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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Business Card Printing: Digital vs. Offset Case Study

I received a business card to price a few days ago. My print brokering client wanted 500 copies of one version of a two sided card.

I had printed a business card for my client a few years prior, so I asked about the paper stock. I asked whether she had liked the last version of her card, and also whether the inks on this digitally printed card had been sufficiently rub resistant.

I had wondered about the durability of the business card since it had been printed on an Indigo digital press using liquid toner on an uncoated paper stock. I knew this would have been slightly less durable than a comparably designed business card offset printed on an uncoated paper stock. After all, digital toner particles sit up on the surface of the paper, while offset printed inks seep into the paper fibers. From a user’s perspective, the digitally printed business cards would therefore be more likely to lose toner particles to rough use and fingerprints than would the offset printed business cards.

Reviewing the Specs and Art, and Choosing the Appropriate Printing Technology

My client wanted 500 business cards printed on both sides. The front of her business card art included type and a logo printed in blue and type printed in black, but there was no abutting of colors (therefore no trapping). This would make printing easier.

I looked closely at the business card sample she had given me using my printer’s loupe. I could not see any halftone dots in the blue type; therefore, I knew the job had been offset printed. Had the sample been printed on digital custom printing equipment, the blue color would have been a process color build. There would have been overlapping screens of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black creating the illusion of blue type.

I wanted to make sure the commercial printing vendor could hold register on the Indigo digital press and produce a crisp version of the blue type and logo, so I emailed him a copy of the art file. I also wanted to make sure he could determine the correct percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black comprising the blue type by preflighting the PDF I sent him. Would the color build match the blue PMS color on the offset printed cards? He suggested that I send him a printed business card to use as a target to ensure color fidelity.

More Business Card Printing on the Way

My client seemed to be happy with the pricing I sent her the next day, because she then sent me three business card fronts (three names) and one business card back as high-res PDFs.

Having three business cards to work with might change things. I still consider offset printing to be superior to digital, even if by a small margin. Digital print pricing for my client’s prior business card printing job seemed to be about a third of the cost of offset for a run of 500 copies printed on one side.

So I asked the printer to bid the three business cards digitally and also as a ganged offset job, with all three versions on one press sheet. I knew this would effectively spread the cost of custom printing (set up, printing, finishing) over three jobs, making each business card effectively less expensive than one business card printed alone.

Now a Brochure As Well

I was even happier when my client added a brochure to the mix. The first iteration was a press run of 50 copies, so it would need to be a digitally printed job to be cost effective.

The brochure, an 11” x 8.5” six panel job wrap folded to fit in a No. 10 envelope, also had a two-color motif (blue and black). Of course, as a digital job the blue color would need to be a build of process toners. Therefore, I was concerned about registration. Would the colors used to build the blue be in register, or would they not be precisely aligned and therefore look a little fuzzy?

When I looked at the PDF, I noticed that the type in blue was set in a sans serif typeface, and it was not overly small. I felt better. There were no small, finely drawn serifs in the letterforms to break up or to show any misregistration. I also felt that the blue was probably only built with two of the four colors, probably only cyan and black. After all, it’s easier to get two colors in perfect alignment than four.

Increasing the Number of Brochures

Within 24 hours the press run for the brochures had increased from 50 copies to 250 to 500. I’m not sure where the break-even point will be for shifting from digital custom printing to offset, so I have asked the commercial printing supplier to provide pricing for both.

I even suggested ganging up the business cards and brochures on a larger press sheet (for offset printing). Again, this would distribute the make-ready cost among three business cards and one brochure.

It is true that the business cards will be on 130# stock and the brochures will be on a much lighter press sheet. However, given the short press run it seems that even throwing away some brochures and some business cards (extras printed on the wrong paper) would be cheaper than changing plates on the press. One press run, lots of waste, but overall only a minimal amount of paper. We’ll see what he says and how the pricing looks.

What You Can Learn

This case study reflects one particular print job. However, it also suggests ways to approach many other custom printing jobs. Here are a few things to consider for your own work:

  1. Will your press run be short enough for a digital press? Your printer can answer this based on the trim size, number of pages, and press run.
  2. If so, consider how the colors will be produced: i.e., four-color builds rather than the PMS colors used in offset printing.
  3. Will the type be too small or too intricate if produced with screens of the process colors?
  4. How will the liquid toners behave on an uncoated sheet or a coated sheet? Will they be rub resistant? Ask your printer.
  5. If you produce part of the overall job on digital equipment and part on offset equipment, will the two printed pieces (let’s say a brochure printed digitally and a set of business cards produced via offset lithography) look alike?

4 Responses to “Business Card Printing: Digital vs. Offset Case Study”

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