Regular readers know that I am all about marketing, communicating, and of course printing. Lately, articles have been focusing on the topics of marketing and data driven communications. But we should not forget the printed piece as it is a key aspect of any comprehensive marketing plan. In this article, we will look at three of the types of printing we might use in an effective marketing campaign. Specifically, offset printing, digital printing and hybrid printing.


Offset printing, or traditional litho printing, utilizes a process whereby ink is put onto a roller so that a printing plate can pick up the ink and create an image on a blanket. The stock (paper) rolls onto the blanket and the image appears on the paper. For full color printing, this process often utilizes four primary colors to build all of the other colors that we see. These colors are cyan, magenta, yellow and black. That is why you will sometimes see four-color process printing referred to as CMYK. You can also use spot colors if your job requires an exact color match (leave a comment of you want to know more about spot colors).

Offset printing is generally used for longer runs. By longer runs I refer to a greater number of sheets, or pages, that need to be printed. There are many types of offset presses ranging from small one color presses that can handle a sheet size of 8Β½ x 11 to much larger web presses which can print everything from the daily newspaper to millions of copies of books. There are also a variety of specialty presses that print envelopes, raised printing and many others. When you have a print job, make sure your service provider has the best equipment to run your job as economically and efficiently as possible.

The point: offset is good for a large number of static documents.


Digital printing, the sector of the printing industry print on demand that is currently experiencing the most growth, was introduced in the late 80s and early 90s. At that time, the only digital printing available was black and white. Today, however, there are many other options including toner-based digital color, ink ‘based digital color, and an emerging process that we are all familiar with, inkjet technology. However, unlike the inkjet printer you might use at home, production inkjet presses can produce hundreds of pages per minute, some even 1,000.

The key aspect of digital printing, as opposed to offset printing, is that in digital printing each sheet can be customized. Digital printing is more economical for shorter runs (fewer copies) because there are no plates, there is much less waste and the color is (generally) accurate on the first sheet off the press. Also, the document comes off the press dry, so turn-around times are much shorter.

As a way to save costs, many companies are now producing marketing collateral in small lots so that there is no inventory to track and store and no risk of obsolescence. Additional cost savings can be realized when a web-to-print solution is used, saving administrative time, proofing time and allowing many small orders to be aggregated into large orders, lowering the overall cost. Again, this is due to the ability of digital printing to handle short run work with high quality results.

But short run work is only a small part of what digital printing can do to help your company grow. If we get back to our conversation on data (sorry, I can’t help myself) we can use that data to create an individualized, personalized, relevant printed marketing collateral that is different for each of your recipients. So while you may be selling the same product, say a pair of jeans, the copy and the images that you want to use to sell to a 22 year old female in New York City will be very different than those you want to sell to a 50 year old male in Douglas, Utah.

Digital printing allows you to take advantage of variable data printing. In it’s most basic form, variable data printing, is analogous to a mail merge program you might use on your home computer (as true variable data printing is far more complex and requires experienced programming, my digital prepress team will torture me if they happen to read this analogy). My personal safety notwithstanding, the ability to print personalized, high speed, high quality, full-color collateral means digital printing can create mass marketing pieces that are unique for each recipient. This kind of personalization has been proven to raise response rates by 20 – 30 percent. And when used as part of a cross-media campaign, the same creative work can be repurposed to be used in personalized landing pages (PURLS) and email.

The Point: Digital print is good for short run and personalized, variable data projects.


Hybrid printing is a combination of the best qualities of both offset and digital printing. Hybrid printing takes the cost effectiveness of offset printing for large four color runs and combines that with the increased response rates personalization and customization make possible by adding a digital black and white imprint. Black and white digital printing is far less expensive than color digital printing. Therefore, if you are able to create a four-color process shell, you can then utilize black and white digital print to create personalized pieces in a more cost-effective manner.

This application is great for form letters, gift appeals, personalized offers and coupons with bar codes. Color gets attention, but digital color can be expensive. Offset is static, not personalized or unique to the recipient, and does not get the higher response rates marketers need. Hybrid printing solves this dilemma by using color from the offset process and the personalization from the black digital process. You get the benefit of both processes and the cost effectiveness of both processes.

The Point: Hybrid printing is good when you have a lot of full color pieces to produce, but the personalization can be done in all black.


The answer to the question which process is right for you will depend on what you are trying to accomplish. Talk to your vendor and explain your goals. A good vendor will take the time to listen and help you plan the most effective and economical campaign possible.