What’s the Difference Between Digital and Offset Printing?

Digital and Offset

Digital and Offset a comparison. Although offset printing has previously been the clear choice for print jobs, the popularity of digital printing has made the landscape quite confusing. This is especially true when considering that not many people actually know the difference. So, here’s a breakdown of the differences between digital and offset printing.

What is it: offset printing

As the most common high-volume commercial printing technology, the best explanation for offset printing is that it works very much like a photograph. Images are created on a computer before being transferred onto plates, a rubber blanket and then finally onto a printed surface such as paper. The plates are usually made from aluminum and the image is rolled onto the printing surface using ink rollers. The reason it’s called offset is because the ink is not transferred directly onto the printing surface, but rather goes through a process from computer to paper.

What is it: digital printing

 In contrast to offset printing, digital printing does not use plates, but rather transfers the image directly from the digital medium to the printing surface – that is, from computer to paper. It’s fast, effective and the perfect solution when it comes to printing lower quantities. Another fantastic benefit to digital printing is that it’s easy to chop and change things around when needed. For example, if each piece needs a specific code, name or address, digital allows for this as it’s a direct print method.

Pros and cons of offset printing


  • Cost effective for large quantities of a generic print
  • The more you print the cheaper the price per piece
  • Custom finishes are an option
  • A large variety of paper types can be used
  • Special custom inks can be used such as metallic and Pantone colours
  • It allows for the highest possible printing quality – sharp, consistent images that look professional
  • Greater detail and accuracy in colour matching – print colours are exactly how they should appear


  • Producing plates and printing press setup is expensive and time consuming
  • Making changes can be expensive, particularly if there are multiple changes to be made
  • It can also be very hard to proof the printed material
  • Costly for short print runs
  • Greater negative impact on the environmental due to the large volume of paper required

Pros and cons of digital printing


  • Economical for small print runs
  • Quick and last minute editing is exceptionally easy
  • Printing process is faster to initiate
  • No setup costs
  • Variable data can be printed
  • Proof sheets can be printed quickly
  • It allows you to print the amount required exactly when it is required– there are no minimum print numbers
  • It is relatively cheap to print in black and white


The process: offset printing

 The modern offset printing process is quite extensive. As mentioned before, it derives from the photo offset process, using light-sensitive chemicals to transfer images and text from the original material to the printing plates and then onto the printing source. There are several parts:

  • The inking system – ink fountain and ink rollers
  • The dampening system – water fountain and water rollers
  • The plate cylinder
  • The offset cylinder (otherwise known as the blank cylinder)
  • The impression cylinder

The process happens over several steps:

  1. The ink and dampening systems transfer ink and water to the offset plate which covers the plate cylinder
  2. This then transfer the ink onto the blanket that covers the offset cylinder
  3. The offset cylinder pushes the paper against the impression cylinder, transferring the ink and creating the printed image.

Of course, there are also quality control steps to ensure everything is happening correctly. The paper is inspected to ensure there are no rips, tears or marks. The chemical plate is checked to make sure the right amount of chemical solution is applied. This prevents the occurrence of smudges. An operator is also on hand to further ensure there is no smudging between sheets as the ink comes off. This is because the printing process tends to happen faster than the drying process. There is, of course, a second quality control process that happens once the printing has taken place. This is carried out to check colour, image, shapes, type and ultimately that they all match the original image.

The method: digital printing

The digital printing process is relatively straightforward, especially when compared to the offset printing process. There are two main methods for digital printing: inkjet and laser printers. In both cases, the printer deposits pigment or toner onto the printing surface to create the image. There is no need to replace plates. It all comes from the digital device. The ink or toner is what forms a thin layer on the paper, rather than permeating the printing surface.

Digital and Offset: The verdict

So, what’s the verdict between Digital and Offset? Both printing methods have a time and place and both may serve the one customer’s purpose. It’s crucial to look at both methods holistically and decide what is best for your needs at any given time. Check out MVP Print for your printing needs at the best prices possible or contact us here.