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Designing Postcards: Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing

April 1, 2014

Offset vs Digital Printing

When you look at a marketing postcard, it’s easy to visualize the contribution of the designer, the copywriter, and the editor involved in its creation. Each plays a major role in crafting the visual identity, style, and effects of the direct mail campaign.

It’s often harder to visualize the role that the printer plays in a successful postcard direct mail campaign. From offset printing to digital printing, the type of printer you select for your custom postcards can have a real effect on your campaign’s results.

In this quick guide, we compared two different printing options – offset printing and digital printing – to find out which offers the best combination of convenience, value for money, and quality for marketers sending direct mail advertising postcards.

Offset Printing: The Publishing Industry’s Standard

Offset printing, also known as offset lithography, remains the most common printing process for magazines, newspapers, postcards, and more. Offset printing is generally the best choice for large print runs in the thousands or tens of thousands of units.

This is because offset printing generally requires a large minimum order. In order to print using offset lithography, custom printing plates need to be produced using the postcard’s negatives. This can be prohibitively expensive for small businesses.

However, if you need tens of thousands of custom postcards printed, offset printing is a good choice. On a per-unit basis, offset printing offers better value for money at scale than digital printing, albeit with a much higher minimum quantity.

Digital Printing: A More Accessible, Scalable Choice

While offset printing is the method of choice for very large companies, most smaller businesses use digital printing to print their direct mail advertising postcards. For a small run of less than 1,000 units, digital printing is almost always the best choice.

Digital printing often has no minimum quantity requirement, making it a more cost-effective option for small businesses that only need to produce a small quantity of direct mail postcards.

In addition to its efficiencies for small businesses, digital printing presses are built to handle variable data, such as names, addresses, and voucher codes. This gives it significant advantages for marketers that need to print custom postcards.

Finally, digital printing generally takes less time than offset printing. This is because the entire printing job can be managed and processed by a computer, rather than by a team of pressmen and specialized staff.

Which printing technology is the best choice for your business?

Both printing technologies – offset and digital – offer advantages and disadvantages for businesses. The ideal choice for your business ultimately depends on the type of postcards you’re printing and the scale of your direct mail campaigns.

Custom postcards that use variable data such as names and addresses are generally best suited to digital printing. Likewise, small print quantities of 1,000 units or less make digital printing a far more cost-effective option.

Large printing runs of thousands of tens of thousands of units generally suit offset printing. This is because of the immense economies of scale that offset technology offers for very large print runs.

Before you select a printer for your next batch of direct mail advertising postcards, think about how many units you’re likely to mail and the type of data you need to print. You’ll quickly be able to identify which type of printing offers the best value.