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I'm Charlie
Book Designer & Self Publishing coach

Print on Demand vs. Offset Printing


July 2, 2020

Choosing the best printing method for your book

Understanding print-on-demand books (POD)

Printing-on-demand is a printing process that makes it cost effective to print and bind small quantities of books as you need them. Usually using toner, print-on-demand books are printed directly from a pdf and require little setup. POD books have a fixed price per copy, where your first book and your 500th book will have the same unit cost.

Characteristics of printing-on-demand:
  • Cost per book is fixed
  • Usually quicker than offset printing
  • Your proof is identical to the published book
  • No need to manage storage and tracking of a large inventory or worry about unsold copies
  • Great for field-testing or to offer review copies before an offset press run
  • Some on-demand printing services offer fulfillment and e-book conversion
  • Quality is not always as good as traditional offset
  • There is not as wide a range of papers, sizes, and binding options

Understanding traditional offset book printing

Offset printing is a printing process where ink is transferred from a plate, on to a rubber blanket, and then on to paper while the paper is being fed through a press. Typically with offset book printing many pages are printed on one large sheet (parent sheet) and then folded, trimmed and bound into a book (signature). Most of the books you see in books stores were produced using offset printing. In offset printing the price per book decreases as the press run increases. This is because the cost of plates, press and bindery setup and press clean up are distributed over a larger number of books.

Characteristics of offset printing:
  • Cost per book goes down as the print run size goes up
  • Requires more time to produce
  • Your proof may not resemble the final printed book
  • You will need to manage storage and tracking inventory and worry about unsold copies
  • Quality is better for color and print resolution can be finer with offset printing
  • There is a wide a range of papers, sizes, and binding options

Quantity, quality and distribution: choosing one print process over the other


Quantity is a top-determining factor to choose one process over the other. Because it is difficult for first time authors and publishers to know how many books to print, many choose printing-on-demand over traditional offset printing. Since printing-on-demand is basically a high-end copier that uses toner instead of plates, the setup and initial investment for printing a book is minimal. You can order as few as you need and the book price stays the same excluding shipping and handling. Since you do not have to spend a lot of money up front, you are less exposed to the risk of over ordering and there is no need to have space to store an inventory of books. However, if you know you will be wanting to print a large number of books from the get go, you can see considerable savings going the traditional offset printing route. Once you run enough books to pay for plates setup and clean up, the per book price drops as you print more books, because these one time costs are shared among a larger quantity of books. So with offset printing, the more you print, the lower the price per book. That is why the big publishers can price their books so low.


If you are printing an art book, an oversized book, or a book with special paper, print-on-demand will most likely not offer the print quality or options you need. But now, basic black-and-white print books are almost indistinguishable between the two platforms. And if you are able work within the print-on-demand page limitations you can still design an attractive color print-on-demand book.


Another reason self-publishers choose print-on-demand over offset is because some print-on-demand services offer e-book conversion, distribution and order fulfillment. If you don’t want to take a hands-on role of fulfilling orders than this may be a good option for you. But these services will come at a cost and these services should not be interpreted as marketing. Just because your book is available for worldwide distribution does not mean anyone will order it. It is highly recommended that when considering these services it is best to carefully review the costs, to see if it is actually worth the cost for this service.

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