The Direct Marketing Voice Has Moved

Please visit the QuantumDigital Blog and the Idea Center
for our latest marketing tips, insights, and advice.

What’s the Difference: Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing

Posted by Cynthia Fedor on October 10th, 2011

What is on–demand, digital printing? Defined, it’s a printing technology that allows for digital files to be quickly and economically printed in short run quantities (short run is considered about 5,000 prints or less). However, what on–demand, digital printing actually is and what it can do for a business is much greater than its definition.

On–demand, digital printing is a powerful accumulation of technologies that will change the way you communicate with your audience.

Before I get into describing all the benefits of using on–demand, digital print technology, I think it would be helpful for you to understand the traditional commercial printing process. In contrast to it, you’ll be able to appreciate the significant advantages of on–demand, digital printing.

The most common technique used for high–volume commercial printing today is color offset printing. It’s a method that prints layers of four, and sometimes six, different colors of semi–transparent ink on top of one another in order to reproduce the original image.

The Color Offset Printing Process

offset printingThe process starts with having the original artwork, image and text, separated into red, green and blue components.  Each of those color separations are then inverted and negatives are produced.  Think of it like a roll of film from your camera.  When it’s developed, the images on the negative are represented in colors opposite to the actual, true–life color values.  In color offset printing, the opposite to red, green and blue is cyan, magenta, and yellow, respectively—the three main pigments used in printing to reproduce color images.  In addition, a black separation is made to help “fill in” shadows and improve contrast of the image.

Next, each color separation, or layer, is represented on a plate or screen.  Ink will be rolled onto each of those four screens. Then, the screens will be aligned and, one at a time, each screen will be pressed against paper to transfer the ink and reproduce the original image.

As you can see, preparing and printing the artwork using a color offset process is arduous and time consuming.  There is little room for missteps or errors.  Flexibility to allow slight adjustments in marketing message is just about non–existent.

In the environment today, there’s so much emphasis on marketing the right message, to the right person, at the right time, through the right medium—and doing all of that in a way that is productive and cost effective for the marketer.  On–demand, digital printing offers the flexibility to control and adjust all of those elements quickly and affordably.

On–demand, Digital Printing Process

digital printing processThe process of on–demand, digital printing starts with a digital file. Digital files are easy to modify and share. Digital content is rendered through a software program to be made ready for printing, therefore, no separations or screens are necessary.  When the file is sent to the digital printing press, ink is transferred onto the paper via an electrical charge.  The entire process is automated and takes a fraction of the time needed for traditional offset printing.  And, because it’s a digital process, there’s a lot of flexibility offered.

As I had mentioned earlier, the advantages in using on–demand, digital printing are plentiful and noteworthy:

  • The process of preparing files for digital printing is automated and does not require lengthy procedures like color separating or generating plates and screens.  This translates to savings of money, materials, and time.
  • Because files are digital and rendered via software programs, there is the ability to introduce variable data (kind of like a powerful mail merge) to your project.  In digital printing, every single piece you print can be unique. You can adjust your marketing message at any time and/or personalize your message for each individual recipient. In traditional offset printing, the process only allows for one, static message.
  • Also true in traditional offset printing, setup time, materials, and costs are extensive; short run prints are unreasonable.  In contrast, on–demand, digital printing allows you to just as easily and economically print one, 100 or 5,000.  How does this impact you marketing efforts and budget? The ability to print shorter runs reduces cost because there’s no need to stock inventory and allows you to be timelier with your marketing message.
  • There is a lower impact on the environment when using on–demand, digital printing because less wastes are produced in terms of ink, paper, chemicals and set up materials.

Marketers and businesses have a real opportunity to benefit from the technologies available today in a way that affects communication with their audience, the environment and their bottom line.  Using on–demand, digital printing lets you harness the power of multiple technologies to gain a competitive edge in a fast–moving, demanding market.

To learn more about using digital printing for your business essentials and direct marketing campaigns, visit the QuantumDigital website—a trusted, turnkey provider for measurable direct mail, on–demand printing, and email marketing.


  1. Posted March 14, 2013 a 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Some great information on printing, thank you.


Denotes a required field.