The other day I was sitting with a business associate talking about how we could work together and we got on the subject of printing because part of our possible relationship would be just that – printing. One of the requests she mentioned was printing 25,000 pieces of letterhead for a government agency. Unfortunately for us printing something of that magnitude isn’t cost efficient and I explained to her that I would send it to my ‘offset’ guy. Well that word is just about as foreign to her as relax is to me at times. So let us take a moment to explain how a couple of different printing processes work.
First there is digital printing, which is the newest of all technologies and the one we exclusively use at Gonink. A revolving drum builds up an electrical charge that is nothing more than static electricity. And then a laser pointed at the drum discharges the surface in the patterns and letters to be printed. This creates a positive (+) and negative (-) area on the paper. A fine powder called “toner” that is positively charged is coated on the paper and since it is a positive charge, it only sticks to the negative areas. The paper then passes through heated rollers fusing the toner to the paper. Voila’ you now have a printed piece from a laser printer.
The other and more common printing method is offset lithography. This process works by transferring an image photographically to thin paper, metal or plastic printing plates. Rollers then apply oil-based ink and water to the plates. Since oil and water don’t mix, the oil-based ink won’t adhere to the non-image areas. Only the inked image portion is then transferred to a rubber blanket (cylinder) that then transfers the image onto the paper as it passes between it and another cylinder beneath the paper. The term offset refers to the fact that the image isn’t printed directly to the paper from the plates, but is offset or transferred to another surface that then makes contact with the paper.
Both processes use what is called CMYK printing and that refers to four basic ink colors which are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. A digital machine uses all of the ink colors (toner) mixed during the printing process and puts it on the paper at the same time. Whereas offset printing uses each color of ink and it is applied separately.
So which should you choose? In the past offset printing was the commercial choice for any business, but digital technological advancement’s have given digital printers a stronger presence in the printing market. But it all still comes down to price and that price is based on quantity. A lot of digital printers will have a cut-off of around 3,000-5,000 pieces before they become less cost efficient compared to an offset press.