What is Offset Printing—And Why Does It Matter for Mailing?


What-is-Offset-Printing-And-Why-Does-It-Matter-for-Mailing.jpgWhen you use direct mail as part of your overall marketing strategy you’ll have to make some decisions about how you’re going to get your mailer (whether it’s a card, a self-mailer, a brochure, a catalog, etc.) printed. You’ve got to print something before you can mail it. One of the choices you’ll have is whether to use offset printing or go with digital printing.

What is offest printing—and why would you choose it over digital printing? Is it always the right choice? Here’s a quick comparison.

Offset printinghas been around for a long time. It gets its name from the way the process works. An image is chemically burned onto a plate (usually aluminum). That image is then transferred (offset) onto a rubber sheet before it’s printed on the paper.

Digital printing works pretty much the way your home or office printer works. The image is digitized and then printed directly on the paper.

How does that information help you when it’s time to choose how to get your direct mail piece printed? Here’s a comparison in some key areas.

  • Turn-around Time: It takes time to make the plates involved in the offest process. When you use digital printing, you eliminate the need for plates. So if you require a quicker turn-around time, digital can really make sense. That’s particularly true if you’re planning a short print run (in the range of 500 to 1,000 pieces)—although digital is continually pushing those quantity boundaries out.
  • Expense: Making plates also adds an upfront cost to a printing job. With digital printing, you eliminate that process—and the expense. Again, if you have a short run, the cost for plates pushes your overall cost up. On a larger printing job, it’s spread out over more pieces. In addition, your unit cost on longer print runs can drop dramatically (which hasn’t been the case for digital printing historically). What that means is that if you’re planning a large mailing, your printing costs can actually be lower with offset printing.
  • Quality: In the earlier days of digital printing, the quality of the digital process simply couldn’t match that of offset printing. That’s still true to some degree today, but often to the untrained eye, it may not be enough to justify the cost difference on shorter runs.
  • Personalization: Digital printing offers you the ability to use variable data in the printing process. That means you can customize each piece you print as it’s printed. The personalize information is a perfect fit with what you’re printing. With conventional offset printing, you have to come in after the face and overprint with an inkjet if you want to personalize the information. It often looks like it’s added after the fact.

So which method makes sense for you? Begin with the number of pieces you plan to mail. If it’s a small amount (500 to 1,500 pieces) it’s likely that digital makes more sense. You can always bid it both ways and compare yourself. Second, ask yourself how much the quality matters. If you you’re maling something that’s presenting a high quality item that needs to look great, it might be worth going offset to get a better image. If your piece will have a short shelf life or if the quality of the image simply isn’t as important, then digital may be the better choice. And if you want the ability to personalize information on your printed piece (and even address it as it’s being printed) then digital printing is the way to go.

If you aren’t sure—that’s not a problem. Simply request a quote and then talk to one of our customer service representatives about what you have planned.

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