Digital or Offset lithography?

antique-wood-printing-press-alphabet-numbersThe two most common ways to print these days are digital and offset lithography. Digital printing (think sophisticated, hi-res copier) is a thermal process requiring the powdery toner to be heated to bond to the paper. Toners, not ink, are used to create a full pallet of color that approximate those possible with offset lithography, traditional printing presses that use actual ink.

Digital printing requires less setup time than lithography and so often smaller printing runs will be run digitally to be more economical. There is a break even point beyond which it is more economical to print using offset lithography. Often this has to do with the number of colors being used as well as quantity. Occasionally the type of paper required for the project will also determine which method is used. Lithography presses can handle thicker paper than digital machines, for example.

There are some situations in which a customer would choose to go with lithography over digital. One of the advantages to offset lithography has to do with color – since it involves ink that can be precisely mixed to match color every time. If it is very important that you have a precise color for branding purposes, for example, we would print using offset lithography because we can mix the ink to that exact color every time, whereas color with digital printing can vary by machine and even by changes in the pressroom environment.

Because digital printing involves toner that goes through a thermal fusing process, there are some limitations. The fusing process doesn’t work on stock heavier than 12pt, which is about the thickness of a nice greeting card. We are not limited to 12 pt stock for lithography, because lithography is laying down ink and allowing it to soak into the paper and dry as opposed to fusing it to the paper with heat. We have had projects that we have literally made stock out of a “paper sandwich” to get a desired thickness and run it on the offset machines. Lithography also allows for different textures and finishes that do not run well on digital equipment.

As we said in the beginning, offset lithography involves a great deal more setup costs, which can make small quantities of full color lithography prohibitively expensive. Although cost can often be a deciding factor, it is not always. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. The key is to figure out what is best for the results you want for your particular project. And that’s why we are here. Give us a call at 216-626-0060 and we will happily share our expertise!

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