Digital and offset printing, photocopying, design services and more at Budget Printing, Edmonton’s best full-service print shop for over three decades.
For the best in offset and digital printing with a full-service design department on staff, trust Budget Printing to deliver your print job on time and looking great.
We know that clients need the right information to make the best decisions about their printing. Call us anytime to get answers or a quote on your next job. You can also browse our archive for information on:
Digital vs. Offset Printing
Well, it's not so much a battle—digital vs. offset—as an ongoing coupling of new and old technology. The print industry hurries along just like any industry that both relies on and drives technology. The effect on printing has been both to reduce the stages between computer (typically) and press, and to continue developing digital printing as a viable, large-scale solution—potentially replacing the traditional press.
You can find extensive discussions, debates, and diatribes online about the superiority of one over the other, but you can also find considered analyses that honour the strengths of both types of printing. Some of the decision comes from personal preference, and some from the capabilities or limitations of each process. For a print shop, the choice is also affected by how each technology can best improve and expand the services it can offer.
Budget Printing houses both digital and offset production, and here we give you an overview of each so that you might better understand the differences. In any case, we are always willing to talk with you about how best to run your print job.
Printing presses have been in use for hundreds of years, firstly to reproduce books (instead of individually by hand) and on through to our modern world of literature, marketing material, stationery, etc. For the most part, this is an ink-based system using printing plates to translate a design onto sheets or rolls of paper.
Spot Colour Offset Printing
Printing with one or two inks (colours) is a great method for striking, crisp designs that use colour for a bold look, and at less expense than full colour printing. These jobs often make use of a specific colour, such as an official corporate colour.
Full (Process) Colour Offset Printing
Depending on the amount of colour or types of images used in your print job, full-colour printing may be your best option. This is the type of printing you often see used for life-like images.
Almost everyone has a computer and a printer. Going directly from computer screen to printed page is not a new invention, but for high-end and high-volume production, a print facility requires a special breed of digital device.
Black-and-White (Monotone) Copying
The classic photocopier continues to evolve, now capable of huge volumes in a short time, and with such features as stapling, collating, folding, and more. Production machines (unlike standard office copiers) can be used for a variety of print jobs, such as documents, multipart forms, even some business cards. The speed of these machines, along with their evolution into robust production systems, allows a print shop to offer fast, quality runs on everything from a simple photocopy to large, tabbed binders, and more.
Digital Colour Printing
Laser printing is one of the most rapidly evolving print systems. Much of the focus is on making high-end production machines that rival the strengths of offset printing (as described above). Computer-driven, this technology especially offers the ability to customize every copy of a print job (such as with a unique name, an evolving marketing approach); this would be an unreasonably expensive and complicated achievement on a traditional press.
The above is of course a very cursory look at how digital and offset printing compare. As a print customer, your option for either method is usually made simple by the type of job you require, the quantity you will be ordering, and how soon you need it.
Inks and Separations
Traditional printing methods require artwork to be translated to printing plates, one plate for each ink that will be used to produce the final images/type. While separations have long been the responsibility of the print shop, modern graphics software has given the designer the ability to greatly control separations.
While design work may not be directly performed by many of our clients, a basic understanding of inks and separations can help you with some of your print planning, and maybe even spark some ideas.
Traditional presses and, in most cases, modern digital print machines both rely on a fundamental principle of applying single inks in succession to a sheet of paper, such that the inks may at times combine visually to create particular effects. The variation in whether the ink is applied as a solid (100%) shape, or in tiny dots of varying size, is what allows us to print the countless elements that could make up a printed page: text, artwork, images, etc.
The most commonly used library of inks is the Pantone Colour Matching System (PMS), which is a sort of recipe book for printers to create specific ink colours, and it ensures a customer can get the same spot colour at different print shops.
Looking at the application of a single ink to the page (in this case, a dark blue) we find a couple standard variations in style:
Even though they appear different, each style demonstrates the use of a single colour of ink (a "spot" ink). The difference is in how the overall circular shape is formed: firstly, as a solid shape; secondly, as a circular region of dots (gives the impression of a lighter blue, even though it is printed with the same dark blue ink); and thirdly, as a gradient from blue to white.
Next, we can add a second ink (a medium red) and vary the ways these two interact:
In the first three, the shapes may touch but are still discreet. But the fourth style, duotone, has the inks interacting and appearing to make a third colour. This is the principle behind process colour (below).
Recreating full colour images in print is most often accomplished by printing "process." This is a 4-ink method sometimes noted as CMYK each letter representing an ink: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black). As with duotones, above, process colour is a method that combines and varies the dots of these four inks, which have been found to effectively reproduce many colours typically seen in nature. This provides the solution for the vast majority of full colour printing.
There are also "Hexachrome" presses which orange and green inks to CMYK (yes, making CMYKOG). This broadens the gamut of colours that can be effectively reproduced, but requires a specialty press. Another method that improves printing results is adding two lighter inks, cyan and magenta (CcMmYK), to the gamut. This is found in some retail printers designed for high-quality photographic output.
