noissue Custom Tissue printed in Pantone colors by @spoonflower

You’ve chosen your brand colors. Your packaging design is ready to go. Now the question is: What is the best printing method for your custom packaging?

Printing processes might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re planning your next order, but it’s a crucial part of ensuring that you’re satisfied with the final product.

Digital printing and offset printing both create compelling and high-quality designs, but each has its own set of pros and cons. When 81% of consumers are saying that they have tried something new because the packaging caught their eye, this is a decision you want to get right to reap the benefits of better consumer engagement.

In this article, we will learn about the differences between offset printing and digital printing and what your business needs to consider when choosing the right method for your next project.

What is offset printing?

Offset printing, also referred to as lithography, is the most common printing technique found in commercial settings. This printing process is most commonly used for printed pieces such as newspapers, booklets, business cards, and catalogs, as it’s able to produce a large number of prints while still maintaining a high-quality end result.

Offset printers will often use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, which together form the CMYK color model. However, offset printing can also be done using custom shades from the Pantone Matching System (PMS).

At noissue, all products that are printed using offset printing methods use Pantone colors.

noissue Custom Tissue printed in Pantone colors by @eleanorisobelleart

What is digital printing?

Most of us are much more familiar with digital printing than offset, simply because we have these capabilities at home. Print projects are uploaded as digital files, such as a PDF or PSD. But unlike offset presses, digital printers can only rely on CMYK to generate colors.

noissue Custom Water Activated Tape and Box printed in CMYK colors by @chuthaaang

Offset vs digital printing: The differences

Offset printing works by having a printing press burn the design into metal plates corresponding with the colors being used for the print job. Inside the press, these plates will transfer ink into rubber rollers while paper is run between the two, transferring the design into the paper by layering on color until the design is completed.

Rather than using aluminium plates and rollers to transfer ink to paper, digital printing applies the ink directly to the printing surface itself via thousands of tiny droplets, hence the name “inkjet printers.” Alternatively, digital laser printers involve the use of a laser to neutralize the electrostatic drums, allowing the drums to pick up toner and deposit it on the sheet of paper.

The benefits of offset printing

Offset printing offers a number of benefits over digital printing. Here’s a look at some of them.

  • Superior color fidelity. Because businesses can opt to use Pantone colors instead of CMYK, this gives offset printing the best color accuracy.
  • Higher-quality print jobs. Offset printing creates the best quality result and a cleaner finish than digital printing.
  • Can print on any material or paper type. Offset printing can be used for printing on any surface imaginable and also offers a variety of finishes, including foil stamping, embossing, and UV coatings.
  • Cheapest for large print runs. Offset printing is the most economical option for large volumes of a single design.

The drawbacks of offset printing

In spite of its benefits, offset printing does have a few drawbacks:

  • Longer setup time and costs. Because of the time needed to set mix the inks and set up the metal plates ready for printing, offset printing has a much longer turnaround time.
  • Expensive for smaller print jobs. Offset printing tends not to be well-suited to small print runs. Due to those higher setup costs, it’s usually only economical for larger volumes.
  • More difficult to fix errors. If there is a mistake either with your design or during the setup process, there is no way to correct this once the job begins. The metal plates will have to be reset from scratch, which can be costly.
noissue Custom Drawstring Bags printed using offset printing by @mirrorsbylina

The benefits of digital printing

Digital printing too, has its fair share of advantages.

  • Identical print runs. No matter how much time passes between different printing runs, digital printing ensures the same results each time because there are no variations caused by rollers or liquid ink.
  • Faster turnaround times. Digital printing is a fast end-to-end process, as it’s much less labor-intensive than traditional offset methods.
  • Able to handle variable data printing. With digital printing, it’s very easy to make small changes to your design during the print process. For example, if you wanted the change the date or location on a series of direct mail materials for an event, you can do this without needing to set up your print all over again each time.
  • Cheaper of low volume printing. If you’re only producing short runs of a design, digital presses are typically much more cost-effective than offset printing due to the low setup cost. This makes it a better option for small businesses that only need a small volume of printed products.

The drawbacks of digital printing

Unfortunately, digital printing does have a few shortcomings.

