Digital and Offset Printing Explained

What’s the difference between Digital and Offset?

Not all printing methods are created equal, but it’s not a competition about which one is better – it’s about which one is right for your job. Mitchell Graphics utilizes digital and offset printing often. So let’s explore the differences and advantages.

What is Offset Printing?

Offset printing requires a separation of an image’s colors into color components. Each of these color components gets its own plate (made from aluminum) and is loaded on its own plate cylinder. The non-image portion of the roller is dampened with water, and the image area is loaded with ink. The image from the inked plate cylinder then transfers to the blanket (or offset) cylinder, which does the actual inking of the particular color component onto the paper. Since the offset roller does the actual inking of the medium (paper), instead of direct inking, it’s easy to see why it’s called offset printing. What you do get is a great quality choice for larger quantities, with very accurate color production. Your crisp prints have the professional look you need.

Some Advantages of Offset Printing:

  • Well suited for large job cost effectiveness
  • The larger the run, the lower the individual cost
  • More options for papers and other mediums open up with a variety of finishes
  • Specialty inks like PantoneⓇ Inks or even metallic colors
  • Unsurpassed quality of color and clarity authentic to the original design

What is Digital Printing?

Unlike offset printing, digital printing transfers the color directly to the paper or another medium. The most common types of digital printers are

  • Toner (powder that’s electrostatically transferred and heat fused to the paper)
  • Inkjet (liquid ink in a variety of formats and methods of application)
  • Solid Ink Printers (using colors similar to candle wax, and a process closer to offset)

Digital printing works best for small jobs and jobs that need changes on the fly. Such an example of variable data printing is a direct mail job that produces postcards customized to individual customers or tiers of customers. Each piece in a variable data print run can get a unique code, address, image, or even product selection or offer.

Some Advantages of Digital Printing:

  • Geared toward lower quantities
  • Low setup costs, and cost per page
  • Well suited for print on demand jobs (what you need, when you need it)
  • Quick and inexpensive option for black-and-white print jobs
  • The only way to perform Variable Data Printing

I’ve heard of “Digital Offset Printing,” what does it mean?

The term “Digital Offset Printing” refers to a class of offset printers that manufacturers have been able to highly automate – streamlining the setup and changeover process. But offset printing is still offset printing.

Which method is the right fit for my next print project?

Mitchell Graphics employs both digital and offset printing because each job is different. Generally speaking, small jobs with the quickest turnarounds are done on digital machines. The digital machines also get all of the jobs that require variable data printing. Larger jobs, requiring unparalleled quality or special inks/papers find themselves on offset presses. The results are stunning, even if you don’t use fluorescent or metallic inks. But these are just some general guidelines. The best way to determine which technique is right for your next job is to call or email Mitchell Graphics. We’ll make sure you get the best quality prints either way, at the best price.

More By Mitchell

DIRECT MAIL MARKETING – Direct mail marketing allows for targeted communication with an intended audience using print. Popular products include postcards, letters, catalogs and more. Mitchell Graphics offers complete, in-house direct mail marketing services.

PRINT ON DEMAND – Print on demand is the ability to print static files on an as needed basis, often in small quantities, on a digital press. Print on demand often allows for quicker turnaround and reduced waste compared to a conventional printing process.

COLLEGE PRINTING – Mitchell Graphics has 40 years of experience helping colleges communicate with students. Our unique model enables everyone to focus on what they do best. Your college benefits from free consultation and complete project management. Put our college and university expertise to work for you!


We build custom solutions for every client. See some of our work, and contact us for your customized quotes. From designing and printing to wide-format, merchandising and beyond, we’re the “more” you’ve been looking for.