For prospective print customers, the difference between offset printing and digital printing is that digital printing is better suited for short run printing (i.e. starting at 1 single copy) and offset printing is better suited for higher volume printing (i.e. starts being economical 2,000+ identical copies). Both types of printing produce print products that are extremely high in quality and fit for professional quality printing for businesses. The key factors that make customers choose one over the other is typically the volume of the print project and niche project requirements.
Offset printing uses etched metal plates that apply ink onto a sheet of paper. he setup for offset printing is generally significantly more time consuming and expensive than digital printing. The metal plates—one plate per each color being used—need to be etched, and applied to the rollers that transfer the ink onto the paper. Then, the press needs to be run for a few minutes on “scrap” sheets of paper until the plates are properly inked; think of it like “warmup” sheets that are eventually thrown away.
On the other hand, digital printing uses electrostatic rollers—called “drums”—to apply toner onto the paper. The drums—again, one per each color being printed—use an electrostatic charge that attracts toner in the form of toner density. The toner is then applied onto the sheet and then fused—passed through a high-heat unit—onto the paper.
Every piece of printing equipment offers slightly different interpretations and controls over how colors get applied onto a page. Offset presses can provide certain color controls that are superior to digital printing. For example, printing Pantone colors (a color management system) is more precise on offset presses because they actually use Pantone ink. This is important most typically for large corporate brands for which color consistency is worth a considerable amount of money.