Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing: Which is the right fit for you?

Design, typesetting, and print management samples for Coffee House Press

If you’re new to book printing, you may be wondering which type of book printer you should be working with. There are two main types of printers: digital printers and offset printers. How do you know which is the correct printer for your project?

To answer this question, let’s first explain how each type of printing works.

For offset printing, a book file gets etched onto large metal plates. These plates are inserted into the offset machine. As the machine starts running, ink gets rolled onto the plates and the machine makes light impressions on the paper, creating a printed image. The setup and maintenance of an offset press while a job is printing requires a lot of care and attention to detail to make sure everything is just right. Offset machines are able to print lots of books in a short amount of time because they run at such high speeds. 

For digital printing, a book file gets printed directly from a computer to a sophisticated digital printer. Digital printers require minimal setup and maintenance while a project is on press. Digital printers operate at a slow pace, so only a limited number of books can be printed in a given period of time.

With these details in mind, let’s dive a bit further.

Offset Printing

Offset machines require a lot of initial setup to get a project on press, but once that project is on press, they are incredibly efficient because they operate so fast. This makes offset printing best suited for people wanting to print a high quantity.

The minimum quantity for offset printing is 500 copies. Offset printers can accommodate most requests, including specialty treatments like spot gloss UV, debossing, embossing, French flaps, rounded corners, PMS inks, and more.

Offset printing is a great option if you are:

  • needing to print a high quantity, at least 500 copies
  • wanting to utilize lots of specialty printing treatments
  • printing an art book, textbook, or any book with specialty bindings

Digital Printing

Digital printing doesn’t require a lot of initial machine setup, but these printers operate at a slower pace. This makes projects with lower quantities a better fit for digital printing. The minimum copy to be printed depends on the printer, but at Bookmobile we require an order of at least 25 copies.

Many digital printers are well suited for small quantities of standard books (6 x 9 or smaller with black-ink-only interiors) or small quantities of books with specialized printing treatments. Some digital printers, like Bookmobile, can print high quality art books at low quantities too.

Digital printing is a great option if you are:

  • printing a small quantity of books, at least 25 copies but up to 2,000 (project depending)
  • printing a book with some common specialty elements, like French flaps or inserts
  • printing an art book or textbook but only need a limited quantity

How does POD fit into the equation?

Print-on-demand (POD) printing is a type of digital printing where only one copy of a book is produced at a time, as an order is placed by a consumer. This style of printing is economical for many, and offers a new model for distribution, fulfillment, and storage. The most commonly discussed downside to POD printing is that the printing and binding of the final product is not always quality.

While Bookmobile does not offer POD printing, this type of printing can be a good fit if you are:

  • not wanting to maintain an inventory to fulfill orders
  • not concerned with the quality of the printing or binding
  • printing standard, simple books


Knowing which printer is the best fit for your project depends on how you want your book to look (from size to color printing to speciality treatments) and the number of copies you anticipate printing. Some key takeaways that will help you figure out which printer to work with:

  • Offset printing is best for people needing to print a high quantity or who have a complex book, including large trim sizes or specialized printing/binding treatments.
  • Digital printing is best for people needing a small quantity (25-2,000 copies, project dependent). Simple books are a good fit, but so are complex books up to a certain number.

The best way to figure out which type of printer is right for you is to get a quote. We’re able to quote offset printing and digital printing. We’ll provide personalized help and recommendations based on your unique project specs.