Monday, March 21, 2011

POD vs. Offset -- what's the deal?



Lately I’ve read a few forum posts surrounding small presses and the issue of POD printing—or print-on-demand. As I work in both, I thought I would explain some of the differences, addressing the concerns mentioned in these posts.

  • First, it is important to note that a typical POD press is not a tiny machine (aka laser printer) spitting out poor quality images. Most color machines can span the size of a room. See photo below:

  • Second, technology on digital presses has advanced tremendously making black and white printing (the actual pages of your book) virtually identical to offset printing. We publish many books offset and digitally, utilizing whatever method will keep costs down for our customers. To the naked eye, there is no difference between the two, assuming the same paper stock is utilized.

  • Third, offset printing is expensive for two reasons: the first (and biggest cost) is plates. The reason offset printing is called “offset” is because each color in your cover design (for example) has its own plate (usually 4-8 plates for any full color job) which during the printing process offsets onto paper. Each color station lays down a color until the full image has offset onto the sheet. Plates are expensive. Re-plating because an editor found a typo at the last moment can cause the cost of your book to skyrocket. The second major cost is the make-ready. This is all the set-up to get your cover registered properly—meaning the colors lying where they should on the sheet. None of those two costs are involved in POD printing. Which is why I tell all of my clients unless the impression count (number of times a plate hits the sheet) is in the several thousands, they are better off printing digitally (POD).

  • Fourth, once a publisher (small press or one of the big six) agrees to take on your book, you become something of an employee for that publisher. And like any good employee our job should be to pay for ourselves and make money for our employer. I would MUCH rather have my publisher print 1,000 POD of my books and they all sell, than print 5,000 offset and only sell 1,000. The first means I made money for my publisher, the second I cost my publisher money. And yeah, I can tell you the mark up on books is tremendous. Of course it is, publishing is a business. But the printing of a book is only ONE piece of the total cost of that book, and it is likely the least expensive if you include manpower, which is the highest cost in any business.

Now, there are other variables here to consider. Foil stamping (that shiny stuff you see on a cover), die-cutting (cut outs or shapes), and embossing (raised lettering) are fancy extras not likely offered on POD books. But MOST book covers can be printed POD without an issue. In fact, I just pulled ten from my shelf and only one couldn’t have printed POD.

So to sum up this super long post, POD is not something to fear. The technology is there to produce beautiful quality images that you would never guess weren’t offset printed. If anyone has any questions feel free to post. :)



  1. Thanks for the informative post!

  2. This is perfect timing!!! I have to 'publish' my thesis here in Netherlands (like, 300 copies) and I spent the whole day trying to figure out the difference between offset and digital printing on the quotes the printer sent me! Now It's going to be digital all the way :-)

  3. Huh...interesting! I had no idea they were so big and used plates! Wowza!

  4. Laura -- Do I need to start calling you "Dr. Laura." :)

    Colene -- Yeah and offset presses are about four times as big as the Indigo (digital press) I posted. Most have steps to get into each ink station.

  5. haha not defense isn't til May 19th :-)

  6. Thnaks, that was very eye-opening.

  7. I've been thinking about this lately because with the state of the economy, POD sort of sounds like the better way to go. Why not cost costs where we can?

  8. Mood -- Thanks for stopping by and the follow. I work in printing and publish loads of books (albeit training manuals, not fiction, but the process is the same).

    Kelly - POD is definitely more economical for shorter runs (and more environmentally friendly in a lot of ways). I'm considering small presses more and more.