Digital or Litho?

Litho Printing vs Digital Printing – What’s the difference?

Should we go litho or digital? It’s a question we get asked a lot. And the great news is that both routes have their pros and their cons but it’s often a customer’s printing needs that clarifies which is best for their situation.

In simple terms…

Put simply, litho printing uses printing plates and wet ink, whereas some digital printers use ink but many more use toner – a bit like your office printer – and no plates. But though that’s interesting to printophiles like us, the difference that’s of note to customers is what those alternative methods offer. So let’s have a look in more detail at that.

Litho printing vs digital printing… Re cost and speed

With litho printing there is a set-up process – we mentioned printing plates above – and they take time to make. And because of this time spent, a litho printer will charge a set-up fee. However, once that’s done, the cost of printing is cheaper and faster, for far more prints can shoot off the press per hour; notwithstanding the drying time then required that digital printing doesn’t have. In essence, therefore, litho printing is great for high volume printing (e.g. over 1000 copies) when exactly the same content needs to be printed again and again.

Digital printing, on the other hand, doesn’t take any time to set up and it’s pretty much a matter of uploading the right files onto the computer and pressing ‘print’.  So you only pay once printing begins, and you are effectively charged per printed sheet. This makes digital printing the ideal option for low print runs, because without a set-up fee the cost is lower. Plus, the turnaround time from the moment of order is much faster. So, though digital printers are slower than litho, regarding prints per hour, with low print run numbers that’s not an issue.

Litho printing vs digital printing… Re print quality

Print quality can make a huge difference to a marketing campaign, so it pays to consider this carefully. Traditionally, litho printing would always take the lead in this aspect… However, with the advancement of new technology, most people don’t necessarily notice the difference any more on normal uncoated, silk, or gloss stock.

Though, with that said, because of the difference in printing methods i.e. whereby litho ink soaks into the paper, whereas with digital it effectively sits on top of the paper, images can look different. And, litho is also able to cope with textured paper far better than digital printing because of this.


Litho printing vs digital printing… Re print consistency

Litho can have the edge here at times too. It can cope with large blocks of single colour more consistently than digital (which sometimes has pixel spots). Plus with litho, particular spot inks can be used to ensure a company’s logo, for example, is exactly the same colour in every printed version… regardless of material used.

However, getting proofs to check first is far easier with digital printing because there is no initial set-up required.


And then… what about personalisation?

Well, in truth, this is where digital printing comes into its own. Because of the need to create printing plates, litho just isn’t the set-up for personalised printing… full stop. A new plate would need to be created for each sheet, even if you’re just changing someone’s name.

With digital printing, however, not only can each print be personalised… the changes don’t come at any extra cost at all! So it’s perfect.

Hopefully that’s helped to clarify the differences between litho and digital printing, but if you’re not sure which route to take, please do give us a ring. We will point you in exactly the right direction to help you get the results you’re looking for.