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The difference between offset printing and digital printing

Traditionally, printers have only used offset printing for their production needs in catalog printing or magazine printing. Today's technology dictates a new printing solution-digital printing.

Discover the difference between offset printing and digital printing for your production needs. Particular projects require alternative sheetfed printing, offset printing or digital printing based on your specifications. If you require catalog printing or magazine printing projects, the choice between these kinds of printing can affect the outcome of your job.

To better understand offset printing, sheetfed printing and digital printing and the technology that dictates all three, read on below.

Find out the difference between offset & digital printing

A Defining Moment: Offset and Digital Printing

As a printer, our job is to have the right kind of equipment available to produce your printing project. Years ago, being a printer meant having offset printing presses. Today it also means having digital printing equipment and high-speed copiers.

For some printing projects, the choice of which equipment to use is strictly a production consideration - which piece of equipment has an opening in the production schedule at the appropriate time. For other projects, there is only one piece of equipment that can be used. And for yet others, the choice of equipment is a complicated decision based on a variety of factors.

In this issue, we'll explore how the technology of each type of equipment helps determine its range of use.

The technology of offset printing
Today's offset printing press is based on a technology called lithography - literally, writing with stones. The image to be printed was engraved on a flat plate made of stone that was inked and put in contact with the sheet of paper. To keep ink away from the areas of the plate not engraved, the plate was flushed with water. Because water and ink repel each other, the ink adhered only to the engraved area of the plate.

Today's offset press uses the same basic technology - ink and water don't mix, and a plate is required to carry the image. In original lithography, the plate containing the image contacted the sheet directly, whereas in offset printing the image is transferred from the inked plate to a rubber blanket that contacts the sheet. The image offsets from the plate to the blanket, then offsets again from the blanket to the paper.

The technology of digital printing and high speed copying
When we talk about digital printing, we are referring to high-speed laser printing. Laser printing uses a single source of concentrated light to expose the image on to photosensitive material located on a drum or belt. Electrically charged toner is attracted to the image on the drum or belt that has an opposite charge. Finally, the toner particles are transferred to the paper and fused to it with heat and/or pressure.

In the past decade, most copier manufacturers developed digital printer/copiers. These machines combine laser print engines with high-speed scanners to enable image capture in digital format instead of the electrophotographic method of analog copiers. Thus, all printing is from digital images, whether provided by the scanner or by a computer file. These machines also have copier features such as image manipulation, collating, stapling and bookletmaking.

For showcase printing, offset is the clear choice
For showcase printing projects, the overriding consideration is print quality. So even though digital printing technology has improved immensely over the past decade, offset printing is still the leader in image quality for showcase printing projects such as fine art prints. This is because an offset press plate can be imaged to a higher resolution than a digital printing image carrier and because ink is a film while toner is particulate. Ink film will adhere more exactly to a fine line or small dot than a particle of toner, whose size may be larger than the line or dot it is adhering to.

For business printing, the choice is less clear
Unlike showcase printing, business printing projects often must accommodate factors in addition to print quality. Cost is one, as is the amount of time to produce the job, the quantity required, the kind of paper that must be used, color fidelity or the format of the original.

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