Digital printing is an important part of any business that needs to either print their own advertising or for businesses that outsource their printing. Here is an overview of the digital printing process and important concepts such as digital printing versus offset printing, the CMYK and RGB color models, printing resolution considerations and full bleed printing.
Digital Printing vs. Offset Printing
You have your print advertisements ready to be sent to the press, but you are not sure whether you need digital printing or offset printing. Digital printing uses toner to reproduce an image. In contrast, offset printing uses ink. Quality and price are likely your two big concerns.
The good news is that the quality of digital printing is nearly identical to that of offset printing. You will be able to find printers that will argue that offset printing is still superior to digital printing. In reality, offset printing can produce higher resolution images, but this depends on the image reproduced. At the end of the day, the quality differences are often subtle and will not make or break your sales materials.
Price is the biggest factor that will often decide whether or not to use digital printing or offset printing. Digital printing will almost always be less expensive for short-run printing--less than 1,000 pieces. For printing projects greater than 1,000 pieces, offset printing will likely be less expensive. The reason for this price difference is simply that offset printing requires the printing firm to develop printing plates. This overhead must be paid for, and it takes at least 1,000 pieces to cover this cost for typical printing projects.
CMYK and RGB
CMYK is short for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black)--the primary colors of the toner used in digital printing. RGB is short for red, green, and blue, the primary colors of light used to reproduce images on your computer monitor or television screen.
Each of these color systems has strengths and weaknesses, but the important key to take away is that they are very different. You can make sure that your designs print the way you would expect by printing a test copy or proof and compare the results. Unless you are working with a professional designer who has carefully calibrated their computer monitor and printer, you will likely see differences in colors. Printing a proof will help you adjust your final product if need be.
Digital printing is best done at a minimum of 300 dots per inch, but higher resolutions are often better. Depending upon the printer you use, higher resolutions up to 1,200 dots per inch may produce significantly better results than the standard 300 dots per inch.
The rule of thumb is to start with 300 dots per inch as this is the physical limitation of the human eye. Most people cannot perceive the difference between 300 dots per inch and 1,200 dots per inch. But printers can produce significantly different results with higher resolution artwork in the range of 1,200 dots per inch.
This is because the digital printing process breaks down the image into the four colors of CMYK. The more information you provide the software, the more accurately the printer will be able to break down the image.
Full Bleed Printing
Full bleed printing is simply when the graphics or pictures extend to the edge of the paper. Digital printing cannot print to the edge of the page in most cases, so the printing company or staff will need to trim the extra paper using paper cutters.
Your artwork will need to extend beyond the edge of the paper by at least one-quarter of an inch. All modern design software suites will allow you to design using bleeds. The important thing to remember is that your final product will not go to the edge of the paper unless your artwork has been properly designed to include bleeds.
Digital printing has evolved to the point that the quality is comparable to offset printing. The quantity of your order will likely determine whether or not you will want to choose digital printing or offset printing, with short-run orders being ideal candidates for digital printing. Make sure to print a proof to make sure that your final product looks like what you expect. Finally, full bleed printing will only work if your artwork has been designed to include bleeds.