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Production - Where to Send the Job

As a print shop manager/owner who may have both offset and digital capabilities, sometimes trying to decide “where to send the job” can be difficult. There are several factors that enter into that decision and we will explore a few of them here.

Offset vs. Digital - Where to send the job
Offset vs. Digital

Scenario #1

Client comes in for a repeat print job that is one static image measuring 11”x17” and they want 12,000. Easy peasy, lets go to the press.

Scenario #2

New Client comes in promising “lots of work in the future”, (we have all heard this right?) if you can turn around 250 prints of this pdf image on a thumb drive in a couple of hours. Again, click file print to a digital device or put it in the digital queue.

So, the short answer is offset printing is more cost-effective for large runs and digital printing works better for short runs. Many folks have set some sort of volume threshold where they choose digital printing for a job if your print run is less than 1,500, and use offset for more than 1,500 or something similar. But there are many other factors that could be used to make these decisions.

It is no surprise that the number one factor is: COST


What is the “burdened” labor rate of your press person? Let’s say you pay an employee $50,000 per year. The annual payroll taxes and benefits associated with this employee total $12,500. To get the burden rate for this employee, divide the indirect costs by the direct costs. $12,500 / $50,000 = $0.25.

The burden rate is $0.25. This means you pay $0.25 in indirect costs for every dollar of gross wages you pay the employee.

Make sure when you are compiling your numbers that you include all components in the offset printing process, including clean up and “wash” time, and bindery.


We all know offset ink is cheaper than toner, right? Sure, but it still needs to be calculated to help us make a good decision. If you are on a cost per copy with your digital vendor, your cost per page should be fixed, regardless of sheet size and coverage.

Client Loss

We have been telling ourselves that the clients are used to waiting 3-5 days (or longer) for their job to be done on an offset. A “real” cost is the new group of consumers we lose who will no longer wait 3-5 days (or longer) for turn around on a print job. How many of them have been at your front counter and said, “that’s too long, sorry” and walked out? Where did they go? The answer is somewhere where they can turn it around faster, and you won’t get them back. The cost of the job can be less of an issue if they can have it quickly. So, sending it to the digital device may be the best answer here.

Quality of the Output

Remember the first days of digital print? 3 pages per minute and grainy output?? In the near past, offset printing was the only choice for quality. In some cases that still may be true, but we need to realize that most of our clients are not going to pull out the loop and look at the finished product. There are vendors who can provide devices that offer 2400 x 2400 DPI with 10 Bit rendering. Many times, the harshest critic of the print quality is the person doing the printing.


Are we offering some sort of customizing on every job? Offering personalization on your print job is a great way to get attention from your clients. And we need to ask who will ultimately end up with this printed piece and wouldn’t they like to see their name (or image of interest) on the printed piece? People love to see their names in ink. We may think that running an offset print through the inkjet and affixing an address is “variable data”, but those days are gone. Offer your client the opportunity to heighten the return on their printed pieces by customizing them for their end-client, whether that is through data driven image swaps or other variable data opportunities. The costs for these software packages have plummeted in price and there is probably an easy “plug-in” for the design program you are already using. You can upsell these features easily.

Post-Press or Bindery

What does the finished job look like? The same question that we asked back in the “cost” portion of this article must be asked again. Well, let’s take it off the offset and then we have to trim it to size, fold it, punch it, crease it, bind it, and the list goes on. All done offline in a series of steps that take a lot of time and manpower. In a recent interview with a client who purchased an in-line booklet maker to put behind his digital printer, he said that there wasn’t many skills needed to go file, print, booklet-fold, and trim inline as there were to manually do all the processes, and his booklet maker never called in sick. Many shops are facing the need to replace their offline bindery equipment, but the biggest hurdle is finding someone to run them.

In closing, we need to step out of our own mindset once in awhile and ask the tough questions. And get over these items…

  • My offset is paid for and I don’t have those dang click charges.

  • My press operator needs to be doing something.

  • I can do it cheaper offline…

  • My clients are used to waiting 3-5 days…

  • And the list goes on…

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