The Pros & Cons of Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing

Mon May , 2020

When it comes to commercial projects, it can be confusing to choose between digital and offset printing. Every project is unique, so the answer will differ for each.

And the choice isn’t always based on cost. There are other factors you need to consider.

In the end, you want the best quality product within a given timeframe and budget.

To help you make an informed choice, let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

digital printing vs offset printing

Digital Printing: Pros and Cons

Digital printing is a modern method that requires high-tech machinery, such as laser and inkjet printers. If you’ve ever used a desktop printer, you’re familiar with digital printing.

In this method, the printing is done from an electronic file, with ink and toner applied directly to the paper, which makes it a very affordable printing solution.

One key difference between this method and offset printing is that it doesn’t require plates and ink rollers. While in inkjet printers the ink drops are sprayed onto the printing surface, in the laser printer electrical charges pass through a metal drum cylinder which attracts toner particles to the paper.

When you need low volume printing, such as for brochures, greeting cards or fliers, digital printing is your best choice. Designers use variable data in this type of printing, meaning each piece of the job has a unique code, name, image and address printed on it. You can get this done with offset printing as well, but the digital method offers a greater scope of personalization for businesses.

  • Pros
    • With its low set-up cost and quick turnaround, this is perfect for short-term projects.
    • Digital printing has variable data capability.
    • You get more accurate proofreading, and the printed pieces are easier to customize.
    • It’s the most economical choice for smaller printing projects.


  • Cons
    • Most digital printing presses can only accommodate sheets of 18” x 12”.
    • You can’t get spot Pantone colours and metallic inks.
    • This method becomes expensive when you need to print in large quantities.
    • The quality is usually lower than offset printing, albeit only to the trained eye.

Offset Printing: Pros and Cons

Robert Barclay first introduced offset printing in 1875 when he obtained a patent for the first rotary offset lithographic printing press. Since then, it’s been one of the most common methods, used for high-volume commercial printing.

In this method, the inked imaged is burned onto an aluminum printing plate, which is then transferred to a rubber “blanket” and afterwards to the rolls of paper. This is a lithographic printing process, which follows the principle of repulsion between oil and water, and keeps the non-printing areas ink-free. It’s for this very reason that it’s often termed offset lithography. The offset method utilizes a planographic image carrier to print the image, which gets ink from rollers, while the non-printing areas draw a film of water, keeping it ink-free.

This method is commonly used to produce large-scale printing projects, such as newspapers and magazines. With offset printing, you can get an output of up to 20,000 sheets/hour, which is why it’s best for mass production and distribution. If you want crisp and professional-looking printing, with accurate colour control and variation, this is the right choice.

  • Pros
    • Large volumes of printing can be done more cost-effectively.
    • There’s greater scope for using a wide range of paper types and a high level of custom finishes.
    • Pantone and metallic spot colours can only be printed using this technique.
    • Colours are more precisely and accurately reproduced.
    • New offset presses use the computer-to-plate process compared to the previous computer-to-film system.
  • Cons
    • The per-unit cost can be expensive for low-volume printing, as it’s time-consuming and uneconomical.
    • Production requires a variety of steps, making it time-consuming.
    • Editing and proofreading can cost you more money and time.

Which Is Right For You?

When you’re deciding which method of printing to choose, compare the following factors for either of the methods.

  • Quantity of printing
  • The printing medium
  • Turnaround time
  • Colours
  • Ease of Proofreading
  • Customization

Depending on these factors, you will be able to determine the best printing process for your needs. Reputable printing companies near you will assist you to better plan your printing project and achieve the expected outcome.