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Offset Printing vs Digital Printing - What's the Difference?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

When you decide to self-publish a children's book, one of the logistics you'll need to consider is how you plan on printing and distributing the book.

Offset printing vs digital printing | Book Printing Options

The two most popular ways to do this is print-on-demand and printing in bulk. But when it comes to bulk book printing, there are two different types: offset and digital. In this blog post, we'll cover exactly what the difference is and what you need to consider.


If you'd like to read more about print-on-demand companies like KDP or IngramSpark, click on those respective links because this blog post will focus on printing in bulk.


The difference between offset printing vs digital printing (the short answer)


Offset printing is a method that uses large plates or cylinders to print onto paper which has been laid out flat and attached to a web press. Digital printing uses direct-to-plate technology and inkjet technology to print text and images directly onto the page without using any kind of plate or cylinder.


Let me elaborate further.


What is offset printing?


Offset printing for books uses plates to print on paper. A plate is a thin sheet of metal or plastic that has an image on it. The image can be anything from text to artwork and images. Offset printing is done by placing the plates on top of each other and running them through a press that uses heat to transfer the ink onto paper. This allows for high-quality reproduction of any type of book design, including color pictures and photographs.


Offset printing is used for large printed quantities so this method is best if you're planning on ordering 1,000+ copies of your book at a time. If you need to produce a small number of books (less than 500), then digital printing may be your best option.



What is digital printing?


Digital printing doesn't use plates and therefore is fast and efficient but it's not designed for large quantities the way offset printing is. In fact, digital printing is often called "short-run book printing" for that exact reason.



Cost Difference: offset printing vs digital printing


When it comes to the cost difference between the two, the biggest factor is upfront cost vs per-unit cost. Offset printing a hardcover picture book can cost anywhere from $1-5 per book, depending on how many copies you order and what extras you add on (i.e. a dust jacket, foil or UV, thicker paper weight, etc). Since you'd be ordering in quantities of 1,000 or more, this ends up being an investment of thousands once you add shipping.


Digital printing allows you to order fewer quantities but the cost per book will be higher. A hardcover picture book printed this way could cost anywhere from $8-12+ per book but since you can order 50 copies, for example, the investment looks quite different.


Here's an example so you can compare:

Cost per book

# of books

Total

​Offset printing

$3.50

1,000

$3,500 + shipping

Digital printing

$9

100

$900 + shipping

After looking at this chart, you might be wondering what makes digital printing worthwhile. After all, it's more expensive! Besides the ability to order fewer copies, the turnaround time is the next factor to consider.


Book printing turnaround time


The actual turnaround time will vary depending on your specific printing company but generally speaking, digital printing's biggest pro is that it's fast. Some companies can get books to you as quickly as 1-4 weeks! But offset printing is much more involved so it takes longer. Usually between 3-4 months or more.



Deciding between offset printing vs digital printing


When deciding between offset printing vs digital printing, there are several overall factors to consider:

Offset Printing

Digital Printing

Minimum order quantity

~1,000+

None

Cost per book

$1-5

$8-12+

Printing time

3-4+ months

~1-4 weeks

Customization

Wide range of options

Limited

If you need copies PRONTO for an upcoming author visit, then finding a local printer to print your book digitally will likely be better for you. But if you have time on your side and you've saved up money, you might prefer offset printing. I've done both throughout my publishing career, depending on how many copies I needed, how quickly I needed them, and what my budget was at the time.

I have my printed copies in hand...now what?


When printing in bulk yourself, it's your job to distribute the copies. That means they'll only be available for sale wherever you are able to list them. You can sell them at vendor events and author visits, list them on your own website, or put them on Amazon using a Seller Central account.


Click here to read more about all your self-publishing options.

 

I hope this article has helped you understand the difference between offset book printing and digital book printing. Both methods have their pros and cons, but are valuable options for getting your children's book printed.

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