June 2012 - Designed to Impress

carsFirst impressions really do matter. Get your customers’ attention by adding color and shine to your direct mail.


For most marketers, it doesn’t matter how a piece is printed as long as it achieves their marketing goals: it conveys the right message, drives someone to make a purchase, causes someone to visit a website, or accomplishes some other marketing goal. For others, the mechanics behind the printing process itself are more important. If you are one of these, read on.

The technology behind personalized printing is a robust, commercial-quality digital press. This technology uses some form of toner rather than traditional offset ink, and since the introduction of these presses in the 1990s, the output quality has become virtually indistinguishable from that of offset. For most marketers, the important difference between digital and offset is that digital presses are not run-length-sensitive. This means you can produce a run of 50 marketing pieces at the same cost per piece as you can 5,000. This opens tremendous marketing opportunities, including the ability to 100% personalize marketing pieces based on information from a customer or prospect database.

But there are some technical differences too. One of them is the toner itself and how it impacts the brightness of the print. Toner tends to sit on top of the sheet rather than soaking into the paper like offset ink. This creates a vivid image that can be slightly shinier than that of traditional offset. Some digital presses use toner suspended in liquid (sometimes called “ink” and other times “liquid toner”) that creates a slightly softer image.

If you will be coating your pieces, the visual difference between offset and digital will disappear. This is because the coating will mask any differential in gloss between the two. While many marketers prefer the bright, glossier image of digital, if you are among those who prefer the softer look of offset, you may want to consider a matte coating.

Another difference between offset and digital output is how the presses handle areas of solid color. Although digital presses can print 100% solids, if your design will be using large areas of solid color, it is recommended that you build your solids using color blends. For example, instead of printing 100% black, you might create your black from 40% cyan, 40% magenta, 40% yellow, and 100% black.

There are other subtle differences between digital and offset, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is whether the printed piece achieves your marketing goals. Especially if you are using digital production to create 1:1 marketing pieces and you are following the best practices of 1:1 printing (see related article on p. 3), the answer to that question should be unequivocally yes!