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Digital vs Offset Printing Illustration

The Cost of Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing

It can be difficult when tackling a large printing project to determine if offset printing or digital printing is more cost effective. Here is a brief explanation of the two and their respective cost formulas to help you determine which is best for your printing needs the next time you head out to the print shop.


First, we need to consider how both are priced and then we can compare the two.

We’ll start with digital since it is easier to explain:


Our Konica Minolta color printer in the office!

Our digital presses are not unlike what you have at home with the exception of their sophistication and capabilities. Both home printers and professional digital printers print directly from the file, and when the print comes out, it’s ready to go into bindery.

The cost formula for digital pricing:

Setup + Clicks (Print Cost) + Paper Cost + Bindery + Delivery.

For digital jobs, the cost formula is simple to calculate across the board.  Any printing impression on a page “click” costs the same to the printer; so in turn, it costs the same to the customer.  That’s regardless if it’s full coverage or just a spec of color in the middle of the page.

However, offset printing is a different story.  With offset or traditional printing, you have to include the cost elements, which is a bit more complicated.

Offset machines use plates for printing which has not changed much since William Caxton’s inventing the printing press in 1476.  Without getting too far into it, and staying within the guidelines of this blog post on pricing, know that plates, no matter if they’re synthetic or metal, add to cost for both the printer and the customer.

There is a hard flat cost on the plates, and more colors mean more plates. For example, when you do a 4-color printing job, you have 4 plates.  So, you have a flat cost before you print even one sheet of paper. This simple change in the cost formula can make offset printing more expensive than digital printing.


The cost formula for offset pricing:

Setup + Plates + Print Cost (ink & labor) + Paper Cost + Bindery + Delivery.

So now that you have a basic idea of cost formula, you’re wondering, why does this matter?  When is it more cost effective for offset as opposed to digital?  The answer is it depends, but here are some guidelines.

The general break-even point is about 2,500 sheets for offset to become the more cost effective of the two.  This can vary by project though, for example a booklet where you have to use more than 4 plates may become costly.  Because there are so many variances to the process, it is best to contact a professional printing company, like CTR Services, to determine which is best for your printing needs.

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