Which is better for your book—digital or offset printing? There are two main considerations in choosing between digital vs offset printing for your book:
- the quantity of books you want, and
- the quality of the printing.
The text below from Book Design Made Simple highlights the main differences in digital vs offset printing. We hope this helps you make this highly important decision for your book.
Of course, you can use both methods if you like:
- digital for a small initial print run (or for advance review copies), and then offset for your main print run, or
- offset for your main print run, and then digital for your backlist.
Traditional offset printing: Books have traditionally been printed on a printing press using ink. A full-color book cover is printed with four ink colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or CMYK). The pages are usually printed with black ink on large sheets of paper, then folded into signatures (see page 321). Sheet-fed presses use 32-page signatures and are better for printing photographs and color; web presses use 48-page signatures and are more cost-effective for printing text and line art (black line drawings with no grays).
Digital printing: Digital printing technology allows books to be printed on high-quality laser and inkjet printers. The full-color cover is printed on cardstock and the pages on paper. The term short-run printing refers to digitally printing a small volume of books (say 20 or 200). Print-on-demand (POD) refers to printers that use digital printing to print and ship books after they are ordered (often one at a time).
Traditional offset printing: Offset printing is very cost-effective in larger quantities: the more copies printed at a time, the less it costs per book. However, you need to print at least 1,000 copies to make your offset printing cost effective because of the cost of setting up the press.
Digital printing: It is less expensive to print books using digital printing if you want to print only a small number of books. However, digitally printed books are more expensive to produce per book than books printed on a press, as there is no cost saving for printing in quantity. Each book costs the same, no matter how many or few are printed.
Traditional offset printing: Offset printing allows you to control the quality of your book and gives you lots of flexibility. You can work with your printer to choose your book size, type of paper, binding, and many other options, to create a quality book exactly the way you want it. Offset printers offer numerous choices of paper, including environmentally friendly papers with recycled content.
Digital printing: Digital printing offers limited choices of trim size (usually several standard sizes like 5.5″ × 8.5″ or 8.5″ × 11″) and limited choices of papers. Book pages and covers can be printed in black only or in color. The colors can vary up to 10% on any given day (e.g., they might be slightly pinker or greener one day). However, many books look just fine within these limitations, and most readers would not know the difference.
Digital vs offset printing — which is better?
Traditional offset printing: Offset printing is better if you’re printing in quantity or if you want to choose a certain trim size or paper for your book. Some publishers use digital printing initially for advance review copies to test their market and, if the book does well, switch to a larger print run on a press later.
Digital printing: Digital printing is better if you want smaller quantities and if your book is a standard size. Some publishers have already sold a large print run of books and now just want to print small quantities digitally as needed to keep their book in stock.
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