 12,000 impressions per hour)
- Quality (highly accurate color and image reproduction)
- Reliable (Can be run on multiple shifts for maximum output)
- High Quantities (Best choice for large runs)
Offset printing out-performs digital printing when it comes to printing large quantities. In most cases, offset runs at twice the speed of today’s modern digital printing press. Offset printing an excellent choice for its speed, accuracy and top-notch quality.
Although offset printing is a great choice for many printing jobs, it does have some drawbacks.
The Cons of Offset Printing
- Plate Cost (using plates increases costs)
- Make Ready (Paper gets wasted making color)
- Man Power (Frequent plate changes and make readies slow production time and inflate job costs)
Digital printing is still considered a new technology, especially when compared to the long history of offset printing. The ability to print without the use of plates is a huge benefit. When using modern digital print machines, the very first sheet printed is usually considered perfect quality. Depending on the model, digital can print flat and roll media. Many machines come with finishing capabilities allowing for folding, stitching, stapling, perforations and perfect binding. This saves time and money and is best used for professional book printing and manuals.
Digital Printing Benefits
Digital printing offers many benefits that offer consumers a vast array of choices once not available. While still considered a new technology in the industry, it’s rising fast due to short-run demands. It’s also becoming more affordable to print shops looking to expand their capabilities. The new digital technology offers affordable, cost-effective printing that could one day surpass the offset printing industry.
Some benefits include:
- No Plates (Saves time, money and cost associated with using plates)
- No Make Ready (Save time and money, first sheet “sellable”)
- Short Runs (Great for small batch, short runs, and prototypes)
The ability to print unique barcodes and names for direct mail pieces is a great feature for marketers. Using variable data allows for personalization making every piece customizable and unique. Variable data printing services are used often for commercial mail pieces as well as invites for events and weddings. The increasing need for customization proves that variable data printing companies will continue to be in demand.
Short Runs & Small Batches
When your project doesn’t require thousands of pieces, digital printing provides a perfect solution. This is a great choice for popular items such as books, pocket folders, and brochures – without a minimum quantity. This is what opened the door to the print-on-demand industry. An author can order books as needed. This helps keep costs down and avoids having to store boxes of books that might go unsold. Short runs provide a convenient way to reduce risk and lower expenditures.
Digital printing works well for:
Fast Turn-Around Times
Because there’s no time wasted hanging plates or make ready, digital printing provides consumers with faster turn-around times than offset does. Digital printing allows for speed when it comes to getting your message to the marketplace.
The digital printing process avoids the use of printing plates, make-readies required by offset printing. In most instances, digital printing tends to run lower in price when compared to offset printing. However, there is a threshold to this rule and it becomes reversed once larger quantities are required.
Because of the flexibility digital printing offers, the print-on-demand industry is booming. Short runs, lower costs, and new materials give consumers more control over their marketing. Mixed media available for digital printing includes materials like canvas, foam core, wood, metal, textiles, garments, plastics, glass and other rigid surface materials. This provides companies the ability to personalize items like trophies, golf balls, wine bottles, wooden plaques and more.
Promotional products can be produced economically and quickly eliminating the need for storage. This also eliminates the need to purchase large quantities just to meet a minimum requirement. With all of these benefits together, digital printing offers a great choice for both large and small businesses alike.
Digital Printing Disadvantages
Although everything you read these days talks about how fast digital printing is – it’s actually much slower when compared to offset printing. Most modern commercial-grade digital printing machines can only run at about half the speed as traditional offset presses. The fastest printers are roll-fed web printers, running at speeds that exceed 130,000 impressions per hour. We run both hot UV web and coldset web offset printing machines for maximum efficacy.
Many digital printing presses start to lose quality of color when tasked with running large quantities. Problems arise such as banding, ghosting, and colors not being rendered as expected. This can be caused by mechanical problems with the print head. Another culprit is the buildup of static on the substrate that can cause issues. Overspray is a common defect in wide format digital printing and causes shapes and lines to become distorted. Printers that perform a good maintenance on their machines, and use anti-static devices can alleviate most of these issues from occurring.
Offset printing quality was viewed as superior to digital printing – until recently. Some printing machine manufacturers use advanced technology that now offers gallery quality printing. This extremely high-resolution print now produces a higher resolution than offset can provide. It should be noted that the mass majority of print consumers will never require such a high caliber of printing to meet their needs. In fact, the color quality produced from both digital and offset printing will continue to meet the demands of consumers.
Because of the way digital printers are designed, large quantity runs are not recommended. The larger quantities also can often push the price higher than offset printing. This would usually has jobs requiring quantities over 5,000 impressions would most likely be better off printing on an offset press. Although the traditional offset printing costs more to set up and run, it’s faster and more cost-effective for large print runs.
Your needs as a print consumer will depend upon certain criteria such as the quantity required, turn-around time and your budget. Print shops will always try and determine what is the most economical route. Sometimes it will be digital, especially for smaller quantities (under 5k). Other times it makes more sense to run the job on an offset press. One approach involves getting quotes from several vendors. This gives you a better expectation of costs and time involved. Keeping that in mind a word of caution to buyers that the cheapest isn’t always the best route to take when selecting a printer. Just like any other industry, you get what you pay for. As one of the top Chicago commercial printers, we’ve been servicing businesses just like yours, for 50 years.
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