Digital Versus Offset Printing for Startup & Early Growth Companies (Part 1 of 2 Parts)

Three things are true of startups and early growth companies and their printing needs.

  1. You don’t have tons of money
  2. You need printed items, but you don’t need lots of them
  3. Things change a lot as you get new ideas and products


Well, luckily for you digital printing meets all of these needs to a T. That’s because digital printing, which prints directly from a digital file rather than old fashioned, expensive offset printing plates is:

  1. Lower cost than traditional offset printing.
  2. Can economically accommodate print runs of 1 to 10,000 or more
  3. Is ideal for printing short runs of custom pieces that may change soon

How Digital Printing Saves Money Compared to Offset Printing

Offset printing has been around since 1875. Why is it called offset? Because the image to be printed is on a metal (or paper) plate wrapped around a cylinder. The image on the plate attracts ink from the press’s ink rollers, and then transfers – or offsets – that image onto a rubber blanket that’s also wrapped around a cylinder. The image is then imprinted on paper that is running through the press. This type of printing takes a lot of setup – usually the computer file must be output as film, the film assembled into proper position, and a plate made from the film and mounted on the press. (Though some plates are now produced digitally.)

Offset presses must run lots of paper – called “makeready” – while press operators adjust the registration and ink to achieve the proper colors. The long setup process plus lots of makeready paper adds to the costs of offset printing, making it ineffective for printing small amounts economically. Offset printing is usually best for print runs in the thousands, tens of thousands, and up.

Digital printing has no such setup process, and no associated costs. The computer file is checked by one of our technicians to make sure it’s correct; then the piece is printed directly from the file. There’s no need for film and no need for setup. “There’s also no need for makeready, since the first printed sheet of paper from a digital press is usually good and color corrections can be made on the fly.

No setup costs or wasted paper make digital printing very cost effective for short runs. No setup costs or wasted paper make digital printing very cost effective for short runs. There is a break point where offset printing becomes more cost effective than digital, but that’s usually a number in the high thousands. At Rhino Digital, we’re always happy to let you know if we think offset may be a better option for a particular project.

Digital Printing is Flexible, Offset Printing…Not So Much

Every image printed on an offset press is the same as the last. Every image printed on a digital press can be different from the one before. This makes digital printing the most flexible way to put images on paper. Imagine the possibilities. If you’re targeting a flyer or post card to particular audiences, you can switch out images and copy for each of your market segments. Or, you can personalize each piece using variable data printing. (You can find more information on variable data in our earlier blogs, or on our website.)  The ability to change images on the fly and to use variable data for personalization puts digital printing in a class all its own – it’s like the Internet, where you can deliver a different experience to each customer, except that it’s on paper.

Digital Printing for Product Trials and Prototypes: When Change is a Good thing

Startup and early growth companies often have short run needs for labels or packaging for product trials, samples, introductions, and prototypes. Digital printing is ideal for printing short run labels, packaging, and boxes – all the materials necessary for small companies to make a big splash. We’ll go into all the use for digital printing for startups and early growth companies in part 2 of this blog series, but here’s a sneak preview:

  • Business cards & stationery
  • Loyalty cards
  • Brochures, flyers and handouts
  • Postcards
  • Trade show booth materials
  • Prototype materials of all types
  • Posters and banners

Need Help with Your Digital Printing Projects? Call Us!

We can’t guarantee that your startup will become a Rhinocorn, as the blog pic suggests, but we can help you out with economical ways to get your digital print marketing materials done. We’re the digital printing experts serving the Portland, Oregon area and the U.S. For more information, check out our website at: Or better yet, give us a call at: 503-233-2477. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and help you with tips and information on getting your printing projects done in the most economical manner possible.

Rhino Digital