The difference between offset and digital printing


When you think about it, it’s pretty funny how often we ponder the printing process.

Because we never really do.

Honestly, when was the last time you pulled a lovely catalogue out of your mailbox and said “Wow! I wonder what kind of printing device made this image possible?! Was it digital?? Offset?”

Probably never.

I mean, we do over here at Pel Hughes, but we’re a little bit obsessed with all the ink and media jazz – as a printing company should be!

But in the spirit of education and celebrating the craft we love, we want to introduce you to the two main methods of printing in use today, the way they work, and how they’re different from one another.

Understanding the two might just help you choose the best option for your next printing job, or you might just be funny like us and think printers are cool.

Drumroll, please!

In general, there are two main methods of printing: digital and offset.

The method used for a printing job is chosen based on the volume and consistency a job demands.

Offset Printing

Offset printing (also known as “offset lithography”) dates back to 1875 and is clearly the older of the two methods. It involves the transfer of an image using several large cylinders and ink. The first cylinder holds a metal plate with the image for printing etched into it. The metal plate then is pressed into a rubber or plastic sheet on the next cylinder. This cylinder is then covered with ink and pressed onto the final media – whether that be paper, wood, cloth, etc.

Offset printing is fantastic for large printing jobs (like newspapers and books) because it produces consistent, high quality print. This consistent quality is partially due to the fact that the metal plate never comes into contact with the ink or print media, meaning that it maintains its quality for longer.

Though the process of setting up the offset printer for a job is more time consuming than digital printing, the cost of offset printing actually results in a lower cost per page than digital printing if the job is big enough.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is the newer but no less impressive method of printing.

Put simply, digital printing takes out the middleman: an image is sent directly from a file to the printer. There is no need to transfer the image from the file to a rubber or metal plate – the toner is sprayed directly onto the print media and bound to the paper with heat to create the desired image.

Because digital printing does not require the creation of a plate, it greatly reduces the time needed to print – meaning saved time and money for you!

And because of the lower cost, digital printing is great for small jobs.


Not sure which one to pick?

That’s just fine! That’s our job.

Give us a call at 504-486-8646 or shoot us an email to find out how we can help you pick the highest quality, most cost efficient option for all of your printing needs.