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

Direct-to-plate and digital printing have not been around very long but they've very quickly become popular methods for printing low-quantity, full-color (CMYK) projects.

Direct-to-plate printing (also known as computer-to-plate printing) cuts out one of the steps involved in traditional printing. In traditional offset lithography printing, film is produced (today usually from a computer file) on an imagesetter and then a metal printing plate is made from that. From there, the plate goes on the press and is utilized to make the printed impressions. In direct-to-plate printing, the printing plate is made directly from the computer file which eliminates the need for film. The production of film costs time and money which is why direct-to-plate printing is so popular for low quantity jobs.

The downside to this process is that film was traditionally used to make color correct proofs (chromalins, color keys, colorkeys, matchprints, match prints, etc.) that one could inspect before the job went to press. In direct-to-press printing, there's no film so this type of proof isn't possible. Instead, one can get a digital proof can be very close to the quality of a more traditional proof. Digital proofs are cheaper to produce than a color key or chromalin but are not as color-correct.

Digital printing is actually closer to color photocopying than to printing. In digital printing, the prints are made directly from a computer file without film or plates. This method 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. When you need higher quantities of full-color printing, it makes sense to figure out which method is best for your needs. The answer to your particular situation may surprise you.

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