Digital vs OffsetDigital Printers, much like the one you probably have at home, uses strictly CMYK as their printing colors. A lot of people who need prints quickly or have a tight budget often go with the digital printer because it is faster and cheaper than the offset press. There are a few different kinds of digital printers that use different kinds of 'inks', both of which are CMYK. The two main kinds of printers are Laser Printers and Inkjet Printers.
A 'Laser Printer' uses a toner which is in powder form. As the paper goes through the printer, the toner is attracted to a photoreceptor by a charge from a laser, and the toner is transferred onto paper. The paper is then sent through a Fuser which melts the toner and fuses it (hence the name 'Fuser') to the paper. Toner is a little different than then ink that the offset press and inkjet printers use... the toner actually sits on top of the paper, whereas the ink for the offset and inkjet are liquid so the paper soaks them in.
|An example of how a digital printer works.|
[Photo credit: http://superiorptg.com/process/digitalpress/]
There are a few downfalls of printing with a digital printer, though. For starters, color consistency can be a problem from job to job. Colors can stay consistent while printing a single job, but having the EXACT same color a few days later is often tricky. On large areas of flat color a digital printer can often cause banding, which is caused when rollers run over the colored area leaving a slightly visible mark all the way down the paper. Also, on large areas of flat color, the color can sometimes turn out blotchy and uneven.
Offset presses use real ink and work off plates, which are a special flexible material that has an image lasered into it. Each color has its own plate, and each of those plates are wrapped around it's own roller on the press. The area that is lasered into the plate is the only area the ink will stick to. It can be kind of hard to imagine exactly how an offset press works unless you can see it yourself, but the easiest way to explain it is there is a roller for each color ink... that roller rolls through the ink and rolls onto the plate, which transfers the ink to a 'stamp' (blanket) which stamps it onto the paper. Much like the cogs of a watch turn and work together, the rollers in a press all turn and work together.
|An example of the plate, blanket, and paper as it runs through the offset press.|
[Photo credit: http://www.digitalroom.com/offset-printing.html]
The upsides of printing with a DI is, unlike the digital printer that uses CMYK, it has excellent color consistency, especially when using Pantone colors. This is highly beneficial for branding when specific colors are called for (like Sticky Note's yellow or even Barbie's pink). Here at MMP-MarketMailPrint, the page size limit for each of our printers is 13x19 (not counting the large format printer), but the press can handle thicker paper better than the digital printer can. For example, digital printers can often have trouble with 130# paper, whereas a press can print on 130# no problem. Also, the press produces smooth solid colors, unlike the blotchyness of a digital printer.
The downfall of a DI, or any offset press, is they can be costly and they can take a little bit longer to get a job completely done. As opposed to throwing paper into the digital printer and pressing print, ... the plates have to be made, colors mixed, press needs set up, print time, and drying time. Although, fairly large jobs can actually be quicker on the offset press than on the digital printer... it all depends on the SIZE of the job. Our DI, however, uses waterless inks which mean the drying time associated with traditional offset presses can be negated.
There are, obviously, lots of details to be considered when choosing between the DI Printer and the Digital Printer, whether it be size, color, or quantity. But if your curious about the best way to go about getting your job done, all you have to do is ask!