4over png logo-2

Offset vs Digital Printing: Differences Explained

At some point in the print-buying process, there is a question of what printing technology to use. Should it be printed on an offset press or a digital press? It’s an important question because both are capable of brilliant print quality, but there are differences in paper and finishing options as well as costs.

Offset Printing Presses Explained

Offset presses do most of the printing in the world. Magazines, commercial greeting cards, books, and mass-market collateral are printed in volumes that make offset printing cost-effective and efficient. The presses may print sheets or rolls of paper using printing plates that contain the print images for each of the ink colors, usually cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, but many presses also support additional spot and specialty colors. As the paper moves through the press, the plates in each printing unit pick up ink and transfer it to the paper. The paper moves from one color station to the next, building the image to create the final intended printed product.

The nature of the technology means that there is significant preparation before printing. Creative files are put through file preparation and color management processes to ensure the file is print-ready for offset. Color separation files are made for each color, which are then sent to a computer-to-plate (CTP) system that images the aluminum plates. After imaging, the plates are processed and mounted on the press. Many plate imaging systems require chemicals and clean-up fluids that add time, effort, and cost to the job.

Offset printing produces very high-quality print, in print runs that often go into the thousands and sometimes millions of pieces. It is a technology that supports almost any type of paper, any weight, and any finish. This is the technology most often selected for static printing that requires long runs because the cost model is appropriate. Plates and the cost of makeready become a smaller percentage of the total cost when higher quantities are produced.

Offset Printing vs Digital Printing

The calculation changes when the print runs are short or when the work requires variable customization. That is where digital printing options are best suited. Digital devices use imaging modules that transmit information to inkjet print heads or electrophotographic modules that result in print on paper.

The most striking difference is that digital printing does not require the physical makeready – color separations, plate making, hanging individual plates, and running tests to ensure color registration – required in offset printing. There are file preparation requirements, but no plates, no chemicals, and less time to get ready to print. The image file is delivered to the Digital Front End (DFE) of the digital print device for final imaging and for communication with the print engine.

Digital technology is based on either inkjet heads that drop ink onto paper or imaging modules that transfer an image to a charged drum to attract toner that is transferred to the page. Each technology behaves differently and has slightly different color models because of the differences between toner and ink. Digital print also supports a more limited set of paper stocks.

Variable data print products like bills and statements, where every page is different, are done on digital print devices. Direct Mail is often printed using digital devices, especially if there are variable offers to target recipients. By comparison, if you were doing big box store coupons that only vary the name and address, you might print using offset technology and then add the name and address using digital technology, which could also impact your costs. Digital printing is becoming the technology of choice for short-run static work, book-of-one or personalized books, and personalized training material.


Understanding these elements will help you select the best print technology. Work with your 4over team to understand which technology is best for your clients’ projects!


4over is always here to help you grow your business and deliver for your clients. And as a trade-only printer and promo provider, 4over will never compete with you—the best measure of our success is yours!


4over LLC is one of the largest wholesale trade printers in the US, with multiple production facilities across North America. A trusted source of print fulfillment since 2001, the company helps large franchise printers, single print shops, print brokers, graphic designers, photographers, and every type of print reseller in between grow profitable businesses by offering a vast selection of quality products at guaranteed trade-only prices. With capabilities such as gang-run offset, digital, grand format, and promotional printing, plus state-of-the-art equipment, 4over offers every customer savings, selection, and scale. Not yet a 4over reseller? Register Today!

Keep Reading

4over Holiday Operations Schedule

All 4over locations are closed on the following public holidays in 2024: January 1 New Years Day May 27 Memorial Day July 4 Independence Day July 5 Day After Independence Day September 2 Labor Day...

Read More

4over Pick-Up Hours

Pickup hours listed below are from Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. For a list of holidays, please view our Holiday Schedule. City Address Hours Arlington, TX 2112 West Division St. Arlington,...

Read More

Ecommerce With Printer Bridge: Your Site. We Print. You Profit.

The rise of Amazon and other online retailers already had the general public beginning to look to the web to meet their buying needs. However, this “digital transformation” of how consumers shop was...

Read More

As one of North America’s largest trade-only printers and a trusted source for print fulfillment since 2001, 4over helps print, design, and other creative services resellers grow profitable businesses. We do this by offering a vast selection of quality print products at guaranteed trade-only prices. Our expansive e-commerce catalog includes everything from standard marketing collateral like business cards and brochures, to harder-to-find specialty, large format, and promotional products.

Our capabilities span gang run offset, digital, grand format, and promotional printing across six production facilities, staffed by experienced, committed operations teams. With locations across North America, state-of-the-art equipment such as powerful Incas and Scodix UV machines, and fast turnarounds, 4over offers our customers savings, selection, and scale. We serve large franchise printers, single print shops, print brokers, graphic designers, photographers, and every type of print reseller in between. Learn more at Trade.4over.com

1225 Los Angeles Street, Glendale, California 91204, United States

©2023 4OVER LLC, Terms and Conditions | Privacy Statement | CA Supply Chain Act