The print industry has undergone some major changes over the last few centuries. From the Gutenberg press to modern day digital printers, there have been many advancements. In fact, the printing press is considered to be one of the most important inventions of mankind, facilitating the spread of knowledge in a more efficient way than ever before. Today, the two most widely used technologies are offset printing and digital printing. Both techniques are very effective, but they each have limitations which make them more useful in specific situations.
First, lets talk about offset printing and how it works. Offset printing is an older printing technique than digital printing. Offset printing utilizes a series of plates and rollers to apply ink to the surface of a given material, typically some sort of paper. Due to the speed and efficiency of production, offset printing is and has been the best solution for large volume printing. On the topic of efficiency, offset printing is what the New York Times uses to print their million of copies daily, here in NYC.
Offset printing is not without flaw however. By far the biggest drawback of offset printing is that the equipment requires a lot of labor to operate. Some examples of this labor include making the plates, mounting them, mixing the ink, calibrating the press, and cleaning it between every run. If you were printing a large run, this labor would be negligible. But for a single box of business cards, its kind of ridiculous. Thus, the costs associated with offset printing are high for small runs.
Now lets look at digital printing. Digital printing is a process of using an electric charge to apply a pattern to the paper, than showering the paper with a bath of toner or ink. The toner/ink sticks to the paper where the electric charge was, and then it is permanently fused on. There is also a type of digital printing that uses liquid ink, which applies the ink similar to an inkjet desktop printer. This process is similar to toner when you consider its capabilities and costs. For the purposes of this discussion, we will consider them the same thing.
Digital printing is very easy to do by comparison to offset printing. You just load the paper and click the print button. There are some other steps like imposition for example, but nowadays software handles a lot of the work. Digital printing has allowed for very complex designs to be printed at low volume, without the high costs of offset printing. This is particularly true when it comes to full bleed or multi-colored designs.
Now for the drawbacks of digital printing. The first and most common complaint is quality and color control. With the exception of a rare few, nearly all digital printers use CMYK color as opposed to offset presses, which can use either CMYK or Pantone color. When you compare the best of both worlds, the resolution tends to be much better on an offset press. The finish of digital prints can also be a little shiny, compared to the true matte from an offset press.
Although this blog post was a very high level summary of offset and digital printing, you can get an idea of which solution might be a better fit for your business cards. Ultimately, the specs of your project will determine which piece of equipment is the best fit. Likewise, both options are also capable of yielding fantastic results depending on the design.