Offset Printing: Ready, (Off)Set, Go!
Offset printing is a technique in which the image is transferred, or “offset,” from a printing plate to a rubber blanket to the paper. It’s called "offset" because the ink is not transferred directly from the plate to the printing surface, as it is with something like letterpress printing.
Offset is the ideal printing method for high color accuracy and perfect registration between colors. It’s used to produce books, magazines, newspapers, packaging, and other printed products with sharp, clear images and vibrant colors.
With Digital Printing, on a print run of 500 pieces, there is little difference in production cost between the 1st and 500th piece, because there are no plates to make and no custom inks to fill the wells with.
With Offset Printing, there is a substantial difference in production cost between the 1st and 5,000th piece. This is because there is a fixed time cost in setting up an offset press. You need to make plates, put them on the press, put the inks in the well. Then when the job is finished, you need time to clean the press and get it ready for the next job. It will also take time and paper to get the job ‘up to spec’. It may take 20 - 50 sheets of paper just to get the color right. We call this ‘make ready’ time. This make ready time is a fixed cost that gets applied to every job.
And so if you have a really small job, like 500 business cards - you might have $25 in paper and ink costs, but $250 in make ready costs. So you’ll think, wow, $275 for 500 business cards sounds really expensive. But if you were to run 5,000 business cards, it might only cost you $400. The higher the order volume, the more pieces you can spread your make ready cost amongst.
A limitation with Offset printing is with the paper stock weight, or thickness. A lot of folks love really thick stocks. But with Offset, those thick stocks are tough to print. For example a super thick stock might be 32 point, whereas on an offset press, you’ll max out at 16-18 point thickness.
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