Digital Printing: Advantages and Disadvantages

Traditional printing processes, namely offset printing, continue to hold powerful influence in the printing industry. However, as technology has advanced in recent years, digital printing has changed the printing landscape. In 2017, digital printing accounted for 16.2% of global print market value, making it clear that the popularity of this alternative printing process is likely to continue increasing.

To understand what makes digital printing such a great alternative to traditional processes, you’ll need to know what digital printing is and get familiar with the advantages of this process.

Let’s take a closer look at digital printing and its advantages and disadvantages.

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing is the method of printing from a digital image directly onto the chosen material. Unlike offset printing (or lithography), digital printing does not use wet ink to transfer images using printing plates. Instead, digital printers use an image file, such as a PDF, to map out the and recreate it. Setup is much faster than offset printing, as there are no plates to create and the digital printer handles everything.

There are two types of digital printing, toner-based and inkjet.

Toner-Based Presses

Toner-based presses use electrophotography, or powder-based pigmented toner that’s picked up by an electric drum and rolled onto the paper or material. Particles that form an image are then fused to the material using a laser. Toner-based presses were the first digital printing method and continue to remain popular today due to their ability to produce high-definition results and print on a wide range of materials.

Inkjet Printing

Inkjet printing is a newer technology that enables efficient printing at faster speeds on larger sheet sizes and with higher quality than toner based presses. The inkjet printing process involves liquid ink cartridges and nozzles that spray ink out in a mist over a designated image or pattern. Inkjet technology has advanced rapidly since its invention and is now used in industrial applications such as textile printing, signage, and ceramics, as well paper. The latest generation of inkjet presses are capable of producing quality that exceeds Toner-based presses and even conventional offset presses.

What are the Advantages of Digital Printing?

Fast Turnaround Time

Since digital printers do not require plates or much manual intervention, setup time is cut down significantly. All that’s needed to create a digital print is a high-res image file. Once that has been uploaded, the printer handles the rest, greatly reducing turnaround times for jobs that don’t require huge quantities. If your project has a tight deadline, digital printing may be a great option to explore.

Cost Effective

Digital printing enables you to easily print only what you need, making it much more cost effective than offset printing for smaller quantity ranges. If you only need a small number of copies, consider going the digital route.

Environmental Benefits

Digital press use water based inks, release no VOC’s and are more environmentally friendly than oil based conventional offset printing inks.

Multiple Versions

Does your job require multiple versions, or customizations in the form of variable data? It’s easy to switch over to a new version when you’re printing digitally. In fact, every piece can be personalized to an individual recipient, as long as there’s variable information in the database.

Quick Printed Proofs

When printing digitally, the printed proof you receive for approval is your finished product. If you plan to print on a specific paper stock, you can request that your print provider print the proof on your chosen stock to ensure that the proof you receive will be representative of what the entire finished print run will look like. The digital printing process also produces high quality prints which are sharp and precise, making it easier to offer a swift approval.

Consistent Quality

The new generation of inkjet presses, like Fuji’s J Press, are capable of printing at a quality level, color gamut, and consistency that exceeds even the best traditional offset presses.

What are the Disadvantages of Digital Printing?

Costs for Large Volumes

When timing is a concern, digital printing can be a great option. However, if your project involves a larger quantity (i.e. more than 5,000 copies, depending on the type of project), offset printing will be a lot more cost effective than going digital.

PMS and Metallic Ink Limitations

Very few digital presses can print with PMS inks. Instead, they use four color process (4CP) and, in some cases, green and orange toner to simulate PMS inks. If you’re using a corporate or brand color palette that’s difficult to create from process screen builds (or must match perfectly), ask you print provider to make a test proof on their digital press to see how well they are able to reproduce the colors. Digital presses vary greatly in their ability to reproduce difficult to match PMS colors.

Only a few digital press manufacturers offer presses that can print metallic colors. If your project requires a metallic ink to achieve an eye-catching design, you may want to think about traditional offset printing that will allow more flexibility and a larger range of guaranteed ink options.

Fewer Material Choices

Digital printing presses may be catching up to traditional offset printing quality, but the variety of paper and substrate options just doesn’t compare to those offered via traditional processes. You won’t find the range of paper stocks, inks, and finishing options available on a digital press that you can get with the offset printing process.

Trust the Phoenix Group for Your Digital Printing Needs

We’ve covered the gamut of digital printing advantages and disadvantages. At the Phoenix Group, we take pride in both our traditional printing services and our digital printing services. For low quantity projects that need a quick turnaround and guaranteed quality, or those with lots of versions or personalizations, digital printing is a welcome, economical alternative for your print marketing needs.

Interested in working with the Phoenix Group on a project or learning more about our digital printing capabilities? Contact us today.

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