Commercial digital printing is typically done with heavy-duty, high volume laser or inkjet printers. In digital printing, an image is sent directly from a computer to the printer in the form of digital files like PDFs without the need of a traditional printing plate to produce the image. This makes digital printing a very cost effective choice for very short runs as the set up costs are much less than with offset printing, especially when printing in full color.

Digital printing uses four color process printing and can only simulate Pantone colors. Where offset printing uses metal plates with a fixed image, digital presses can change the printed image on every sheet. This allows for short-run, cost effective print runs of projects with many pages (like books and magazines) that were traditionally too expensive to produce offset in very small numbers. Digital printing also allows for cost effective customization called variable data printing. With variable data printing, something like personalized letters can be produced with a different name and address on each letter.

While digital printing quality has improved greatly in the last few years, digital printing can still present some limitations when looking to produce a project. With digital printing the image can move around on the press sheet throughout the run (unlike with offset printing where the image stays in exactly the same place throughout the run) making it difficult to maintain very thin borders while trimming or ensuring that crossover images in booklets or books line up exactly. Press sheet size can be another limitation. Digital presses in most shops today only go up to a 13” x 19” sheet size with a max 12” x 18” image area so larger print projects will not work even when the quantity is more appropriate for a digital run. Digital printers can have difficulty running highly textured paper or very thick stocks. They do especially well with smooth sheets or coated paper.