Digital Printing vs. Press Printing – A Comparison Guide

When it comes time to print your brand identity materials, there's one overarching question for you to consider – whether to print the resulting materials on a digital printer or traditional press. There are many differences between the two processes, some of which are outlined below.

Digital Printing

Less expensive – Digital printing is a direct-to-paper printing process. As a result,
it often runs about one-half of the cost of press printing.

Lose color accuracy – Digital printing is a four-color printing process. Four colors
– Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black – are printed in tiny dots that when visually
mixed together, create various colors. This, in addition to the different set-ups and
settings on the machines from press-to-press, batch-to-batch and printer-to-
printer, can produce a wide range of different color results. You can never be certain
what you'll get.

Lose color range – Four-color printing has limitations on the brightness,
saturation, and range of colors available – when mixing colors in this way. To
produce bright reds, oranges, blues, and purples, especially, press printing is a
better choice.

Cost of proofing – Proofing is one way to produce accurate color. Proofing can be
costly, especially when compared to the overall cost of the job. But, since the proof
is created on the same equipment that the final job is printed on, it is often quite

Can be faster – Since no pre-press work or press setup is needed, running your job
on a digital press can be faster, depending on how many jobs the printer has in the
queue before yours. Some printers can even offer same-day service. Three days is a
standard turnaround time for many of the web-based digital printing companies.

Limited paper choice – Digital presses can only accommodate a limited paper
thickness, and many digital printing companies only offer smooth, white papers.
Thus, if a thick business card is important to you, then digital printing is not your
right choice.

Limited finishing choices – Foil stamping, metallic inks, and embossing services are
usually not offered by digital printing houses. Some digital printers also do not offer
die-cutting or special folding services.

Limited choice of material sizes, styles, and formats – Digital printers will offer a
very specific "menu" or range of products. If you want to create innovative
marketing materials, such as the brochure-style business cards that we create at elf
design, then digital printing is not a choice for your project. Large formats are also
not available with many digital printers, as the largest paper size they can
accommodate is 11 "x 17".

Press Printing

More costly – The difference in costs is mainly due to setup costs. For press
printing, films must be produced, and plates may have to be produced as well,
which are additional items that add to the overall cost. Additional time is involved in
setting up and aligning the press, as well as washing the press. Also, there are more
overruns from traditional printing, since you can not program in a specific number of
pages to be printed as you can with a digital printer. Most printers consider
overruns to be billable, or they add an additional cost for that into the initial
estimate. Jobs done on a press will typically run about twice the cost of digital

Excellent color accuracy – The Pantone Matching System (PMS) offers great color
accuracy. Pantone colors are mixed to precise, pre-set specifications, which are
printed each year in their color matching guides. You can consult these books to see
exactly what the final color will look like in advance. It's a lot like going to the paint
store and specifying colors for your home on the paint chips they offer – you know
what you'll get. So, if color accuracy is important to you, then press printing may be
the best choice.

Brighter colors are available – Since the Pantone colors are mixed using inks, they
can be created to be much brighter and more intense. So, if lively colors are
important to your brand image, then press printing may be the way to go.

Cost of proofing – For four-color press jobs, proofing is often not too expensive
when compared to the overall cost of the job. However, it can be inaccurate,
depending on the type of proof run and the type of press on which your final job
will be printed.

For two- or three- color jobs printed using the Pantone system, complete color
proofing is often not available. However, samples of the colors are available in the
Pantone books. And, inexpensive laser prints or inkjet prints can be created to view
the positioning of the elements of the page. With a little imagination, you can
visualize how the final job will look.

Press printing can take longer than digital – There are several additional steps
involved in press printing, which are taken care of using direct-to-press, digital
technology. Films and plates must be made, the press set up, run the job and then
tune us needed for drying. Then cutting, folding, and other finishing must take

Types of paper – Choose from an entire rainbow of paper colors – fire-engine red
to deep blue, sunflower yellow to pitch black. There is also a wide range of
thicknesses and textures from which to choose, including specialty papers, such as
vellum and metallic papers. If you are considering using nontraditional paper your
card or materials, press printing is the best way to go.

Fine line screens are available – The result of this is that even under close
inspection, the color will look smooth and seamless. It will also appear brighter and
more intense.

Wide range of finishing techniques – All finishing options are possible with press
printing. Metallic inks can be run through the press as easily as can a nonmetallic
ink. Embossing, die cutting, and foil stamping can be done in traditional printing
houses. You can create materials that really stand out using these techniques.

Innovative formats, shapes, and sizes are possible – Traditional press printing can
accommodate a wide range of paper sizes and can result in innovative and creative
finished projects. This is largely due to the "have-it-your-way" range of options,
where you can specify special sizes and finishing techniques.

We hope that the above primer on the pros and cons of both digital printing and
press printing helps you to decide which you will choose to produce your materials.