How Does Offset Printing Differ From Desktop Printing?

If you’re familiar with, but not an expert in NH printing, you know that the topic can be confusing. However, with decades of experience in the industry, we’re here to help clarify a few things. One of the most common questions we receive here at The Print Factory concerns the difference between offset and desktop printing.

There are three primary differences between these two types of printing services. First, let us begin by clarifying the application for each, offset printing is commonly referred to as a laser printer. Where desktop printing often relies on inkjet printers. Differences fall with the colors of ink and the way they’re placed on the paper. The last difference is the type of machinery used to accomplish the task (as we briefly mentioned).

Ink Colors

Both commercial offset printing (also known as offset lithography) and inkjet desktop printing utilize four primary ink colors: CMYK. Dots of cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow, and black (the K) are placed next to each other in specific patterns that trick the eye into seeing millions of colors. Additionally, offset printing can use premixed inks in a variety of specific colors, as well as metallic and fluorescent inks. These are called spot colors.

Printing Process

Inkjet printing applies the different colors to the paper in one pass through the printer. In commercial offset printing, each color of ink is applied separately.

Printer vs. Press

An inkjet printer uses ink cartridges that place the ink directly on the paper. These are self-contained units connected to a computer through cables. Whereas offset lithography uses a web or sheet press that may consist of multiple units. Photographic printing plates are made of the file to be printed. The plates accept the ink, which is then transferred to the paper.

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File Preparation for Offset Printing

In choosing desktop publishing software, one of the significant considerations is determining how you will print your material. Some applications cannot produce the files needed for commercial offset printing. Although there are many specific elements to preparing files, in terms of ink colors and the printing process, there are two. The main software and file preparation considerations are the use of CMYK graphics and separations.


Whether printing in CMYK inks or spot colors, for offset printing, you must supply a file that can be separated into different layers for each ink color. These separations contain only elements of the document that will print in one color of ink. The printing plates for offset printing are made from these separations.

For all of your NH printing needs, visit us at The Print Factory. Located in the heart of downtown Nashua, NH, our team has been providing customers superior services and excellent results for over 30 years. Contact us today to see what we can do for your next project (603) 880-4519.