Pressworks Blog

Print Speak: What’s the Difference Between Offset and Digital Printing. Why Does it Matter to You?

October 13, 2016 by



In a nutshell the primary difference between offset printing and digital printing is that digital printing is better option for short run printing (short run meaning a small order, typically under 2000 copies) and offset printing is clearly the better option for larger orders.

Both types of printing methods produce high quality products, however offset is the absolute highest quality printing on the market.  Fine details and color capabilities are a definite advantage for the offset process. At the same time digital has a clear advantage when it comes to variable data printing (adding personalized segmented messaging and imagery to a piece).

Knowing the fundamental differences between these two print methods will help you achieve maximum ROI, stay on budget and achieve your objectives.  For a quick reference a  comparison of offset vs. digital print processes is provided below.


  1. Images etched into metal plates- one plate for each color- then transferred to the rollers, then to a blanket, and finally transferred to the substrate (material) being used for final product.
  2. Set-up is generally more complex, time consuming and uses more materials. Ideal for projects over 2000 identical copies.
  3. Provides superior and more precise color controls and color variation options than digital printing. Including the use of Pantone colors, spot colors and variety of coatings (UV, varnish, etc.).
  4. Offset typically allows for a lager sheet size (excluding large and grand format printing), 28” and 40” sheets. Ideal for posters, book covers, large brochures, etc.
  5. Offset produces multiple copies of identical pieces per run.
  6. Offset offers a larger choice of inks, and types and weight of substrates (material) used.


  1. Uses drums to apply toner onto the paper.  One drum is used for each color. The electrostatic charge attracts toner. The toner is applied to the sheet and then heat fused onto the paper.
  2. Set-up is less complex, uses less materials and requires less time. Ideal for short runs, (2000 or less) fast turn times and personalization.
  3. Limited to a four color process and automatically converts RGB files to CMYK.
  4. Maximum paper weight is typically 350GSM and sheet size maxes out at between 19” and 29” (this is not the case for large and grand format printing- topic of a future blog).
  5. Ideal for segmented targeted initiatives- allowing personalization of message, images and contact information on one run.
  6. Most digital printers (except large and grand format printers) are limited to paper and cannot print on any other substrate.