What is the difference between digital and litho printing?

We often get asked about our printing methods and what makes one better suited to a project than another. Here, we’ll explain the key difference between digital and litho printing – two very different methods, each with their own advantages and limitations.

Lithographic Printing

Modern lithographic printing involves the creation of printing plates which are treated in such a way that, when ink is applied, the wet non-image areas repel the oil-based inks (oil and water do not mix), adhering only to the images to be printed. The ink is then transferred onto a rubber blanket which is then pressed onto the paper or other substrate as it is pulled through the machine.

Digital Printing

Unlike lithography, digital printing does not require the set up or use of printing plates. Instead, artwork is sent directly to an inkjet or laser printer similar to how you would with an ordinary office printer and each copy comes off the machine already collated.

How do I know which printing method is best for my project?

There are a few considerations which will influence which method of printing would be ideal for the type of projects you want to create:

Quantity

Digital print tends to be more cost-effective for smaller print runs while litho is better for larger print runs. This is because it’s generally quicker and easier to set up a digital print run than with litho, which is more complex and takes longer. Litho is generally the better option if you are printing more than 1000 copies.

Turnaround

The complexity of the set up also determines the speed at which the project can be delivered. Since digital requires no plates or complicated set up to run, it is generally regarded as the faster of the two printing methods.

Substrate

Digital printing equipment is limited in the weight of paper that can be handled – we recommend between 70 and 350gsm – whereas litho machines are capable of printing on both lighter and heavier weights.

Quality

As a result of technological advances, digital printing is now able to produce higher quality prints that meet and can even exceed litho standards. However, when it comes to original image quality, digital also tends to be more forgiving in that good quality prints can be produced from images as low as 150dpi whereas litho would require a significantly higher resolution to produce the desired results.

Colour

If your job requires specific spot colours or special finishes like metallic ink, then litho is generally the best way to go. These days, digital presses are able to match Pantone colours with accuracy, but nothing beats the precision of litho.