A world class print production program begins with a well-designed production model that takes each unique need of the program into consideration. The management and control of this portion of the marketing or brand operations can materially impact go-to-market effectiveness, just as the optimal use of spend can create business value and competitive advantage.
“Proper alignment of production methodology with project needs is the single most important thing you need to get right. This sets you up for a win in regards to cost management, quality, and program execution,” advises Mark Ploucha, Vice President of Product & Service Delivery for Dexter Solutions.
As printing technologies continue to advance and capabilities within digital production rapidly expand, there might be some confusion as to which production methods best meets the needs of a program. After all, both digital print-on-demand and conventional offset methods have their pros and cons. So how do you know which route to take when it’s time for you to go to print?
To the untrained eye, the actual finished product associated with offset versus digital printing are remarkably similar. The difference, as it turns out, is rooted more deeply in price, timeline and flexibility than anything else; and even these numbers are contingent on your program needs. Decision-makers need to consider four key factors: volume demands, finishing expectations, budget, and schedule. As we move through the process, we take into account the strengths, weaknesses and the basic bottom line of each choice.

Digital Print-On-Demand

Digital print-on-demand models print directly from file to print, without the creation of plates used in offset printing. The virtually nonexistent setup costs make it a less expensive option in some cases. It is a faster process, and proofs from a digital press are accurate and consistent with the final product. Digital printing provides immense value in allowing for the creation of property-specific or customer-specific versions through variable data.
Strengths
Flexibility Digital offers flexible distribution strategies without significant upfront investment.
Speed Digital printing is incredibly fast because it minimizes the mechanical steps required with offset printing. This makes it ideal for projects with a tight deadline.
Low Cost on Lower Volume It is far more cost effective for small print runs because it offers lower per-unit costs compared to offset printing, which has a higher unit cost per piece when setup costs are included.
Accuracy of Proofing Digital gives you the ability to prototype multiple options without substantial upfront costs offering you more freedom to experiment with proofs and final looks.
Customization & Versioning Simply said, every copy can have an individual message. Customization of a project’s text, images, and colors can take place during the print process without significantly slowing it down.
Weaknesses
Color Quality Why? Despite the constant improvement of digital printers, they still can’t quite match the color quality of conventional offset printers. This is because digital printers use a four color printing process utilizing a color matching process to simulate colors. Additionally, paper and finish options are more limited than with offset.
Cracking Can Occur Why? Digital printer inks do not fully absorb into the print paper, which means cracks can appear within the ink near folded edges in the finished product.
Higher Cost on Higher Volumes Why? The cost-per-piece in digital methods remain rather consistent as volume increases which do not allow you to leverage volume to gain efficiencies.
Slower Throughput on Higher Quantities Why? Paper size is smaller with digital presses, and fewer products result from one sheet as compared to offset.
Metallic Inks Need to Be Simulated Why? Digital production, in general, cannot accommodate the metals or aluminum particles in the metallic ink. Running a charge through an aluminum particle can damage the machine and potentially the operator. However, metallic inks will eventually be available in a digital environment as technology continues to evolve.
Bottom line: When is digital print-on-demand right for your project?
  • Lower volume (<1,500 is a good rule of thumb)
  • High level of customization and versioning
  • Minimal finishing demands
  • Short turn time