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Offset or Print-on-Demand Printing: Here’s what you need (to know)

September 12, 2023
Enterprise Print

If printing is a regular practice for your company, you can opt for offset printing or printing-on-demand (PoD) services. They both have their pros and cons, and neither is intrinsically better than the other, depending on your needs. How do you decide which is best for your purposes? Let’s zoom in on the similarities and differences between offset and PoD printing, and help you choose what’s best for your organization.

We’ll first look into what Offset Printing and PoD Printing are, and then help you find out what serves your purposes best.

What is Offset Printing?

In offset printing, a greased image applied to a printing plate is printed on a rubber roller, and then transferred (“set off”) on a surface such as paper. This is done in four separate print layers, following the colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Together they can form all colors in the color spectrum. For each of these four, the plates are greased separately. This makes the ink stick to the places where it’s supposed to be, and is repelled from other spots. It ensures consistent, high-quality output.
Typically, offset printing is used in settings that need larger volumes, such as newspapers, brochures, magazines, branded cardboard boxes, and branded materials such as stationery.

Web-Fed vs. Sheet-Fed Offset Printing

There are several methods for offset printing. In web-fed offset printing, a long, rolled up sheet of paper is run through the press, and cut into separate pages afterwards. In sheet-fed, as the name may give away, separate pages are fed through the printing press. The first method is slightly faster than the second one.

Advantages of Offset Printing

If you need larger quantities, offset printing is the most cost-effective method for printing. Fully automated, quickly running tens of thousands of copies through the presses outweighs the initial set-up costs. And the output quality is great. As it uses real ink, the colors are deeper and lusher.

Disadvantages of Offset Printing

Because offset print facilities are geared towards stamping out large volumes of one and the same product, personalizing individual pieces will be problematic. This may be less ideal if your work typically involves sending out personalized copies of your product.

The large output quantity also introduces a stock risk; be sure to use all copies, or you will end up with a major pile of unused materials, creating excess warehousing costs and waste. Installing the printers is a bit of a process, so you may want to take that into consideration if your work typically involves tight deadlines. Another time-consuming factor of offset printing products is their handling: ranging from managing the ordering process to production, warehousing and transport, your assignment takes many steps to complete manually.

Also, beware of the cost-saving fallacy: If you need large quantities, offset printing is cheaper than printing-on-demand. But putting ink to paper is only a small part of the process. The volumes produced in offset printing must be transported and stored somewhere, leading to increased warehousing and shipping costs, not to mention the manual labor the handling part requires.

What is Printing on Demand (Digital Printing)?

In digital printing, a representation of a digitally produced image is directly applied onto a carrier surface. This can be done from home using a regular home printer for desktop publishing. Today, it’s as simple as printing a homework assignment for school. In professional printing, it refers to digitally produced content that is sent to a small-scale print shop for high-quality printing.

Printing on demand typically does not require a sequence of pre-installed roller presses. While the paper is run through the printer, a mobile print head with several ink cartridges moves from left to right and back. Meanwhile, it sprays ink onto the paper row by row, following the color information processed from the digital image.

Advantages of Printing on Demand

The overall output quality of digital printing has dramatically improved over the years, to the extent where it now easily matches traditional offset print quality. Additionally, it simply follows a digital cue. Presses can be reconfigured quickly (it may even be as simple as loading an image into the print software), offering a great deal of order flexibility, and even allowing for piece personalization. Orders as small as just one copy are no problem at all. An assignment can be given at any time, and even be automated to the point that if someone orders a copy of your book or print online, it is directed to the printer, and can be sent to the required address as quickly as within a day. This quick turnaround and small quantity focus also eliminates warehousing costs and manual processes. That is where it gets its name ‘on demand’.
In a global setting, it allows internationally operating companies to decentralize their print production, and enlist the help of local print shops instead, allowing for major reductions in logistics and warehousing costs as well as carbon emissions.

Disadvantages of Printing on Demand

Whereas offset printing gives the economic benefit of large numbers reducing handling time and speeding up rollout, you’ll pay more per piece on average with printing on demand services. Digital printer set-ups, however, take a fraction of the time compared to offset printers, making it more financially attractive for smaller quantities.

Decisive Factors for Your Type of Printing

Whether offset or digital printing is best for your situation depends on many factors. Firstly, you may consider your company’s size and the general volume of printed materials you need. If your line of work requires a continuous supply of printed materials in larger volumes, offset printing may be worth considering. For instance, if you want to create a non-personalized newspaper, a recurring magazine, or branded stationery like notepads or calendars. These can be produced in large numbers for relatively low costs using offset printing.

Print-on-demand services are your best bet if you have more incidental print assignments, such as marketing materials like posters and other brand assets. For instance, if you represent a global enterprise that needs printed materials in various locations around the world, localized to the markets their offices are serving. You may want to choose print-on-demand services from local print shops already associated with your branch offices.

Other factors to consider include:

We hope this guide has given you a global idea of what type of printing suits your situation best. Of course, we’re happy to help you choose for your specific situation. Do not hesitate to contact our Sales department.