Offset vs. Digital Printing: Size, Color & Cost Comparison

The Print Authority has always maintained a balance between traditional offset printing and digital printing. Both processes have unique advantages.

The Print Authority has always maintained a balance between traditional offset printing and digital printing. Both processes have unique advantages.

Offset versus Digital Printing: Key Differences

You might be wondering, what is the difference between offset and digital printing? If so, you’re in luck! In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about offset versus digital printing.

What is Offset Printing?

offset versus digital printing

Offset printing is the traditional form of printing, a variant of the process developed by Gutenberg in the 15th century. Offset printing is based on the idea that the image area to be printed should be transferred from a “plate” to a rubber blanket and then to the sheet of paper. Offset printing is “wet” in that it uses a wet ink, usually either based on rubber or oil.

What is Digital Printing?offset versus digital printing

Digital printing used to be called “copying,” but that term is now outdated. Today, instead of copying a hard copy original, the vast majority of digital printing is output directly from electronic files, either in black and white or full color. Digital presses work by applying an electrostatic charge to a piece of paper. Dry toner, either black and white or color, adheres to the charge. Typically, fuser oil is applied to the toner to fuse it to the paper.

The print buyer’s choice between digital vs offset printing is driven by price, turnaround time, and the quality of the final piece. At The Print Authority, we are always happy to discuss your options when you are ready to place a print order. When you’re ready to start printing your business materials with The Print Authority, request a quote or contact us with any questions!

How to Choose Between Offset Versus Digital Printing

Knowing when to choose offset versus digital printing usually depends on the following factors:


Digital printing: Although there is no hard rule in our operation, a run of 2,000 pieces is usually the “break even” point between offset and digital printing. Generally, if a run is under 2,000 pieces, digital printing is most cost-effective since the price per click is lower than the setup costs associated with offset printing. Digital printing is usually the better choice where variable data or multiple originals are involved. For books or magazines with many pages, it may make sense to print them digitally even at higher volumes since digital equipment collates the sheets together and saves offline bindery steps.

Offset printing: When a print run is over approximately 2,000 pieces, offset printing is typically the most cost-effective choice. When there are a small number of originals and many copies, the costs to set up the printing, including creating plates, are less than the price per click for digital printing. Offset printing also works well for items that don’t need to be bound or collated since digital equipment can complete these steps but offset presses typically cannot.


Digital printing: Digital printing quality has advanced greatly over the last few years, and some people prefer the vibrancy of digital color. However, pieces produced with digital printing are more subject to “cracking” when they are folded, particularly if they are printed on cover weight stocks. Modern creasing equipment minimizes this risk, but it is still worth considering.

Offset printing: Offset printing is frequently a higher quality option for heavy solid ink coverage or delicate gradients (shaded areas). Our chemistry-free Heidelberg® plate system, which uses a patented hybrid dot pattern (a hybrid of stochastic and conventional screens), further eliminates moiré patterns and banding associated with delicate screens.


Digital printing: Full-color digital presses can produce a wide range of colors by applying combinations of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. While color accuracy in digital printing is constantly improving, it cannot typically “match” an exact ink color.

Offset printing: If your company requires strict color adherence to Pantone® (PMS) or “spot colors,” you should choose offset printing whenever possible. Digital printing approximates PMS colors, but true PMS colors are offset inks which have been premixed to maintain exact color whenever printed. Digital equipment manufacturers are continually improving the quality of digital output, but offset printing, especially with PMS ink colors, will produce more consistent results over time.


Digital printing: Typically, digital presses are best when running standard weight papers since many finishing functions, like folding and stitching, are completed in-line. However, digital press manufacturers have also made great strides accommodating heavier weight papers and synthetic stocks in recent years. The Print Authority can now run up to 18-point stock digitally. Simple paper stocks like bond, offset, gloss, dull, index, etc. can be either digitally printed or offset printed.

Offset printing: Traditionally, offset printing equipment handles a greater variety of papers such as extra light or extra heavy stocks and textured stocks. Printing on highly textured papers, like linen, laid, or felt, may look better when produced on offset printing presses, as the toner used in digital printing does not always lay down properly on highly textured stocks.

Special processes

Digital printing: Digital inks and toners are not as receptive to the heat and pressure of foil stamping or embossing nor to special finishes such as varnishes, aqueous, or certain UV coatings. Offset printing is usually a better option if you’d like these services for your printed products.

Offset printing: Offset printing is typically the better choice for special processes. Finishing options such as foil stamping, embossing, special coatings, etc. are usually better suited for offset printed items.

Variable data

Digital printing: Many printing projects involve variable information, also known as variable data, used on otherwise identical printed pieces. Letters with different names and addresses or postcards with different images for different recipients are good examples of variable data. Digital printing is better for this type of work because changing images is much easier from sheet to sheet.

Offset printing: Since variable data leads to many originals, items with variable data are typically less-suited for offset printing. The cost of creating individual plates for each recipient or image would typically be less cost-effective than using digital printing.


Digital printing: When you have a rush project, nothing can beat the raw speed of digital printing. In fact, if needed, you can have flyers or business cards in minutes using a digital press.

Offset printing: If you need a long print run of an item with no variable information, offset printing can be much faster once the press is set up because offset presses typically run faster than digital presses. In addition, many modern presses employ dryers or special coatings to make print dry quickly for rapid finishing.

Environmental Impact

Digital printing: In general, digital printing uses less power, creates less waste, and produces fewer toxic byproducts than offset printing. In short, your environmental impact is typically lower when you use digital printing.

Offset printing: Nowadays, offset printing technology can have a smaller environmental impact than it did in the past. Choose soy- or vegetable-based inks and ask whether your printing company produces plates with chemistry-free plate processing. While these are great eco-friendly measures, in general, the offset printing process typically uses more harmful byproducts and chemicals.

Benefits of Digital Printing

Digital printing is a great choice because:

  • It offers fast turnaround times — as short as a few minutes!
  • It is low-cost for smaller runs and runs with many originals.
  • It can print in a range of beautiful, bright colors.
  • It works for a variety of paper weights and stocks.
  • It is easy to personalize copies for individuals.
  • It has a lower environmental impact overall.

Benefits of Offset Printing

Offset printing offers many advantages because:

  • It is highly cost-effective for large orders with few originals.
  • It can match colors exactly.
  • It is easy to include finishing processes.
  • It has high-quality shaded areas and solid ink coverage.
  • It can complete large orders quickly with a small number of originals.
  • It works on all papers and stocks.

The Print Authority Is An Expert In Offset and Digital Printing!

Find the printing services you need with the experienced team at The Print Authority. With three decades in the printing industry, we are experts in everything related to offset and digital printing, and our professional design, printing, and distribution services are first-rate. We’re excited to use printing to help you meet your goals! Give us a call at (615) 468-2679 or contact us online when you’re ready to get started.