Printing Lingo: What is Digital Printing?

The term Digital refers to the digits 0 and 1, which provide the basis for the mathematical language computers use to create, process and store electronic images. Digital Printing is the process of transferring these stored images directly onto paper.

Most people can relate to the function of a digital printing press because it operates similar to a desktop printer. Like a desktop printer, the ink used in a digital printing press can be in powder form, like toner, or in liquid form. However, a commercial digital press is much bigger and faster than a desktop printer. And more importantly it offers much better quality, performs way more functions and has a greater number of paper choices.

Cutaway diagram of a commercial CMYK digital printing press

No Printing Plate is Needed

Digital printing is different from other commercial printing methods because it does not involve the creation of printing plates. Instead, the digital files to be printed are electronically transferred directly to the press for output. The press then applies the ink directly to the paper. Being able to print without plates is the primary benefit of digital printing because it saves the time and expense of plate creation.

Digital printing has been the fastest growing segment of the printing industry. As a result, substantial technological advances have been made in recent years and digital printing is gradually approaching the quality level of high-end offset printing. Even though the quality gap is narrowing, it is important to note that offset presses still outperform the print quality of digital presses at the current time.

Perfect for Short Run Printing

One of the main advantages digital printing has over traditional offset printing is its ability to produce short production runs for less cost. Digital press runs of around 1,000 pieces or less are generally more cost effective than similar offset runs because there is no expense associated with the creation of printing plates. Also, the prep time for a digital press is minimal which reduces set-up costs and allows for faster turnaround times.

Being able to reduce the cost and time associated with Short Run Printing has made digital printing very popular for Print On Demand services as well as Variable Data Printing.

What is Print on Demand?

Print On Demand (POD) refers to a printer's ability to produce printed books or other documents on an "as needed" basis. Print On Demand allows a client to keep fewer copies of its printed materials in stock, thus lowering the costs associated with storage and handling.

Also, because the client's inventory levels can be kept low, Print On Demand helps reduce the chance of being stuck with printing that has become obsolete. With Print On Demand, you only order printed items as you need them.

What is Variable Data Printing?

Variable Data Printing (VDP) is a technique which enables the printed graphics and/or text to change throughout a single production run. In other words, the printed impressions can be different from one piece to another without halting or slowing down the press.

Because a digital press prints from a computer file, software can be used to manipulate the output so that each piece in the run prints with a different message or picture. You may have received a postcard, letter or brochure that contained some wording, an image or an offer tailored just to you. Variable printing is particularly popular for direct mail and other promotional pieces because personalization helps increase the response rate.

The innovations in digital technology have transformed the printing industry, especially the Short Run printing sector. If you'd like to learn more about Digital Printing, Print On Demand or Variable Printing just give Formax a call. We make printing easy for you.

Take care! Rick

About the Author

Rick Stallings is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing and mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Rick is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221 or by submitting our easy quote request form. Rick and the Formax team have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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