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Heidi Tolliver-Walker is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications.

Recently, in her blogs at Digital Nirvana, Heidi has addressed several of the issues that both printers and print-buyers still perceive as differences between digital and offset printing.

Critical Visual Differences Between Digital and Offset Print

Digital quality is not the same as offset. It’s close, but not identical.

For extremely high-end jobs, such as annual reports, the choice is almost always offset, regardless of run length or price, but few applications fall into this category. Even many commercial photo books are now being produced digitally. The output won’t be identical to high-end sheetfed, but there are digital technologies that get awfully close. Some practitioners claim that, in some cases, digital production quality is actually superior.

In terms of appearance, one of the most basic differences between digital and offset arises because most digital presses apply dry toner on top of the paper, while offset uses liquid ink that soaks into it…

There are other subtle differences between digital and offset, such as scattering of toner around the edges of text, but marketers—and consumers—are unlikely to notice them unless they know what they are looking for and are looking through a loupe.

Keep in mind, too, that “difference” doesn’t mean “bad.” There are those, even experts in the printing industry, who actually prefer the appearance of digital print for some applications.

Remaining Design Limitations on Digital Presses?

The technology used to drive digital presses has, in the past, made for some limitations in graphic design. Some presses (especially older presses) have tighter registration than others, for example, which could be a challenge if you need to match hairlines across the fold. Digital presses have also been notorious for having difficulty with large areas of solid color and with vignettes and other subtle gradations.

With the newer generations of presses, however, this is far less of an issue that it used to be…

Thus, as with print quality, these and other design limitations are really a non-issue in most cases. If you have settled on digital output for your next print job, talk to your service provider about any accommodation your designer might need to make, if any.

Digital Post-Processing

Here are three of the remaining issues I still see as hanging “out there” as they impact marketers directly…

1. Toner is not as inherently “tough” as offset ink, so documents printed with toner may be more likely to scuff or mark during post-processing. In these cases, the value of the larger application needs to be weighed against the impact of any minimal marking that might occur.

2. Cracking across the fold can still be an issue in some digitally printed applications, especially when the toner coverage is extremely heavy. While this can be vastly minimized or eliminated through the use of optimized post-processing steps, such as running the job through specialized creasers before folding, the issue itself is still rumbling around.

3. Issues with insertion, collation, and scoring, which are handled differently on digital presses than offset presses. This continues to impact the cost-effectiveness and productivity of projects such as books, catalogs, and newsletters.

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Perhaps the most interesting comments in these articles are in the feedback from other readers, printers and print-buyers.