Digital Printing vs. Litho – Which Is Best For Your Print Project?

If you’ve been involved in ordering printed literature before, you’ve probably been asked about your preference for lithographic (litho) or digital print production. If you’re not familiar with these terms then answering that question may be a challenge.


Without being too technical, there are a few key differences between litho and digital printing which are useful to understand:

  • Digital printing – The artwork file is sent to the press the same way as a litho printing job and documents are printed in full and collated by the machine. Digital printing is ideal for short print runs and when time is of the essence.
  • Litho printing – Plates are made which are then used to make ink impressions onto the paper. Each page of the document is printed in batches and collated at the end of the print job and as a result the set-up and finishing process is longer than digital.


When Should You Choose Litho?

If colour is important to you, for example if you’re printing something with your logo then litho is generally the best option. The way that litho printers produce colour is entirely different to the way a digital printer works. With litho print production, artwork files are created using a 4 colour process (CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key). The colours are split into 4 colours and transferred onto 4 different plates which are then used to make an ink impression onto the paper.

Litho printers can also use spot (PANTONE) colours which ensure the exact colour required is printed. This would be important if your company brand guidelines specify a specific pantone reference that must be printed.

Litho printers can also print on much heavier weights and a wider range of stocks such as carton boards etc. and is also better suited if there are subsequent ‘decorative’ finishes added afterwards such as spot UV varnish, foiling, embossing, and debossing which are difficult with digital printing due to holding registration.

When Should You Choose Digital?

Digital printing is ideal if you are looking for a fast turnaround on shorter quantities. The set-up process is far quicker than litho printing as there are no plates to be made and the print process is far less technical.

Personalised Printing

Due to the fact that there are no printing plates involved digital printing is the preferred solution for personalising print, and this could be individual names on book covers, numbers on vouchers, or merging names, addresses and other details for comprehensive mail-outs.

Traditionally, litho printing was always deemed as the best for quality but with advancements in print technology, digital printers are catching up.

What About Price?

Digital printing is generally a higher cost per page than litho, however with minimal set-up costs it’s usually the best option for small print runs.

Litho printing is more economical for larger print runs, as there are higher costs involved with the set-up, but then the cost per page is usually less.

For more advice on your next print job, get in touch with our print experts.

Give us a call today to talk to one of our expert sales team and find out more!

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