Knowing the difference between litho and digital printing can be mind boggling at times which is why we’ve put together whis short blog. The below points will give you an idea of the main differences and which one is more suitable for you!

Briefly put, litho printing uses wet ink and printing plates whilst digital printing uses toners on a press similar to a giant office printer! Digital printing is more suitable for shorter runs and litho printing is better for longer runs.

Offset Lithography Printing

This is when inked images are transferred from a printing plate to a rubber blanket, which then transfer the image to paper. Prints are generally produced out of the standard four-colour process. This means that the artwork is separated onto four different printing plates with each plate prints a specific single colour – cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Together, these colours combine to create a full-colour print.

Main points of litho printing:

  • A significant area of cost is attributed to ‘making ready’ the job – the cost and time involved in making the plates and running spare material that is required until all the plate images are in register and the job can be run. Once this is done the cost per copy will be cheaper than digital printing on longer printing runs. Therefore litho printing is not suitable for short-run printing as it is not cost effective.
  • Printing is not limited to four colour processes – special or spot inks can be included to enhance the item.
  • Litho printing is much better for large areas of solid single colour. The colour comes out smoother without visible pixels.
  • The turnaround time for litho printing is usually longer. It is usually a 5 working day average. This is because time has to be allowed for the ink to completely dry before finishing and longer run jobs have to be scheduled on the bigger litho presses.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is a four-colour process reproduction method that uses electronic files (such as PDF artwork) and dots of colour to produce an image using toner or ink. Unlike litho, no printing plates are required and there is less waste of chemicals and paper because no ‘make-ready’ is needed.

Main points of digital print

  • It is cost effective for small print runs because there is less initial setup involved
  • There is quick turnaround as the job is produced in its finished format with no additional drying time needed
  • In most cases, jobs can be personalised as they are printed with variable data

Other considerations to think about:

  • In general most digital presses will run paper with weight between 80gsm and 300gsm, whereas Litho presses will happily run from 60gsm up to 500gsm.
  • Digital presses are more limited in the types of material on which they can print successfully. Heavy textured materials do not print very well and gloss papers can also end up a bit flat if there is full image coverage. Litho presses have a much wider choice of materials available which are generally cheaper if selecting a specialist stock.
  • Digital presses are more suitable for the shorter run lengths.
  • Historically litho printing was regarded as producing the best quality, and whilst that is still the case for many job specifications digital print quality is now so good that in most cases it is hard them to tell the difference.
  • If specific spot [pantone] colours are required to a high level of accuracy reproduction then litho printing is the best option.
  • Digital printed items can be personalised – making each print unique to the recipient
  • Metallic does not reproduce very well in digital printing – you’d be better to stick to litho
  • UV varnishing does not sit well on digitally printed products – best stick to litho