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Digital vs. Offset

Among the most popular options for printing (for putting images on paper or other substrates) are digital and offset.  Each method has its own advantages and potential liabilities in the pursuit of the best balance of speed, cost, and quality. 

Speed

In most cases, digitally printed products can be completed faster than offset-printed products.  Offset printing requires the production of printing plates and the scheduling of run time on more complex and typically more expensive machinery.  Further, the University Print Shop operates its own digital printing equipment, whereas most offset printing is done at outside vendors, requiring more time to ship and receive materials. 

Quality

For many printed products, the quality of digital printing has risen to match that of most offset presses.  The notable remaining differences are the general absence of options for varnishing digital pieces and the tendency of digital inks to crack at the creases of folds.  Additionally, there are some limitations in the ability of digital presses to run on textured stocks, and there can be significant limitations on the paper sizes that can be run on digital presses. 

Cost

Short runs belong on digital presses, and longer runs belong on offset presses.  Digital presses are far less expensive to set up for a run, but their cost per copy remains the same throughout the run.  Offset presses are expensive to set up to begin a run, but their cost per copy usually declines dramatically as the run gets longer.  Comparisons usually depend on sheet size and how many images of each final product can be printed on each sheet for later separation and finishing, but a general rule of thumb on an 8 ½” X 11” product is that fewer than 1,000 are more economical when printed digitally. 

More information and guidance is available from either the Office of Marketing Communications or the Office of Printing Services.