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What's the Difference between Direct-to-Plate and Digital Printing?

Although direct-to-plate and digital printing have only been around for a relatively short period of time, both are quickly becoming popular methods for printing low-quantity, full-color (CMYK) projects.

Direct-to-plate printing, also known as computer-to-plate printing, basically streamlines the traditional printing process. In traditional offset lithography printing, film is produced (today usually from a computer file) on an imagesetter, which is then used to create a metal printing plate. This plate is then placed on the press and is used to create the printed impressions.

In direct-to-plate printing, the printing plate is made directly from the computer file, thus eliminating the need for film. Producing film is expensive and time consuming, which is why direct-to-plate printing has become so popular for low-quantity jobs.

There is, however, a downside to choosing direct-to-plate printing. Traditional, film-based printing allowed for a color-correct proof (chromalins, color keys, etc.) to be created which enabled users to check their work before it went to press. Because direct-to-plate printing eliminates the film, it is impossible to create a true, color-correct proof. Users can get a digital proof, but these proofs, while cheaper than a color key or chromalin, are not as color-correct as traditional proofs.

Like direct-to-plate printing, digital printing eliminates the need for film by using computer files. However, digital printing goes one step further by creating prints directly from the computer file and therefore taking the plates out of the equation as well. This makes the digital printing process more similar to color photocopying than to traditional printing.

Digital printing is ideal for lower-quantity and customized needs, but can only print CMYK images and files. Like photocopying, however, the price-per-piece tends to be the same. You'll probably pay the same price-per-piece for 50 or 5,000 prints. For higher quantities of full-color printing, make sure to review all your options before deciding which method best fits your needs.

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