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Digital vs. Offset Printing for Packaging

If you are new to the printing & packaging industry, you may expect a specific color or quality to be matched exactly what is on a screen.

This is hardly the case. The truth is that according to RGB and CMYK color output theory, the print output cannot match 100% of what we see on the monitor.

That’s why it’s important to consider what printing method will best fit your project specifications!

In this article, we’ll show you the difference between digital printing and offset printing so you can make an informed choice about how to print your custom packaging.

What exactly is the difference?

Digital printing and offset printing are two common methods of printing. The main difference between the two methods is the way they transfer the image onto the printing surface.

Offset printing: Offset printing uses metal plates to transfer the image onto a rubber blanket before it is applied to the printing surface. The plates are typically made of aluminum and are coated with a light-sensitive material. The image to be printed is burned onto the plates using a high-resolution digital scanner or a computer-to-plate system.

Once the plates are prepared, they are mounted on the printing press. Ink is then applied to the plates and transferred to the rubber blanket, which in turn transfers the image onto the printing surface. This process is repeated for each color in the image, with the colors being layered onto the printing surface in rapid succession.

Offset printing is better suited for large runs and produces higher-quality prints with a broader range of colors. Offset printing is also a more cost-effective option for printing large quantities. However, offset printing requires the use of plates and is not as flexible in terms of design and colors as digital printing.

Digital Printing: Digital printing is a printing method in which digital files, such as PDFs, are used to directly transfer the image onto the printing surface. This method is called “digital” because it uses digital technology to produce printed materials.

One of the main advantages of digital printing is that it is a faster and more flexible option than offset printing. It does not require the use of plates, which makes it easier to make changes to the design and colors of the printed materials. Digital printing is also a more cost-effective option for printing small quantities.

However, digital printing is not as well-suited for printing large quantities as offset printing. It also does not produce prints with the same level of color accuracy and range as offset printing.

Ultimately, the best choice between digital and offset printing will depend on your specific needs and requirements.

Pros and Cons of offset Printing & Digital Printing:

pros and cons

Printing methods and materials:

Rigid packaging requires offset printing for a more high quality feel.

Corrugated packaging can benefit from either digital or offset, depending on the volume. Offset is preferable for additional design components.

Paperboard packaging typically requires offset printing to ensure your artwork designs and typography is clear and concise.

jml gift box with uv

Offset printing is often a good choice for designs that require additional processes, such as spot UV and foil stamping, because it is capable of producing large quantities of materials quickly and efficiently

For smaller runs and simpler designs on e-commerce packaging, digital printing is often a good choice.

Offset printing is often a good choice for packaging that requires small texts and designs because it produces high-quality prints with a broad range of colors. This can be important for maintaining clear and concise information on packaging, as small texts and designs can be difficult to read if they are not reproduced accurately.

Compare the depth of colors:

Offset printing is more expensive than digital printing, but it will outperform digital when comes to brightness and color depth.

Offset printers have the ability to use the Pantone Matching Color System (PMS) to perfectly match the colors of inks used in the printing process.

In contrast, digital printers do not have the ability to use the PMS and can only approximate colors using color calibration. It was not able to match specific colors as accurately as offset printing.

Offset printing is capable of printing white ink on kraft paper, while digital printing is not.

So, This can be an important factor to consider when choosing a printing method for your packaging project.

Coating options for offset printing:

Some common coating options for offset printing including:

  • Glossy & Matte Lamination
  • UV coating
  • Varnish

Surface Finishes

These coating options can help to improve the appearance and durability of the printed materials, and they can be used in combination with each other in order to achieve the desired results.

It is important to carefully consider the coating options that are available and choose the best ones for your specific project.

Optimal order quantity:

For folding carton and rigid box packaging, offset printing is often the preferred printing method, regardless of the quantity.

This is because offset printing produces high-quality prints with a broad range of colors, and it is well-suited for printing on a wide range of materials, including paperboard and cardboard.

When printing on corrugated materials, it is often a good idea to consider both digital and offset printing, depending on the quantity of materials needed. For orders of less than 500 pieces, digital printing is often the more cost-effective option, as it is faster and more flexible than offset printing and does not require the use of plates.

However, for orders of 1000-2000 pieces or more, offset printing is often the better choice, as it produces higher-quality prints with a broader range of colors and is more cost-effective for large quantities. Offset printing is also well-suited for printing on corrugated materials, so it can be a good option for producing large volumes of packaging materials.

Ultimately, the best printing method for your project will depend on your specific needs and requirements. It is important to carefully consider the design, colors, quantity, and turnaround time for your project in order to make the best decision.


Don’t know where to start? Contact our packaging experts today to get expert advice on printing solutions tailored to your products.




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