Samco Printers

Digital Printing vs Offset Printing

Digital Printing vs Offset Printing

Digital printing technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. These technological advances, together with having more finishing options available now and increased affordability make digital printing a popular choice for Vancouver’s commercial print services. This popularity has also brought some confusion. We are often asked what is the difference between digital printing and offset printing, and which one is preferable. Our answer is that an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of digital printing and how those compare to traditional offset lithography is critical in making the right choice.

Digital printing

If you have a desktop printer at home, you are most likely already familiar with the mechanical workings of digital printers. Digital printing usually refers to printing of a digital-based image directly to a high volume laser or inkjet printer. Many of the processes required for offset printing, have been eliminated with digital printing, making for a more affordable print solution.

Offset Printing

Offset printing press rollers

Offset printing is the most common high volume technology for commercial printers. Offset printing involves making images on printing plates, which are transferred (or “offset”) onto a rubber blanket, then onto the printing surface. Offset printing is a lithographic process based on the repulsion of oil and water. The image to be printed gets ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non-printing areas ink-free.

Comparison of Digital Printing and Offset Printing

 Digital PrintingOffset Printing
Quantity• Great for low volume
• No negatives, plates and make-ready or setup needed
• Great for higher volume
• Each job needs to be setup on press
Cost• Fixed cost per print
• Cheaper for short-runs but can be expensive for higher print runs
• More expensive for short-runs due to plates and press setup
• Lower cost per print for higher print runs
Turnaround• Quick – no press make-ready required
• Average 24 to 48 hours delivery
• No drying time required – can be passed on to next production process (folding, trimming etc) immediately
• Need to produce plates, mix ink, press set-up, adjust ink densities before printing job
• Average 5 to 7 days delivery
• Inks need to dry before printing second side or sent for binding
Quality• Hard to tell the difference in appearance between high-end digital printing and offset printing
• Colours may drift in long runs
• Higher resolution
• Consistency on long runs
Colours• Prints CMYK using toner or inkjet
• No inline Pantone colours or Metallic colours
• No varnishes or coating options
• Prints CMYK, Pantone and Metallic colours using ink
• Inline varnishes and aqueous coating for protection and effects
Variable Data
• Perfect for personalization
• Each piece can be unique
• Each piece is the same
• Different pieces require separate plates
Paper Stock• Limited stock selection• Can print on any stock, textured and specialized paper
Proofing• Perfect representation of final product• Inkjet colour-profiled proof simulates what the job will look like when printed on the press


Still not sure which technology is right for your print job? Here’s a checklist to help you.

Quantity If you have a short-run print job, the benefit ofdigital printing is that it is more cost efficient as it does away with press setup, films and plates. For longer run print jobs, offset printing will have a lower unit cost.

Turnaround If you need your print job fast, digital printing can usually complete the job in 24-48 hours depending on the complexity of the job. Offset printing takes longer to print.

Personalization If you need personalization or variable data printing, digital printing offers the most affordable way to customize marketing materials, direct mail pieces, letters, etc.

Paper Stock If you need to print on special stocks, heavily textured stocks or stocks with unusual finish, offset printing gives you the most flexibility.

The Samco Advantage

Our Heidelberg QMDI Pro waterless offset press gives you the best of both worlds. It eliminates the time consuming steps of making films and offlineprinting plates. The press also analyzes the image on the sheet and automatically calculates and sets the correct ink key settings. This helps with a faster press setup to get the inks up to the correct densities. Together, these technologies save time and money, thereby lowering the threshold of printing smaller quantities on an offset press.

In addition, the press is also fitted with an infrared (IR) dryer so that press sheets are ready to be printed on the second side or trimmed almost immediately with little to no drying time required.

Proofing for the QMDI Pro is colour-profiled and press-matched to ensure there are no surprises when the job hits the press. Furthermore, our digital presses are also colour managed as well so that CMYK colours remain consistent from digital printing to offset printing. This allows you to print using either technologies or printing methodswith no colour variance.


Don’t believe the myth that the quality of digital printing is not as good as offset printing. In most instances, the quality is nearly identical and most people can’t tell the difference between the two. It usually comes down to quantity and turnaround which determine which technology is more suitable. All our presses, digital and offset printing machines, are meticulously maintained and calibrated to ensure colour consistency. Our direct-to-press offset presses eliminate most of the disadvantages associated with offset printing to bring you the benefits of both technologies.

It is good to have choices and no matter which technology you go for, and we assure you that you will get exceptional, high quality printing no matter your choice. If you still can’t decide, we will be happy to help you choose the best solution for your print project to ensure that you stay on budget and on time.

Samco Printers is a full service commercial printer providing exceptional offset, digital and large format printing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada using the latest pre-press, printing and finishing technologies. We also have a fully equipped art department to handle your graphic design needs.

Need help? Let us help you get started or put the finishing touches on your printed materials. Our Art Director will be happy to spend some time with you. Give us a call at 604.683.6991 or contact our technical support.

Don’t need help with design? Talk to us anyway to ensure that the files you’ll be supplying meet our specifications.

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