If you’re seeking consistent, high-quality printing results, offset printing might be the ideal solution for you. Whether you want to elevate your photography portfolio, print fine art on canvas, or reproduce artwork, offset printing is an excellent option.

Used for decades, this versatile and popular method, combined with modern technology, is more effective than ever for creating large amounts of high-quality printing.

In this article, we will answer:

  • What offset printing is
  • What are the differences between offset printing and other methods
  • Who uses offset printing
  • The history and methodology of offset printing

What is Offset Printing?

Offered by professional printing companies, offset printing produces high quality printing known for its vibrant colors and fine details. It is ideal for printing large quantities, but it can be used to print a single product as well.

In traditional printing, ink is applied directly to the product or paper. This isn’t true with offset printing. Instead, ink is applied to a rubber blanket first, a process known for over two hundred years as lithography.

Digital Printing Versus Offset Printing

Materials: Digital is often limited to synthetic materials and certain paper types; offset is available on a wider variety, including canvas, newsprint, and magazine paper.

Quality: Digital has a lower quality image than offset printing. This is the primary reason artists and businesses with the desire for high quality images choose offset over digital printing.

Cost: Digital costs less per unit for smaller runs (less than 500); offset costs less per unit for large print runs.

Technology: Digital printing requires a digital press and ink applied directly to the material; offset uses rollers and printing plates.

Turnaround time: Digital offers faster turnaround times and lower set up costs; offset requires set-up of the unique printing plates, which can take a bit longer.

Giclee Versus Offset Printing

Materials: Because it uses digital printing methods, it is mostly used on canvas or paper.

Quality: Like offset printing, it produces vivid details and intense colors. This makes it a go-to for recreating an original work of fine art.

Cost: Can be used to create a single piece, unlike other forms of printing, which can be cost effective.

Technology: Giclee is an ultra-high-resolution digital printing technique that uses printers and archival ink to spray the image onto the material.

Turnaround Time: Faster turnaround time than offset printing.

Lithography Versus Offset Printing

High Quality Printing from Plumb MarketingWe won’t repeat the pattern here like the ones above because… lithography and offset printing are one in the same! The words can be used interchangeably.

Who Uses Offset Printing?

In general, offset printing is used by artists, publishers, advertisers, photographers, and businesses worldwide.

Artists can reproduce artwork to create high quality prints of fine art on canvas or posters.

Publishers, advertisers, and photographers use it to create high quality images in newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs, and more.

Small businesses use offset printing when they want sharp images, usually reproductions of product photographs for banners, sales materials, packaging, and more.

The History of Offset Printing

You may be surprised to know the process has existed for over 200 years and has modernized with mechanization. In its early days, it revolutionized the printing industry by making printing higher quality, quicker, and more affordable than ever before.

Prior to offset printing, printing involved significant pressure being placed on paper from the plate, and limited paper types could handle it. Because of this, the industry began testing different ways to transfer ink from a printing plate onto paper.

An American printer by the name of Washington Rubel created the first offset plate in 1903. He used a rubber roller to transfer ink from the plate, rather than the old, direct contact method. This produced a higher quality image and allowed for a wider variety of paper types.

Offset printing, also called lithography, continued to improve, making it one of the best printing solutions today for detailed, vibrant printing.

The Offset Printing Process

Today, the first step in the process starts digitally, then additional time and effort is needed to set up the plates that will produce the high-quality images.

Step 1: Prepare the Image

The digitally prepared image is transferred onto a metal printing plate. Usually made of aluminum, it has a slightly raised image of what it will output.

Step 2: Treat the Plate

To prevent the ink from sticking to them, the image’s negative spaces on the plate are covered with a water-repellant treatment.

Step 3: Ink Transfer

Once mounted on the plate cylinder, the plate rotates as the press runs through several ink rollers, applying ink to them. This then transfers ink onto a blanket cylinder, or rubber roller as it is also called.

This rubber roller is larger than the plate cylinder to help it distribute the ink evenly. This creates the higher-quality prints this process is known for. The material being printed passes between the blanket cylinder and an impression cylinder.

Step 4: Ink Application

The ink is applied to the printing surface. The material is often glossy photo paper, canvas, cardboard or a variety of paper types. Only the raised image areas transfer the ink to the chosen printing material.

Why Should I Choose Offset Printing?

Your imagination is really the only limit when it comes to offset printing. The most common uses are:

  • Brochures / Flyers
  • Books / Magazines
  • Catalogs
  • Banners / Posters
  • Postcards / Direct Mail
  • Product packaging
  • Art duplication

And to summarize, here are the reasons why to choose offset printing:

  • Color accuracy – four color printing process delivers consistent results
  • High quality – capturing the finest details and clear, sharp, vibrant images
  • Quality – long-lasting inks resistant to fading makes it a worthwhile investment
  • Cost effective – great for large runs on various materials unlike other methods

Do you have a project that lithograph or offset printing can shine brightly in vivid colors and crisp details? Plumb Marketing is here to help you with your large and small printing needs. Contact us today to discuss options, ideas, and printing strategies specific to your project.