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What is Digital Printing?

A digital printing press used for commercial production

Digital Printing is a broad term used for any printing process that outputs electronic images directly to a substrate.

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the digital printing process. This is because the digital printing presses used for commercial production are actually quite similar to the various desktop printers used in many homes and offices. However, commercial presses are larger, faster, and print with higher resolution.

Like desktop printers, most digital printing presses operate with either laser or inkjet technology. Laser presses use an electrostatic charge to attract toner particles to the substrate. The toner is then fused in placed using heat and pressure. Inkjet presses apply tiny droplets of liquid ink to the substrate, which is then dried with a heating element or ultraviolet light.

Commercial digital printing presses print in the CMYK color mode. It is also important to note that digital presses are not capable of printing all PMS spot colors. However, some newer digital presses have the capability to print certain spot colors. Also, all digital presses are able to "approximate" spot colors using a combination of the CMYK ink colors.

Related Articles: What is CMYK? and What is a Spot Color?

A Xerox commercial digital printing press

How does Digital Printing differ from Offset Printing?

Once an electronic artwork file is submitted by a client, traditional offset printing requires the creation of physical printing plates from the electronic files. These plates are then used to apply the inked images to a rubber blanket which then presses the images onto the paper. However, digital printing bypasses the intermediate step of plate creation and transfers the electronic files directly onto the paper.

Offset printing also requires a lengthy set-up process to ensure the press is operating at peak efficiency. Because of the time and expense associated with this upfront set-up and the creation of printing plates, offset printing is not an efficient choice for shorter production runs.

However, since digital printing does not use printing plates or require upfront calibration, it has emerged as the quicker and more cost-effective solution for shorter production runs. As such, digital printing has become almost synonymous with short run printing.

That said, offset printing is still the cost-effective choice for medium to long production runs because the set-up and plate costs can be distributed across more units. Once an offset press is calibrated and starts running, the unit costs come down substantially.

Digital Printing Presses make Variable Data Printing possible

Because a digital printing press receives electronic files and outputs them in printed form, different segments of information can be fed to the press from a database. This allows each piece within a production run to be printed with different text or graphics.

Known as Variable Data Printing or VDP, this technique is extremely popular for direct mail campaigns. Instead of sending everyone the same marketing message, each piece can be tailored to the unique interests of the intended recipient.

Since the digital printing process uses a data feed instead of printing plates, and therefore requires no plate changes, the different messages print one after the other in a single press run with no stopping or hesitation.

Being able to produce Variable Data Printing is a big advantage digital printing has over offset printing when it comes to printing promotional pieces. By allowing every piece to be printed with information relevant and meaningful to each individual recipient, the response rate improves dramatically. Needless to say, getting a good response rate is one of the most important goals of any direct marketing campaign.

Related Article: Direct Mail Marketing: 8 Benefits of Variable Data Printing

An inside look at a Digital Printing Press

Most Digital Presses are Sheet Fed

The vast majority of digital printing presses use cut sheet sizes. However, some larger digital presses are able to print on sheet sizes that rival a sheet-fed offset press. Also, certain digital presses are fed from a continuous roll of paper. These are known as roll-fed or web-fed digital presses.

Advantages of Digital Printing

While offset printing presses have been in use for well over 100 years, digital printing presses are a fairly recent development.

Evolving from photocopiers, the first commercial digital printing press was introduced in 1993. Though offset printing still has the edge for spot ink colors and paper selection, digital printing continues to grow in popularity.

In fact, most of the latest technological innovations in the printing industry revolve around digital printing. As such, the quality of digital printing is fast approaching that of offset printing.

Below are the main benefits of digital printing…

  • Lowest cost option for shorter production runs
  • Faster turnaround - minimal prep time and no printing plates to create
  • Multiple versions can be printed in a single production run using variable data printing
  • Exact one-off proofs can be printed quickly and inexpensively

Are you in need of Digital Printing Services?

As a full-service printing company, Color Vision has a range of digital printing capabilities to suit a variety of projects. We also offer a wide array of finishing and bindery options to enhance the appearance and function of your print project.

Give Color Vision a call at 800-543-6299 to discuss your custom printing needs. Or, click here to submit your project's specifications and we will email a quote to you. As always, we look forward to assisting with your next print project!

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