Is Digital Printing Killing Offset Printing?

Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant

Man using digital pressIn case you missed it, last month’s blogs asked if e-books were killing printed books. We were pleased at the feedback. We had about 20 comments, over 100 LinkedIn shares and over 50 tweets. Clearly big picture issues and disruptions due to different technologies is a critical subject that affects many people. Let’s tackle another important issue. This time the shifting landscape of pages in the production printing space, between electrophotographic (laser), inkjet, and offset. Lets start by setting up the conversation.
First, let’s start with some definitions. For simplicity’s sake let’s use the definition that traditional printing is any technology that uses a printing plate and digital is any technology that does not. I like that definition because it defines inkjet and toner as digital and categorizes Presstek’s DI or Direct Imaging as a traditional printing technology.
Second, we should acknowledge that this type of question is not unprecedented. Some may argue that one technology does not displace another, because TV did not kill radio but more accurately redefined it into more discrete segments such as “drive time” or talk shows. But when we focus on printing technology one thing is clear, offset did displace letterpress as the dominant printing technology.
Third, this is not the first time we have heard claims that one printing technology would displace offset. Years ago after improvements were announced for the DI technology some experts said that DI technology would become the dominant form of offset technology. Around the same time frame a CEO of a digital equipment manufacturing company claimed that their digital printing technology would replace offset.
And fourth are some recent annoucements. Surrounding the last few Drupas we’ve heard arguments that inkjet will become the dominant production print technology. The most recent development that has rekindled this debate are the announcements of larger format digital devices that are being offered by a host of different companies, which are all referred to as the B2 format presses (approx. 20″x28″).
With that in mind, here are some questions for you:

  • Do you think digital printing will displace offset printing as the dominate technology?
  • If you said “yes,” what is your timeline: 5, 10, 20 years?
  • If you said “no,” why did you say no?

Interested in similar topics? You may want to check out:

Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.

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  1. Thomas Albrecht September 11, 2012 -

    I don’t think that digital printing is killing offset in the foreseeable future because of costs, quality and speed.

  2. Molly September 11, 2012 -

    Complimenting is more of an appropriate word. As Digital printing becomes faster and larger…. it may start to affect offset printing, having more work go digital than offset – if that is killing than so be it.

  3. Art Tchetchenian (Kopystop) September 11, 2012 -

    Digital at this point in time is not killing Offset. However there is a definite shift in volumes of print from Offset to Digital technologies which would indicate a timely displacement over some time in my opinion. Perhaps a little more accelerated than previously forecast. With perpetual advancements and investments in Digital Technology not limited to Laser print, incorporating ink jet into the equation – I predict around 10 plus years before we see a huge impact. The value add factor of Digital, combined with speed and productivity increases are phenomenal in comparison to Offset. I think over time we shall remain complimentary to each other, with Digital displacement becoming profoundly dominant over time. Kopystop is a 100% Digital Print enterprise, receiving many orders from Offset printers keen to service the needs of their clients without the investing in Digital technology themselves. Its a great symbiotic print relationship to the benefit of all parties involved in providing the ultimate solution for our clients ~ that’s the goal!
    Art Tchetchenian
    Managing Director
    Kopystop Pty Ltd

  4. Paul J Gardner September 11, 2012 -

    Opinions are irrelevant.

    New printing technologies ARE displacing old printing technologies – have been for more than a decade – one job, one project, one device, one buyer and one company at a time.

    New doesn’t always mean digital, and old doesn’t always mean analog. But new technology IS winning in printing, as it is everywhere else.

    Bank on it.

  5. Asif Aftab September 11, 2012 -

    I don’t think Digital will solely dispalce offset in the near terms; I think they will continue to compliment each other- for next 5 to 10 years and a printer cannot just have digital or offset a mix of both will be required to grow. However, beyond that it will be all Digital,as observed more and more customized printing, variable data and short run has seen significant growth. That being said I think the click on Digital has already came down and more to go to the extent that it will not make sense to print on offset anymore.

  6. Jim September 12, 2012 -

    In some cases like books maybe yes.But in the everyday world of brochures, postcards letterhead and most of the normal everyday use its not even close. We do both at our Company. And its still costs so much less to offset print than digital that we do that on 90% of our jobs. The digital is nice option to have but not even close in price. Unless its under 700 pieces and full color.

