Offset Printing: What is it and when do you need it?
Offset printing is one of the first printing techniques that allowed printers to inexpensively produce images and text. Although the process has been refined over the decades, it still remains a viable option for many companies. In this article we discuss the history of offset printing, how it works, and when it may be the best option for your printing needs.
An Overview of offset printing
The offset printing press was first created in the late 18th century, and used limestone plates to create images by taking advantage of the immiscibility of oil and water. Before this method was introduced, printing was very low-quality, took an extortionate amount of time, and was reserved for the affluent that could afford it. Surprisingly, while offset printing has evolved since then, the basic concepts have not changed.
Traditional offset printing (and still used today) is actually quite simple. A printed text or image is produced using a combination of etched metal plates and wet ink. A specific plate is created for each color used, then the plate is used to transfer a specific image onto a rubber sheet. This rubber sheet is then rolled onto paper, vinyl or some similar surface, and voila, a printed product.
High Quality Printing
The most important advantage when it comes to offset printing is the quality. Unlike other presses, offset printing uses true color schemes such as Pantone colors to produced unparalleled color quality. The printer operator can control the amount of ink that is used for each print, meaning the end-product can provide enough contract within the images themselves. As a result, you get a sharp and crisp image from each print.
Variety of Materials
Another advantage of offset printing is that it allows for printing on a variety of surfaces. Because you’re not feeding a piece of paper through a roller as you do with a digital printer, for example, operators can print on virtually any surface that will allow it. You can print on metal, wood, fabric, vinyl, and various types of paper, cardstock and plastic. This ability allows for truly unique products.
High Value for High Volume
As noted above, offset printing requires individual plates to be created for each color of a print job. Because offset presses require these specific plates made for each print job, it requires an expensive initial investment in order to require the high-quality product offset delivers. However, once plates are made offset presses can produce a high volume of prints with very little additional cost. The higher the volume required, the higher the value received from offset.
Not the Highest Quality
Although offset printing offers a higher quality print than that of digital printing, it doesn’t provide the highest quality available. For example, photogravure printing that utilizes a photo-mechanical process with copper plates and light-sensitive gelatin tissue results in very detailed and crisp images. Also, rotogravure, which uses a rotary press, produce superior prints typically found in long runs of magazines or stamps.
High Cost for Low Volume
Due to the high setup costs associated with creating and producing plates, offset printing is not a good value for print jobs that require smaller volumes. In addition to the high cost, the plates can take a significant amount of time to develop and use, and for those that need quick turnaround times, digital printing offers a much better value.
When to Use Offset
So, what is the main takeaway from all of this? Determining the correct printing method for your project requires an examination of many specifics, including time, budget and the type of material you wish to have your final product printed on. If you’re printing books, newspapers or magazines, offset may be the best way to go. Or if you have a highly unique project requiring printing on special materials, consider offset as your best choice.
However, if you require a quick print for a few brochures and you don’t need the highest quality, other methods such as digital printing may be better.
All-in-all, when it comes to quality, high-volume printing, the advantages that come with offset printing outweigh the drawbacks.