By the manner of the technology industry, many would be tempted to conclude that digital is always better than its older equivalent. Digital music is better than analog. Digital communications are better than radio. Digital data storage is better than paper files. Video games are better than board games.

Then there’s printing. While it is true that nearly every office in the world has taken full advantage of the ability to publish right from their desktops, the truth is traditional printing does have some advantages that are either very difficult or impractical for the digital process to match or exceed. The truth is humanity invested a tremendous amount of productivity into advancing and perfecting the printing press and its associated technologies between 1440 and the early 1960s.

old school printing pressSpeed

Traditional methods like offset printing still fall behind when it comes to immediacy. Digital is fast, and it is ideal for short runs, prototyping, and iteration. It is also fungible due to its nature and production techniques, meaning a digital print run can be altered while in production. This kind of flexibility is powerful and compelling, but it comes at a price.


Accuracy, selection, and precision are where traditional offset printing processes take the lead. Because of the nature and longevity of print, getting colors right and making photographs and images jump off the page were top priorities for every industry from advertising to journalism to science. Color is a key issue, especially when it comes to conveying mood, tone or getting two plates of soil sample data right.

The sheer ubiquity of printed products in modern society dictated the necessity for the mechanisms and the technologies that grew around them to get the results exactly right.


Another key advantage of offset printing is the range of surfaces that support it. By and large, digital printing is limited to the kinds of paper a digital printer can support. Meanwhile, an offset print can theoretically be applied to just about anything from a rigid sign to a greeting card to candy wrappers.

While offset printing does require considerable lead time and doesn’t have the immediate flexibility of its digital equivalents, it is the correct choice when the printer requires complete control over the presentation and production of their job.

There may yet be advances in digital printing that allow the technology to match what is possible with offset printing, but the urgency may be lacking, given the widespread and well-understood nature of a technology that was, after all, more than 500 years in the making.

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