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

What-is-Offset-Printing-And-Why-Does-It-Matter-for-Mailing.jpgWhen using direct mail as part of your overall marketing strategy you have to make  decisions about how you’re going to get your mailer printed. You’ve got to print something before you can mail it. One choice you’ll have is whether to use offset or digital printing.

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

Offset vs. Digital Printing

Offset printing has been around for a long time. The name derives from the way the process works. An image is chemically burned onto a plate (usually aluminum or polyester). That image is then transferred (offset) onto a rubber sheet that presses the image onto 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 via ink jets or fused toner.

How do you choose?

How does that information help you when it’s time to choose a printing method? Let’s compare some key areas.

  • Turn-around Time: It takes time to make the plates involved in the offset 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 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 still be significantly 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. Offset printing also provides for a wider selection of paper stocks and techniques such as embossing and metallic foil stamping.
  • Personalization: Digital printing offers the ability to use variable data and graphics in the printing process. You can customize each printed piece. With conventional offset printing, you have to come back and overprint with an inkjet or laser process if you want personalization.

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 sense. You can always bid it both ways and compare yourself. Second, ask yourself how much the quality matters. If you you’re mailing 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—digital may be the better choice. And if you want the ability to personalize information and especially graphics on your printed piece then digital printing may be worth the extra expense.

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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