The compromise with process printing is that there are limitations on what colours can be reproduced when combining cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The possible colours are suitable for reproducing most photographs, for example, but may not be able to replicate a particular Pantone colour (such as an official corporate colour). In this situation, it may be valuable to print process colour, as well as one or two spot inks.
Here is our original image of an attractive bird:
If our print job is one colour (let's assume black ink only), we can render the image fairly well by using halftones (ink dots of varying size). Shown here is a grayscale image, plus a zoomed-in look at how the ink dots might appear close up.
Alternatively, we might print in full colour (process), and be able to render the image quite true to the original. Notice how the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots are arranged to sometimes combine, other times not, but that the four inks give the appearance of many colours.
But what if we're only printing with two inks, such as black and a corporate blue? Well, we can make a duotone image that uses the blue ink to accentuate the bird photo.
This is a brief demonstration of how print technology is quite flexible, and that in planning a print job there are options to consider in choosing what inks to use.
The method of creating printing plates for each ink that will be used is aptly called separation. Using our process colour printed bird photo from above, the CMYK separations would look something like this:
Each printing plate (four in total) would have the necessary dots so that these inks, when printed over top each other, will produce an image that appears like the original.
The grayscale (black only) image would just have one plate, while the duotone image would have two. There are also tritone images, quadtone images, and so forth.
There is a fundamental physical difference between printing inks, as described above, and the colours you see on your computer screen (which are made of light). What you are looking at is something like the halftone dots of process colour, but instead the graphics are made of red, green, and blue points of light (pixels), or RGB. These three colours of light, much like the four basic colours of ink, have been found to be most versatile in combining to create the appearance of millions of other colors.
With ink, you typically start with a white page and add inks to make colours. With light, you start with an absence of light (black) and add light through the spectrum to white. So, for example, an image that is RGB may appear the same as one that is CMYK, but before it can be separated for ink plates it must be converted to CMYK.
This creates challenges for the modern, digital design process. There has to be some compromise between the degree to which ink printing is able to render colour, and how much 'predictability' there is for the designer using a computer to "get what she sees"—for the final printed piece to resemble how it looked on screen. It is a challenge both ways, though, since a computer screen cannot display such print effects as metallic inks, foiling, embossing, etc.
Needless to say, this is a complicated arrangement that provides no end of study. For the purpose of this article, it is simplest to advise that not all screen colours can be printed exactly, and that the planning of inks and separations on a computer requires some conceptualization of what will happen at press time.
A digital printer will still typically use either one ink/toner (such as with a black laser printer) or four (CMYK for most colour printers). But the technology behind digital printing in many ways removes the complications of dealing with separations, because it accepts any combination of grayscale, duotone, process, even RGB artwork, and does its best to print them together. There is still a separation stage, but it is largely automated.
The computer has been smartly integrated with print technology but will always provide certain challenges due to some of the fundamental differences between the two. Planning a print job on a computer, so that the eventual separation of colours into inks gives the desired results, is made easier as the software evolves—but this is still greatly helped when the user understands and can visualize how her design must translate to print. A good starting point is to consider what the finished print piece should look like, and what inks would be necessary to achieve that. The play between these limitations and capabilities is a constant consideration during the time leading right up to when the first copy comes off the press.
The resolution of image files that are used for print is one of the most common misunderstandings to lead to disappointment, especially when a print job so often only exists digitally right up to the point of production. Whereas the computer screen might be displaying what appears to be a quality image at the right size, when printed the image becomes a blocky, perhaps illegible smudge on the printed page.
Understanding the concept of resolution can avert much disappointment when a design goes to print.
Vector vs. Raster
Firstly, it is important to note the difference between a vector graphic—composed of shapes—and a raster (aka bitmap) image—composed of pixel data.
The 'shapes' in a vector image are mathematical descriptions of each object (like a circle or rectangle), unlike a raster image where a grid of pixels, each of a particular colour and when viewed together, give the illusion of the image.
Of course, you view both types of files on a computer screen, which uses pixels to represent their appearance. It is at the print stage that the difference can become most obvious. Vector graphics always print with a clarity that is not affected by how large or small they are scaled, while bitmap images that are too low resolution for their print size look inferior.
There are some file types that can be a combination of vector and bitmap (EPS, PDF, AI), depending on how the file is constructed in a graphics program.
Here is a graphic of our mascot hard at work. The original art is a vector graphic.
Zooming in, colours are solid and edges/lines remain crisp. Keep in mind, though, that you are looking at an on-screen rendering of the vector artwork—so they're pixels here—but by comparing this demonstration to those that follow, the differences should be manifest.
A raster version of the same graphic looks much the same, except that zoomed in it reveals how the pixel data affects the image clarity.
At normal (100%) pixel size, you see the same image but printing a raster image usually appears less sharp than an identical vector image.
Note: many vector file types (e.g. PDF, EPS, AI) can contain both vector and raster data
Pixels vs. Dots
The computer screen is composed of pixels, while print is generally composed of dots. The steps that translate pixel data to print dots rely heavily on the resolution of the original image. Quality problems can most often be traced back to the picture file used in a design.