  • Less accurate colors. Because digital printing uses the standard CMYK color model, color fidelity is much more limited. This makes it more difficult for brands to get an exact match to a specific shade. This being said, advances in digital printing technology have made this process much easier.
  • Lower print quality. The image quality of digital printing services is generally less crisp and high-resolution than offset methods.
  • Less printing materials are available. Unlike offset printing, digital printing methods cannot print onto fabrics or treated paper, which gives less creative options to businesses for their packaging or marketing materials.
  • Expensive for high-volume print jobs. Although the most affordable option for low volumes, digital printing generally works out to be the most expensive option for larger quantity print jobs.
noissue Custom Cards printed using digital printing by @kjumi_coffeebar

Offset vs digital printing: How to make the right choice

So, how do you know whether digital or offset printing is the right solution for your next print project? The questions below will assist you in determining your needs:

How large of a print run will you be doing?

As discussed above, there’s a certain economy of scale needed to make offset printing cost-effective. If you’re only doing a small print run (i.e. under 1500 units) then digital printing is the most affordable option. But in the reverse, digital printing grows more expensive the more you print. If your print job extends over the 1500 unit mark, then offset printing will generally work out to be cheaper.

How quickly does your job need to be completed?

If you require a last-minute print job, you’re unlikely to find it at an offset printer. Because of the time and effort needed to set up the plates and start the print process, the lead time is considerably longer. Digital printing has the clear advantage of being able to be completed quickly and maintain good quality. Though once set up, offset printing holds the speed advantage for long print runs.

What material are you printing on?

If you’re only printing on basic paper, digital printing is perfectly adequate. But suppose you want to print your design or logo across other surfaces, such as fabric, metal, or specially-treated papers. In that case, you’ll be better off working with an offset printer that can offer more advanced customization options.

noissue Custom Foodsafe Paper printed using offset by @baked180

How much does color fidelity matter?

Pantone colors are much more accurate than the CMYK model used by digital printing. However, the offset printing process takes longer and is more expensive due to the need to use specially-mixed inks to create custom colors. While digital color fidelity is improving, businesses that require very precise color matches should stick with offset printing.

What type of printing do noissue’s products use?

noissue uses a mixture of offset and digital printing for our products, depending on the material being printed on and the quantity being ordered. By using both the CMYK and Pantone color models, we’re able to offer our customers flexibility in their packaging designs and help them leverage the best of both printing methods.

How to color match if you want to buy a mixture of Pantone and CMYK-colored products

If you’re planning on using the same range of colors across multiple noissue packaging products, it’s important to make sure you’re adjusting for the use of CMYK or Pantone colors.

For example, noissue’s Custom Tissue Paper uses the Pantone Matching System, while Custom Stickers use CMYK. Because CMYK and the Pantone Matching System are separate color models, you will need to convert your color codes between each system to ensure that you stay as close as possible to your chosen shade.

This tool by Ginifab allows you to convert CMYK hex codes to Pantone color codes so you can stay consistent in your branding. In some cases, there may not be an exact color match for CMYK-to-Pantone or vice versa. But don’t worry. Our prepress design team can work with you when proofing designs to find the closest match possible.

noissue products that use CMYK digital printing

Using CMYK digital printing for our Boxes, Tape, and Cards gives our customers the freedom to use as many colors as they like in their designs while still keeping the price point accessible. It’s worth noting that with CMYK printing, there will be a variation of up to 10% between the color you see onscreen and how the design looks in reality.

Here’s a list of our products that use CMYK digital printing:

‌‌noissue Custom Stickers printed in digital by @eflie_co

noissue products that use Pantone offset printing

Using Pantone colors enables us to offer custom printing on more than just paper-based products. noissue fabric Tote Bags and Drawstring Bags come in a range of sizes and can be used for anything from protecting products in transit to being sold as branded merchandise.

By using the Pantone Matching System, our Custom Tissue Paper gives customers the best possible color fidelity by incorporating up to six individual Pantone colors for unique and memorable designs.

Note: Using more than two colors will come at an additional cost.

Here’s a complete list of our products that use Pantone offset printing:

Wrapping it up

While price and MOQ might end up determining which printing method is the best fit for your packaging needs, both digital printing and offset printing have their own unique advantages that brands can leverage to get the very best from their chosen design. noissue’s online design tool makes it easy for brands to create the packaging of their dreams. Head straight to our Get Started tab to find the perfect packaging solution for your business!