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Knowledge Base - Cheap Printing - Offset vs Digital

There are two common printing technologies - digital printing and offset lithography. They are entirely different in operation and each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Digital Printing

Digital Printing is a modern printing method that uses equipment commonly referred to as a “Digital Press”. The technology inside a digital printer is exactly what you would find in a common desktop laser printer. A digital press operates in exactly the same fashion - by transferring toner (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) onto paper via a “transfer belt” as an image and fusing the same toner onto paper by a device called a “fuser”, which uses heat to complete the process.

Digital printing is fast and allows for a quick turnaround. It is a very effective printing method for smaller quantities and allows for low prices in this segment. The key advantage is that your job can be technically be delivered on the same day.

Shorter runs of flyers, any work that involves mail merge or variable data, envelopes and business cards are some of the print jobs that are commonly done on a digital press.

For larger runs, digital printing becomes cost ineffective.

Offset Lithography

Offset lithography has been the staple of the printing industry for a long time. Offset presses are physically large machines that take quite a bit of industry experience to operate. Operation of an offset press is a trade on its own.

How does offset work? Offset presses transfer ink onto paper using rollers. The setup cost for each offset print job is quite high, as they require the production of “plates” that are unique for each particular job. As such, offset presses are used for larger jobs and ganged-up jobs (e.g. 6 unique DL flyers on one sheet to save on the cost of plate production).

There are 2 common types of offset presses in operation - sheet fed and web fed. Sheet fed presses take pre-cut stock and web fed presses take rolls of stock for continuous production.

Offset presses are best used for print jobs such as magazines and large quantities of flyers. Due to the setup cost, production of short runs on an offset press is not commercially viable since the proliferation of digital printing presses. The key advantage of an offset press is the lower cost per printed sheet compared to digital, without considering the much larger setup, operation and finance costs.

The commonly advertised “cheap DL flyers” offers are completed on offset presses.


As a guide, jobs that are delivered with a turnaround of 3 or less days are jobs completed on a digital press and the typical 7-10 days to dispatch advertised by commercial printers are completed on an offset press.

written by Daniel Moisyeyev
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