Digital / Wide Format / Offset printing – what are they good for?

Posted on January 31st, 2019 | Tags: Printing, Wide Format

One of the occasional questions get asked is what is the difference between the digital types of print systems we offer, our in house digital printing, our wide format printer, and our production partners high volume digital and offset printing. You would think that with modern print systems you wouldn’t see much difference between them, both print quality and cost wise. The reality is the opposite is true, each has very clear advantages and disadvantages to them. So in this article we are going to give you a general overview of each one.

Firstly we won’t be going into the technical details on how each system works but we will include the links to articles on Wikipedia if you want to find out more. Instead we are going to give tell you what each technology is good and bad at, so you can see why we use it to do certain jobs.


We use laser printers to do the bulk of the printing we do in house. The system is no different to the copiers everyone has used from time. With our system it’s designed to print faster and at higher detail on a greater range of papers and cards than the self service machines you may have used. Laser printers are ‘raster’ printers, that is they create page as a grid of dots (over 600,000 of them on a A4) and each page is created as needed. This means that each page is unique and changing the contents from one page to another adds no extra cost in time or resources. So printing 1000 personalized letters takes no effort than printing 1000 A4 flyers. This makes them ideal for smaller runs where there is minimal setup costs and the time from file to finished page is measured in hours not days.
The downside is that there is a limit on how low we can get the cost per page. They are not designed to print 10,000 of pages per day and most are limited to A3 printing sheets. So they will always be beaten by offset or high volume printing on a cost per unit measure. Size limits alway prevent being able to do some of the interesting paper sizes, or different types of materials. Most laser printers work with the standard four colours CMYK, so their colour range only go so far and there are some colours/shades that will never print accurately. Overall though, for smaller runs done ‘just in time’ it’s hard to beat Laser printers. 

Wide Format

We use an inkjet wide format printer to print plans and posters on pages larger than A3. Fed by paper off a roll (though our unit also supports individual cut sheets) the printer will print to any length by the width of the paper allowing greater flexibility in page sizing. Inkjet printers can can uses a range of methods (variable drop size, overprinting several colours together) to produce a greater range of colours. Our unit is designed as a general purpose printer, so it uses only six shades of colour compared to the eight or more found on some photo lab printers, it still turns out excellent photo images when needed. We can also print on different types of material, including plastics and fabric. With it being a raster printer too, this allows it to dynamically generate each page as it prints it. If you want to print a set of personalized posters that isn’t a problem.There are downsides to wide format printers. They are much slower than our digital printers and are unable to print on card. A more significant factor is that we don’t get the flat sheet costs that digital gives us so we have to charge by the 0.01ml of ink used. So while a a4 photo you print at home is lot more expensive for you than for us to print on our wide format, both of them can’t complete with the laser based technology on a cost per a4 sheet rate.


Offset is used to describe a large range of high volume large sheet & roll print systems. The key point is that they use a series of ‘plates’ that have been treated in a way so printing ink only sticks to some parts of it. The systems have a plate for each colour, with the standard of CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow and Key / blacK) but some have more, and as the paper passes under/over it the plate leaves it’s colour behind and is reinked then applied again. This happens at a very high speed, and the plates can be very large (A0 is a square meter of area and they print larger than that these days.) This means that offset systems can print a large amount of paper for a little cost. It can be even more cost effective as most printing companies batch up different peoples jobs together to use one set of plates thereby reducing the total overall cost to each person.

The downside is that it is very expensive and time consuming to get that ‘first page’ printed. The sets of  printing plates have to be made for that job which takes time and money. The printing systems themselves a big complex devices that have to be kept running constantly to keep them functional and cost effective so normally the printers will batch up work of several different customers at the same time to get the most cost effective run per set of plates, which is another reason why Offset has a longer production time.

High Volume Digital

Taking the two technologies of laser and inkjet printing and scaling them up to industrial size, you get High Volume Digital. While the basic tech is the same, these high volume units are design with printing as many pages as fast and as cheaply as possible. Normally either running of huge rolls of paper or pallets of large size sheets, high volume trades off some of the finer details and ability to handle complex colours to make the process more reliable for the high speed. It sits in the middle ground between standard digital in is unique page flexibility, and low price per sheet costs of offset printing. There are some jobs we outsource to print partners for better cost efficiencies and production times, such as true-press books or complex things like printing on envelopes, and these are handled by high volume digital.

What is used in what role

You’ll find that we use different technologies for different roles in Copy Express. Anything that has to be done in small volumes or short production time goes to our digital print, up to A3 in size. Wide format is great for small runs of big items, like plans or posters.  Big volumes will be offset printed to give a much more cost effective price per unit with the tradeoff of time taken. High volume digital is great for complex items small run items books and envelopes.

That’s a quick rundown of the print technology we have access to in printing your work. If you have questions or want to find out how we do your printing for you, we are happy to answer them at any time. Just drop us a email or come on by and we’ll help you understand what happens when we print for you.