  7. Howie Fenton September 13, 2012 -

    Wow this is a great dialog and I would like to add my 2 cents (for what its worth).

    We have already seen some cannibalization of offset printing in the short run length markets (i.e books) which agrees with most of the comments. Also lets not forget that more and more long runs are switching to multiple print runs that are shorter in length to reduce the risk of obsolesce.  But there is more to this.

    Consider this – if we can categorize printed products into two categories .. products that are under sever price pressure which are becoming commoditized and those that are retaining or growing in value.

    For the commoditized products you have to always look for ways to drive down your manufacturing costs. For some that might mean replacing 2-3 older slower offset presses with one more productive offset press. For others it may mean taking the work off the offset press and printing it on a digital press.

    But more importance is the ability to create more valuable products and bundling commoditized products with more value added services to create a package that has more value. This can be done with offset by adding traditional services such as mailing and fulfillment or with digital by adding database services such as variable data printing, email marketing, SMS (texting), QR codes and pURLS.  

So I think that the technology choice or business decision has to encompass the run lengths, the competitiveness of the product, and your ability to build more valuable products and/or bundle more services!

  8. Robert Bloecker September 14, 2012 -

    I don’t see a future where digital will every completely replace offset printing. However, I do see a future where 70% of printing done offset today will be done by digital, but the 30% that is left will be the products that need a low cost per piece on a high quantity run. I don’t ever see a 100,000 newspaper run being done digitally. But I do see a 5,000 flyer job being digitally.

  9. Arun Bhandari September 17, 2012 -

    Lets see this in a bigger perspective. Due to various advertising mediums such as internet, direct marketing and participation in live events, the advertiser has A) widened its net to reach customers, B) become more focused in terms of its audience. This has resulted into lesser budget allocation to print buying which has affected the printing industry. Another factor is advancement in offset machines in terms of reduction in make ready time and higher speed, a lot of idle capacity has been generated.
    All I can say is that Digital may have marginally affected the Off Set but not much.I would say digital is currently complimenting offset and is not a threat.
    I want to warn the small printers that its going to be the game of Giants, so better watch out and stay positive.

  10. Larry Edwards September 20, 2012 -

    We all have to realize the 3 year olds who have grown up with computers are entering the job market. As a result, they prefer to communicate digitally. They are looking for fast and efficient ways to find information. For the most part, the last thing they want to receive is a printed piece in the mail.

    The only way they are going to read a direct mail piece is if it is directed to them personally and with pertenant information. Digital allows for variable fields to be printed to catch their attention and to consume their interests. The days of shot gun marketing are over. Instead of sending out 20,000 inexpensive pieces that cost under a dollar, direct marketing people need to perhaps send out 5,000 pieces that cost $3.00 to $5.00 each. Today, it is not what you spend per piece, but what sales are generated and the cost per sale. You need to look at The Fold Factory and see what can be done on on the higher end. Remember, we only have 3 seconds to get the recipient engaged. The more interactive the better.

  11. Printing Press February 22, 2013 -

    Offset printing is still the king and will remain for quite some time. Inks, spare parts, maintenance everything is more expensive for digital. The only advantage of digital is speed for small runs.

  12. cathlynP March 12, 2013 -

    There may be digital print invasion (, but offset will remain effective especially in large print jobs.

  13. CBanning May 24, 2013 -

    “Offset will never replace Letterpress, the quality is not there and the costs are too high!” Charles Miller, Printing Instructor, Central High school, 1967.(just to put a little perspective on this conversation.)

  14. A. Nandhi Varman May 31, 2013 -

    It is learnt that the digital will take part in few years.
    Now a days POD is developing, it is based on Digital. In Digital there is no need for wastage of time and paper. Further it don’t need of skilled labour.

  15. T.vigneswaran October 17, 2013 -

    Dear Sir,​

    We had the Business inquiry form SriLanka that one of blue chip leading Telecom Company is looking for the Digital data print machine for the mobile telecoms company. Customer in SriLanka. Please let me know any available solution for the above business inquiry. Here I am forwarding
    Some of Production Information which is our customer intent purchases
    Digital Printing Transaction Promotional
    Retail Statements
    Transform a mission-critical expense – statement printing – into a revenue-generating opportunity Cut postal expenses by combining direct mail and statement mailings Strengthen relationships with existing customers and partners
    Integrate the customer information in your company databases – buying history, product preferences, demographics – with your regular billing statements to offer your existing customers personalized promotions.
    With variable data printing and Xerox digital presses, create billing statements where you can up-sell or cross-promote products and services, or sell ad space to valued business partners. Integrate color to capture attention and increase effectiveness.
    Company had sum of 6.5M customer .So they have to print every month around 6 Million Invoices
    Much appreciate your kind reply with full corporate offer with photos??? and video presentation of the machine.

