Conventional Offset – Is it time for Inkjet?

By Mary Schilling / Published:


Referenced from Copylab

There has always been the argument that inkjet is not ready for the commercial offset world. Paper, pricing and print quality seems to be barriers. Sheet-fed inkjet has made strides over the last few years and is creating a better entry point for those who have high requirements.


One of the arguments has been about the paper requirements and their options. Over the past year, we have heard aqueous inkjet devices can use offset coated papers. These can be matte, silks or gloss, printing directly onto the coating surface or with the use of a jetted or anilox applied primer. Offset coated stocks compatibility to inkjet is needed in part because there are few inkjet coated compatible papers out there. Not all offset stocks are compatible though. Each stock must have a level of porosity or surface tension that works with a device’s ink chemistry. Utilizing house offset papers creates an easier entry point for inkjet, but don’t count out papers which are specially formulated for inkjet as they offer a quality and speed which can surpass offset stocks. For any device, evaluate all papers to provide the compatibility needed through detailed print quality analysis and gamut requirements at actual required production speeds.


A large percentage of commercial printers use mostly coated stocks of various gloss values and GSM weights. These stocks are currently on their pressroom floor and most often, the pricing has been contracted into existing paper stock orders feeding conventional presses. Coated papers which have been manufactured for inkjet compatibility tend to be 1.5 percent or higher in price than coated offset grades with less surface and GSM options. At the 2018 Inkjet Summit I stood on stage and became the “not so loved” messenger alerting the print industry to the potential rising of overall industry paper costs. Since that day, some markets have experienced 4 price increases and honestly, I don’t think we are done. 

We must not forget, paper shipments have also been impacted with limited trucks and price increases. It would be a mistake to think paper mills are making huge money off these increases as they are also experiencing increased costs in supply and distribution.

We forget that the US mills for many years eroded their own pricing with the bad practice of dropping pricing just to win the business. This created over the last decade a “race to the bottom” leaving US mills with little capitol to integrate or update their mills. Today, there is now an opportunity for them to get their houses in order, but this will too take time. Paper mills are the core to the print industry and should keep paper discussions at the forefront of our conversations. Some have said that paper prices have created a barrier in integrating inkjet. But others see it as an opportunity to add the small run, variable value added to a printer’s portfolio to make the higher cost of print more valuable to their customers and the end users.


Integrating inkjet into the high-end commercial space has been a slow process not just because of the paper options available, but also the high-quality expectations. Although the quality requirements cover a wide range for commercial inkjet, a majority of the volume includes the high-end magazine, catalog, corporate or product representation which must reflect a high level of color matching and image detail. This level of quality has been the biggest barrier thus far.

Sheet fed inkjet has expanded its ink chemistry, raising the bar in just a few years meeting or exceeded high end conventional offset quality. Overall color gamut has expanded using just CMYK or adding additional colors creating color vibrancy which can goes beyond standard GRACoL, SWOP or FOGRA color spaces.

Some ink chemistries have become compatible with spot coating, foils and special effects pushing sheet-fed inkjet into not just a print option, but a fully integrated creative option. These options should be tested thoroughly as the ink and paper combination will determine compatibility.


Tariffs on aluminum certainly was an unexpected hit on an already bruised industry. This unfortunate injury has been compounded with paper prices creating an industry which must re-evaluate its own value add and production efficiencies. With up to a total of 30% increase in print costs, eliminating a production cost entirely seems like a good choice. Inkjet does not require plate make ready (CTP), plate material, ordering, managing and storage.

So is now the time?

Sheet-fed inkjet has made many advances in paper use and quality making it a viable option to review. If you haven’t seen inkjet lately, it maybe time to re-evaluate.

About the Author

Mary Schilling


Mary Schilling writes about technical inkjet industry articles, provides RIP and workflow training, manages print quality analysis evaluation, ink management and color management for OEM’s and end users for pre and post machine installs. Mary Schilling consults with paper mills, fluid and inkjet machinery suppliers on how to improve color and print quality for high speed and industrial inkjet involving paper, plastics, metal, fabric and glass with UV and aqueous inkjet fluids. This experience led her to receive Innovator of the Year awards from the Flexographic Technical Association and from Xplor International for her efforts in closing the gap between inkjet printing for document, and digital corrugated packaging. She is the owner of Schilling Inkjet Consulting, Published Author and Certified ColorGate Color Trainer and Distributor. Her latest published works can be found

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