Traditionally, “offset” printing was the process of choice for package and label printing. This is because offset printing offered the best mix of print speed and quality. However, today’s digital printing solutions offer unique options for customers.
Offset Printing Requires Lead Time
The process for printing with a traditional offset press is a complicated, multi-step process, requiring significant lead time. With offset printing, artwork must be separated onto four different printing plates with each plate printing a specific color – cyan, magenta, yellow or black (CMYK). The image is created by then transferring (or “offsetting”) those colors onto paper. When packaging, the image is printed onto a smooth liner which is then laminated to corrugated material and converted into a package.
Because of the cost, time and materials involved in traditional offset printing, this process is not cost-effective for shorter print runs. It also requires significant lead time and, once in progress, does not allow for image changes or customization. However, a significant benefit of offset printing is its speed. At 10,000+ sheets per hour, offset printing is considered the best choice for large orders of identical images.
Today, digital printing (aka inkjet printing) offers several unique advantages over offset printing.
One key advantage with digital printing is that it is much faster than offset printing. This is because digital printing requires minimal setup – it does not require plates or the considerable lead time to “set up” a traditional offset job. Because there are fewer steps with digital printing, it is extremely cost-effective for smaller orders. Additionally, recent developments have increased the output speed and image quality significantly.
One of the early challenges with digital printing was the limitation of substrate materials that could be used. With major improvements in both the materials and inkjet inks, digital printing can now rival the flexibility of traditional offset printing.
More Digital Printing Developments
An early limitation with inkjet printing was speed. Now, digital printing has the capability of printing 5,000+ sheets per hour. While this is still not as fast as litho printing, digital printing is a simpler process and can therefore be a much more affordable and cost-effective printing method for many packaging projects.
Another exciting development with digital printing is that it allows images to be customized throughout the process. With digital printing, new packaging artwork can be applied almost instantly and in full color. This means a company can easily customize its packaging for different circumstances. For example, packaging can be easily adapted for specific events, seasons, holidays or even personalized for specific customers.
With these new and exciting technological developments, digital printing has become a popular choice for packaging and labels. While offset printing may still be the right solution for some packaging projects, digital printing brings unique and valuable solutions for today’s packaging needs.