Digital vs. Offset Printing for Packaging: Which one to choose?

Often times, especially if you are new to printing & packaging, you expect a certain color or quality to be produced exactly what is expected on the screen. The fact of the matter is, printing output cannot 100% match from what we see on the monitor based on the RGB vs CMYK color output theory. 

Yes, the quality of the output can be calibrated to mimic closely to what it should appear but it will depend on the technique and technology that is being used. This is where many business owners, designers, and marketers run into a problem when undergoing their first packaging project.

In this guide, you will learn how to effectively choose the right type of print for your packaging and understand the differences in output based on artwork objective, cost, and options.

Digital vs Offset Print

The two main printing methods you can use for your packaging is offset lithographic printing or digital printing.

A diagram which compares all digital and offset print

Offset Print

Offset print uses metal plates layering color onto sheets in rapid succession. This is how newspapers and magazines are typically made. It offers superior image quality and cost efficiency for large-volume print runs, but is too expensive for most low-volume projects and takes extra time to complete.

Digital Print

Digital print, on the other hand, is how your home office laser or inkjet printer works. It offers quick turnaround times and makes low-volume jobs affordable. It’s also easier to create variable data print runs using a digital printing press.

However, digital printers can’t quite match the color fidelity and material flexibility that offset printing offers. According to Smithers Pira, digital printing accounts for 16.4 percent of global print and packaging in terms of value, but only 3.9 percent of the print industry’s volume. This seems to reinforce the idea that digital printing is the best low-volume print choice. But there is more to the question than just comparing print volume.

Keep your estimated print volume in mind and choose the right printing method for your packaging material.

So What Do You Choose?


Rigid packaging typically requires offset printing. If you’re going to print on luxury boxes, you might as well print in offset to get the best quality possible.

Corrugated packaging can benefit from either digital or offset. Offset is preferable for designs that require additional process such as spot UV and foil stamping and need a volume of over 1000 units.

For smaller runs and simpler designs for e-commerce packaging, digital is the way to go. Paperboard packaging typically requires offset especially for cosmetic, pharmaceutical and small retail packaging.

Why? Offset provides a clearer and more vivid printing output for smaller texts and designs.

Turnaround Time

For small runs in corrugated, digital is the best choice in terms of turnaround time and offset for long run. Offset can typically print faster in larger volume.

Quality Color Depth

Although offset printing can be more expensive, it does outperform digital printing when it comes to brightness and color depth.

Offset printers have the ability to use the Pantone Matching Color System to perfectly match inks, whereas digital printers can only approximate these colors using color calibration. Offset can also print white ink on kraft paper while digital cannot.

Offset produces the clean, crisp, attractive color output that you see in retail stores while digital produces great quality for simpler designs (perfect for e-commerce packaging).

Types of Coating

Offset printing also allows for a greater variety of coating, including matte & gloss laminateUVsoft touch, and AQ coating while digital cannot.

Overview of different coatings for packaging
photo: Pakfactory


These two printing methods can complement one another in most packaging orders.

It is much easier and more cost-effective, for instance, to use digital printing to create packaging prototypes and then put the final packaging product through full production-grade offset printing (although this may cause slight changes in color during full production).

It is recommended to request a physical CTP proof to verify printing instead. Prototyping in offset is possible but requires more time and cost.


For folding carton and rigid box, no matter what quantity, offset is preferred. If you are producing in corrugated, any orders lower than 500 pieces should consider digital for cost-effective option and offset for pieces larger than 1000-2000 pieces due to better quality of printing.

  1. Both are the effective ways for printing. In my view before choosing any method for printing you need to know what is your need and company goals and you need to know the printing medium, check the color, check proofing, and know which one allows more customization.
    Thanks for sharing!!

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