Offset printing is often confused with digital printing – both are four-color flat printing methods, but the process is quite different! While offset printing is incredibly common, the printing process and procedures are often not well known.
What is Offset Printing?
Offset printing is one of the most widely used flat printing techniques in which the ink is transferred or “offset” from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the desired printing surface. Offset printing, like most type of printing is a combination of art and science. While the process can be really technical, the artful skill of the press operator plays the most significant weight in achieving the desired outcome of the printed master piece.
Offset lithography is commonly used for books, business cards, newspapers, brochures, post cards and other commercial printing needs. Offset printing varies from other printing techniques through technology, process, cost, material options and time.
The Printing Process
First, it is important to ensure that you have very well-prepared files. The “Print-ready” files have definite requirements like CMYK colors and bleed margins. Submitting a file for offset printing that does not include your printer’s specifications may result in delays or end up running into unplanned prepress costs to correct them. Often, much of this information to help you properly prepare files and trouble spots through the rest of the print process can be found on the printer’s website.
A proof is prepared based once the final files are in place. A proof reading tool is used to verify the quality and accuracy of the printed piece prior to plating and beginning the print run. This is a very critical step in the process, to reassure the 100% accuracy and that no errors make it to press. Once the proof is approved, plating is next. Metal plates in each color are made that get “hung” on the press. Colors include: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black – CMYK – to make four color process, or any Pantone Color for a single-color job.
The correct size and paper stock is then being run into the offset press. Depending on size and scope of the project determines the length of the run— it can run for as short as 30 minutes or as long as multiple days. Once the press is complete, the bindery stage is next. Many options exist which includes die cutting, scoring, stamping, numbering, folding, stitching, etc. This can be a multi-day process as ink needs to dry before you can finish a job and the final product is ready to be boxed and shipped to the client.
Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing
Offset is typically considered the best and the most reliable standard for quality, it typically produces more consistent prints and also allows for more material options. While Digital printing saves you time and money, especially when printing smaller quantities, they still can’t match the color quality of traditional offset printer. Digital printers use a four-color process while traditional offset printers use the PMS and inks to deliver color accuracy.
Offset printing is the best quality flat printing process available, produces a high image quality that can be produced on a wide range of printing surfaces including paper, wood, cloth, leather, texturized paper and plastic. Once an offset printing job is set up for production, it can continuously produce without any worry. Offset printing is very effective in high volume projects, as long as there is a mass product that needs to be produced. Offset printing also requires a longer turn around time.