The Difference Between Offset and Variable Digital Printing

When it comes to commercial print jobs most companies rely heavily on the expertise of their printer. They count on them to know the technical details surrounding the production of their projects, including (but not limited to) the difference between offset and variable printing. Because understanding the ins and outs of offset and variable digital printing can heavily influence the decisions you make about your commercial printing projects, however, you should have some fundamental understanding of how it all works before you make a decision about your printing project.

Offset Printing

When printers talk about doing it “old school” they’re usually talking about offset printing. Although offset printing has changed and grown over the years the same way that digital printing has, and it is still commonly used in many applications (including the newsletter you picked up at this morning on your way to work) it’s sometimes considered to have a fairly limited scope in today’s high tech world.

The foundation of offset printing is built on the fact that ink and water don’t mix. Offset printing relies heavily on the skill of the printer, who will create a printing plate with the client’s text, design or logo. That is then put on a press, where it undergoes a series of processes to ink and transfer the design onto your printing medium. Commercial print shops will use any or all of four primary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), applying the ink to the plate and then to the paper.

Variable Digital Printing

Although offset printing is still used on many occasions, including (but not limited to) creating business cards and printing legal forms and the aforementioned newspaper, it’s being replaced in many applications by a process known as variable digital printing.

You’re already well aware of the convenience offered by digital applications. The fact that you’re reading this article instead of browsing through tomes of information in your local library means you’re in touch with the digital age. The convenience offered by the Internet and a virtually limitless amount of digital storage space has replaced modern research institutions on many levels. But I digress.

Variable digital printing offers companies, learning institutions and non-profit organizations something that offset printing can’t: The ability to easily personalize their materials. Through variable digital printing you can put a customer’s name on a letter, adapt your graphics to their particular area of interest or personalize entire paragraphs without having to rewrite your materials and burn a new plate for each customer (which would take forever and cost you a small fortune before it was done).

This particular type of printing is often used by marketers looking for a way to reach potential leads on a more personal level, although that’s certainly not its only application. Imagine being able to purchase graduation invitations pre-personalized for your child instead of having to spend hours filling them out yourself. Or being able to address thousands of envelopes without having to type each address out one by one, because the printer could pull their personal information directly from your database.