Demonstrating the Differences
Here is a nice looking JPG image (original is a TIF) that we will use to demonstrate how resolution affects print quality.
We'll zoom in on that rectangular area to see more closely what we're providing for the printing plates.
Original is 300dpi (print quality)
The colour changes between pixels still look quite gradual, and edges are well defined.
Here is the image with a line screen applied, as would be used for press plates. From our 300dpi image, this printout would appear very clean and detailed.
A close-up of the leaf edge. This shows how dots of ink will form the image.
Original is 72dpi (web site quality)
Pixels are very apparent, and there is a 'staircase' effect (blockiness) along edges.
The 72dpi image, however, is visibly inferior. While the print dots help a bit with breaking up those hard pixels, the results are not so pleasing.
Our screened web image appears more blurry and the edge definition is blocky.
It is probably intuitive to know that "an image of greater resolution will look better in print than one of lesser resolution." It is just the trick of understanding how an image on screen translates to print, since what you see is not always what you get.
For all file types:
Bleeds are essentially the part of printed material that is meant to be trimmed away, leaving artwork that covers right to the edge of the finished print piece. It's not a difficult concept to understand, but can be tricky to learn without seeing examples. What's more, when designing a print piece on a computer, every program handles bleeds a bit differently.
Here is the intended design of a finished business card. The standard size in North America is 3½" x 2". This card is set in landscape (wider than tall), but of course could have been designed in portrait (taller than wide).
The background picture extends to the very edge of the card and is a photo that does not repeat at the edges (unlike, say, a solid blue background). Now, there is hardly a printing device in the world that can print on a piece of paper that is 3½" x 2" so it is common to gang up the cards on a press sheet.
Here is the card set 10-up on a page. But, there is hardly a cutting device in the world that could slice perfectly between the cards if they were printed as shown here. This is called a 'dead-cut' and is generally avoided.
The slightest move of the page (or any pages in a stack being cut together) will leave a sliver of the image from one card on the edge of its neighbour. Or, for outside cuts, you might see a sliver of the white of the paper.
Now, you might suggest cutting just a bit in from each edge, but then your cut business cards are smaller than the standard size. As well, this becomes problematic on a guillotine.
Instead, the design is printed with artwork going beyond where the edge of each card will be cut, and 'double cuts' are used between each row/column.
You can see that the background image has been 'opened up' to show more of the photo; anything beyond the trim marks or in the middle of double-cuts will be cut away, leaving just the business cards with the image going right to the edge as intended.
This is a single card set up with proper bleeds. Also shown here is a 'safety margin'. Again, regarding the possibility of slight shifts during cutting, it is wise to keep important elements (text, logo, etc.) away from the edges of the finished card.
This is also an aesthetic decision, much like text in a book, where a margin around the edges usually helps with readability. However, you are obviously at liberty to design according to your tastes.
Most print shops will prefer that you send them the artwork set up like above (1-up, and without the border or margin lines) so they can take care of any gang-ups based on their unique production habits.
Note: whenever possible, send us the original file rather than, say, a PDF.
Paper (stock) differs in terms of colour, texture and weight. Other important terms include coating (generally glossy or matte), opacity (ability to provide or prevent the transmission of light) and brightness (light-reflecting quality). When planning a print job, you may choose a standard, readily available, in-house stock or, you can request a unique paper that will add to the effectiveness of your printed piece.
Not all paper is white! It is very much your option to choose a paper that is of a particular colour, whether for creative or other reasons. In one respect, choosing paper that is not white is like saving an ink that would otherwise be printed onto the page. For example, instead of printing a bright orange ink background with black artwork, the latter could be printed onto a bright orange stock.
Other, sometimes subtler choices can influence the look of your design, such as:
Note: the colour of the paper can affect the appearance of ink colour, because you are adding the ink colour to the substrate. This can be either a hindrance or—with planning—an effective and creative choice. Here is a demonstration of how paper colour might affect the look of a printed photo:
Smooth paper is actually one of the more modern types available, whereas historical paper types tended to show more of the fibres or weave from the technique used to make the paper—hailing back to the ancient art of woven papyrus. Today, a wide variety of textures is available, including some that emulate historical types. The latter may be used to imbue a printed piece with a classic formality or a unique tactile quality, and/or may be chosen for the effect the texture has on the appearance of what is printed on it.
In some cases, texture can be created by how the paper is formulated, such as with visible fibres.
The texture of a paper may be defined or affected by a coating or finish, such as you often see in glossy magazines or conversely with matte (non-glossy) business cards. The smoothness of the paper can be embellished to the point of shiny. Depending on personal preference, this can give a print piece a bold or modern finish. It can also influence how clear the print is and how the piece would stand out next to another design.
The thickness or density of a certain paper determines its weight, a term that applies both to literally how heavy the paper feels (due to its density), and as a printing term to classify and identify these variations. There is the measured weight of a type of paper, typically by ream, that may be noted in pounds (#), density (grams per square meter or gsm), and others. The paper weight may also be expressed in terms of the physical sheet thickness (often in points).
Here is a look at the main grades of paper and their typical weights.