Digital printing is a method of professional printing from a digitally created image directly onto the final substrate. Unlike offset or screen printing, digital printing allows for small quantities to be produced at a relatively low cost. Digital printing output can be using large format and/or high volume laser or inkjet printers. Digital printing has a higher cost per page than more traditional offset or screen printing but this price is usually offset by the cost saving in avoiding all the technical steps in between needed to make printing plates. It also allows for on demand printing, short turn around, and even a modification of the image (variable data) with each impression. The savings in labour and ever increasing capability of digital presses means digital printing is reaching a point where it will match or supersede offset printing technologies ability to produce larger print runs at a low price.
The variable data allows you to produce an entire campaign with each and every letter or brochure being personalised to the recipient. This is particularly popular with advertising agencies who now have the ability to include the recipients name, address and any other personal information. The personalisation does not have to be just in the body of the letter, but images and graphics can easily be changed out to reflect that recipient's name or other unique element.
The price break between offset printing and digital printing is often around 500 units where offset starts becoming more cost effective. While this is a generalisation and is dependent on many variables it gives you some idea of where the numbers become practical from a cost point of view.
The small downside to digital printing is that you do not have the freedom of choosing whatever paper stock you like. While most digital printing machines can print on a wide range of papers, unfortunately textured papers, boards (more than 400gsm) and other specialty papers do not print successfully.
Large format digital printing has also become widely used and very high quality with amazing resolution can be printed at just about any size required onto a wide selection of substrates. Billboards, pull up banners, POS, vehicle signage and all other large format printing has become very accessible. Substrates include anything from vinyl, silk, satin, paper, synthetic papers and virtually anything to suit the application you are intending it for.
When considering choosing a print broker make sure they understand the process, are well educated about the variable data and the substrates available in the large format arena.