    Also we had another order

    Digital printer (Economical Digital Flatbed EVA Printer (1325) to cover photo & documents. please be kind enough to recommend a machine with landed cost in Colombo inclusive of duties/taxes & your fees.

    Waiting for your kind instruction

    With kind regards
    Thank you
    JGSL VenturesAustralia
    14 May flower mews
    VIC 3076
    Tel-006103 94085878
    Mobile -0061410051075

  16. Carlalberto December 13, 2013 -

    I think that the real danger for Offset printing is not digital print but the web. it is little expensive to send a pdf rather than to print some catalogues, or to read an e-book instead of a paper book…Maybe 10 years and we’ll be able to talk about Offset death.

  17. Lotusprinters January 9, 2014 -

    The offset printing services are vital in conferring a brand reputatuion to the business. The printers are used for the manufacture of flyers, logos, business cards within a quick response of time.

  18. Lotusprinters February 5, 2014 -

    The offset printing services in India happens to be one of the best options for procuring image of clarity and sharpness. You can enhance the brand reputation of the businesses with the aid of offset printing.

  19. Gordon Qu February 28, 2014 -

    I think that digital printing is killing offset now. But, it is a long way in future, the costs on ink and speed on printer need improve step by step.

    Simply speaking, pigment for digital ink is more expensive than that of offset ink. At present, digital ink need high performance ink, especially on colorants on red and yellow, and the particle size is about 100 nm by milling. Therefore, the cost is very higher to offset.

    So, digital printer need improve quality to match low price pigment which used same as offset ink in future.

  20. Don Fowles March 12, 2014 -

    I certainly think that digital printing will “kill” offset printing – not only is it much easier, it’s far cheaper and quicker. As a printer myself, I have already seen a drop in the number of people asking for offset printing services. I think it may have dropped off the map altogether in around 10 years (although this is just my personal opinion).

  21. Greg Imhoff April 22, 2014 -

    Great proposition Howie and thread from all.

    All know Digital is growing and Offset is shrinking, but the reasons are not all self evident. Work will continue to migrate to digital however this will not completely overtake the Lion share of Offset, at least in our foreseeable future.

    One issue holding digital back beyond (TCO) cost is quality. The imaging does not yet match Offset in true (2540 DPI) RIP resolution. The main detriment in this is I think in computing volume demands of digital workflows vs. that Offset or Flexo imaging repro. Also the ink profile laydown of digital is not as good as offset though some promise to overcome this, with super fine micron level ink films are also being promised.

    Technology always finds a way to innovate, and it will happen, but not just yet.

  22. Mahmood Butt May 21, 2014 -

    Well, at last digital printing is going to beat offset printing, if not in 5 years but less than 25 years !

  23. Maru July 16, 2014 -

    hi Guys,could you please suggest me i am entering to offset printing with huge capital.
    Is it a good to continue or i need to wait for some time until Digital technology comes.

  24. NAEP awards March 23, 2015 -

    Offset Printing is good but off late digital printing is slowly dominating over the offset printing. Its a printers advantage if he can provide both digital and offset printing to his clients at his press because you never know when the digital is going to kill offset completely.

  25. Guillermo Stanbury January 12, 2016 -

    Same questions for Analogue to Digital photography, and any one is using a film now? In my opinion the point of break is reduced to units per hour, not today but in a short time.
    In 2016 offset retain long running jobs by better quality and price per unit produced in a time, but were are de phone books, store catalogs, text books, magazines and newspapers, a lot of tons and tons and tons of materials converted to data.
    Offset was the dominant printing process for decades but definitely now is reducing his supremacy, and surviving dependent of digital printing technology advances.

  26. Offset Printing Dubai November 8, 2016 -

    In my point of view, offset printing is really useful and it is cost effective as well. In offset printing we can get unique and custom designs too. Thanks for your info.

  27. prakash November 9, 2018 -

    Yes, in my opinion digital printing is killing offset printing. Nowadays everyone is preferring digital printing.
    offset printing machines dealers

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