Printing for Packaging: Digital vs. Offset

Table of Contents

The key distinction between offset printing and digital printing for potential print customers is that digital printing is best for short run printing while offset printing is best for those who want to print in large quantities. It should be noted that both forms of printing i.e. digital and offset produce extremely high-quality print results that are suitable for professional printing for businesses. The volume of the print project and the specific project requirements are often the major criteria that lead clients to choose one over the other.

There are also distinctions between offset and digital printing, such as color capabilities and sheet sizes.

If you are someone whose looking for brochures, business cards, posters, or other marketing materials, then you must be aware of the fact that how important it is to have the right design, color scheme, copy, and layout. Even once you’ve ticked off all of those boxes, there’s still one more crucial decision to make: whether to print digitally or offset.

We’ll go through the distinctions between the two printing procedures in this article, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. We’ll also go over the things to consider while deciding on the right procedure for your project.

Offset Printing

The most prevalent type of printing for high-volume commercial tasks is offset printing, often known as lithography. Have you ever seen those cool videos of newspapers being rolled up in large rolls? That is exactly how offset printing works.

The working is pretty simple. The printer begins by imprinting the design onto metal plates, one for each hue. Offset printing allows for bespoke ink colors (most notably Pantone colors) to be used instead of the standard four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (key), abbreviated CMYK). Etched metal plates are used in offset printing to apply ink to a sheet of paper. Offset printing requires a lot more time and money to set up than digital printing.

The design is then transferred to rubber rolls from the plates. The various colors of ink are applied on the rubber, and the paper is then passed between them. To create the final image, the paper runs through all of the rolls, building on the color.

One of the major benefits of offset printing is that it gives you a very good image quality. The final image that you will get with offset printing will be free of spots or any sort of marks.

On the contrary, the disadvantage of offset printing is that it is very costly. Furthermore, if you fail to highlight a typo initially, then you might have to start the entire process all over again to correct that typo.

Digital Printing

Back in time, when digital printing was introduced for the very first time, it saw how much work offset printing required and the mechanical stages involved and decided, “No.” Instead of using proofs, plates, or a rubber bed, this method uses liquid ink or powdered toner to apply a design directly to the printing surface.

At home, do you have an inkjet or LaserJet that you connect to your computer? That’s a digital printer you’re looking at. Large printing businesses have larger, faster, and more exact versions, but the premise is the same.

In digital printing, toner is applied to the paper using electrostatic rollers called “drums”. An electrostatic charge draws toner in the form of toner density to the drums, one for each color being printed. After that, the toner is transferred to the sheet and fused to the paper using a high-heat device. One of the major advantages of digital printing is its turnaround time which is extraordinary. Shops that excel at digital printing or digital printmaking can provide same-day and next-day printing at a considerably lower cost than those who specialize in offset printing.

Moreover, in digital printing, every single print print is the same. The possibility of strange variations due to water and ink imbalances is significantly lower compared to the traditional offset printing. The disadvantage of digital printing is that the final image you get is not so crisp or sharp.

Digital vs. Offset Printing: Major Factors

In order to decide whether digital printing is the best of offset printing, it is important that we take into consideration the following major factors on the basis of which you can decide which one is best for you.

  1. Setup

With minimal setup, digital printing can simply print one sheet of paper or a copy of a booklet. Offset printing, on the other hand, necessitates significantly more setup time and material. The ink and paper used by an offset press are actually less expensive than those used by a digital press, but the cost reductions are only noticeable if the print job is large enough.

  1. Time

Time is very important. If you are in a hurry, then digital printing is the best for you. It won’t waste much of your time and you will be able to get done with your work on time. On the other hand, if you are in a hurry and you are making your mind to go for offset printing, then you are making a mistake. Offset printing takes plenty of time and that is something you don’t want.

  1. The Material You Are Using

Are you looking for some unusual metal or plastic business cards? Or a unique advertisement piece on a different surface? Although digital solutions are more versatile than ever before, offset printing still holds the upper hand.

  1. The Right Color

If the printing is in black and white or only one or two colors, offset printing may be the best option. If you only need four colors printed, digital printing may be the best available option. It will for sure save you some money. If accurate color is a must, then you should opt for offset printing. In offset printing, actual Pantone ink is used, whereas digital only provides you a close approximation of the color. Thus it is important that you keep this in mind as well.

  1. The Need for Proofs

If you need to view a printed sample before you make the final decision, digital is the way to go. In an offset project, if you want to have the color proof, then that might be a little difficult. It is because for that you’ll have to complete the most difficult components of the job (printing ink and plates), which can be quite costly.

  1. Volume

It is worth noting that you need to take into consideration the number of copies, not the total number of sheets that matters. If you are someone who is printing say a few thousand copies of the same page, offset is the way to go. Suppose you are printing 800 copies of a 120 page catalogue, you are actually printing 96,000 pages but just 800 copies. This is called short run printing. Furthermore, Digital printing is used by the majority of enterprises that print frequently, quickly, and frequently changing content. Businesses who print in large quantities and don’t update their material frequently, on the other hand, choose offset printing. Therefore, the amount of printing is a significant difference between offset and digital printing.

  1. Size of the sheets

Digital printing uses smaller sheet sizes compared to offset printing. Generally it uses sheet size of 19 inches. Although there are several machines that can go up to 29 inches.

On the contrary, offset printing commonly uses 29″ and 40″ sheet sizes. This increase in sheet size allows for printing that isn’t achievable on smaller sheets at times. Posters, large cover book printing, and some types of brochures are just a few examples.

Customers typically resort to digital wide-format presses for short-run printing where dimensional print size is crucial but print quantities do not justify the usage of an offset press. There are various types of wide-format printing surfaces that cannot be printed on digital wide-format presses, such as packaging material, plastics, and so on.

  1. Printing Plates

Because offset printing relies on plates, each and every single print job must be converted to a plate and the press must be set up individually for each job. This technique is costly and adds a one-time fee to your print job, regardless of volume. Because digital printing does not utilize plates, there are no setup fees, so you pay a fixed price per item.

  1. Paper Type

Offset printing technology has always been able to handle a wider range of papers, such as exceptionally light or extra heavy stocks, as well as textured stocks. Because many finishing activities, such as folding and stitching, are accomplished in-line, digital presses are best suited for ordinary weight papers. Offset printing presses may look better when printed on highly textured papers like linen, silk, or felt.

In recent years, however, digital press makers have made significant progress in accepting greater weight papers and synthetic stocks. It is interesting to note that now, bond, offset, gloss, dull, index, and other common paper stocks can be digitally or offset printed.


There is absolutely no doubt that personal choice plays a part. However, understanding the distinctions between digital and offset printing allows you to make informed decisions about which approach is ideal for your project. Working with a designer can provide you with a great deal of additional insight, so if you’re still unsure which is best for your project, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance.

Recent Post

Lisa Lan
Senior Business Developer

Hi I am Lisa Lan, senior business developer of EVERSUN PACKAGING. We have helped over 5000 customers to expand their business with cooperation of our packaging solutions. 

Please contact us for any questions or inquiry. 


Scroll to Top

Send Your Inquiry Today