In an article about marketing ROI for a recent issue of one of the graphic arts trade publications, a brand manager for a paper company praises digital printing because it “uses electronic templates instead of physical templates, meaning there is no manual stripping of pieces together or making plates.” It would be persnickety, I guess, to point out that manual stripping was on its way out before the first digital presses appeared, but let’s keep reading. A little further down we are informed: “Unlike physical proofs used for traditional offset printing, digital print proofs are provided on screen, and are called soft proofs. Some digital printers may provide these soft proofs in the form of a high-resolution PDF.” Would the writer find the fact that conventional offset jobs also can be soft-proofed in PDF as curious as the fact that digital jobs can be proofed in hard copy if that’s what the customer wants? The point isn’t to beat up this particular article, which was helpful otherwise. But, its misapprehensions suggest that it may be time to take another look at the distinctions we routinely make between “traditional” and digital printing processes. Because non-impact digital printing has matured, and because offset lithography continues to evolve as a digital process in its own right, the distinctions aren’t as dramatic as they once seemed. Both kinds of printing begin 100 percent digitally in prepress and end with the delivery of an all-analog product. In between, the biggest technical difference is that one images a virtual printing form (transferring the image, in some digital presses, to an offset blanket) while the other prints from a physical image carrier. Either way, we are printing pages created and imposed to suit the requirements of the job, not the characteristics of the platform that the job happens to be running on. It’s true that digital presses can print variably if the job contains variable data, but if it doesn’t, pages from a digital press are as static as those from a litho machine. Is this an oversimplification of digital printing? If it is, let’s also ask whether offset isn’t equally sinned against when we ignore or trivialize the giant steps it has taken toward becoming a form of computer integrated manufacturing. In a modern offset workflow, digital data created in prepress or acquired through a Web-to-print connection can be used to preset, monitor, and adjust nearly every major mechanical function of the press. Color and other quality parameters are set and maintained by measuring digital values in a closed production loop. As process steps are digitally automated, time frames and waste percentages shrink. The streams of data coursing through the press also can be its digital link to a plant-wide manufacturing network controlled by MIS—a network that can integrate digital presses with the same ease and efficiency. All of this surely entitles offset lithography to call itself—at the very least—a digitally enabled printing process. I think it also entitles offset litho printers to say more than we’re used to hearing about how “digital” a printing process their method really is. Bill Lamparter of PrintCom Consulting Group uses the term “digitalography” to describe the multiple imaging processes comprised by digital printing. Digitalography, says Bill, “includes inkjet, electrophotography, ionography, magnetography, laser ablation, direct thermal, thermal transfer, field effect imaging, electrocoagulation, various forms of digital imaging changeover and others—when used to print fixed, variable or a combination of output directly to paper or other substrates.” Digitally enabled offset lithography can take its proper place in this formidable list if we simply acknowledge how far it has outstripped the definitions that surrounded it in its long-gone stripping days.