Differences between digital printing and lithographic.

Updated: Apr 30

Here at Eight Days a Week Print Solutions, an independent Nottingham printers we offer two main types of professional printing; digital printing and litho printing. Understanding the differences between digital printing and litho printing will help when planning and getting the best results out of your print work, budget and campaign.

Digital printing and lithographic printing are the two main types of production used in the industry. The key difference between the two is that litho printing uses a wet ink process whilst digital printing uses dry ink and toner. As they both have such different processes they both have their own unique strengths and drawbacks that should be considered for every print job.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is essentially using large office printers that produces a much higher quality at a much faster rate.

Digital printing refers to two main types of printers Inkjet and Laser. They both use CYMK colour gamut but have slightly different ways of applying the colour to the page. Inkjet printers are typically a slower process to laser but can create great vivid colours. Laser printers use electromagnetism to charge the toner to adhere to the page before being fixed by a heating process. Laser printers are great for speed but the process doesn't lend itself to delivering the same high quality as inkjet for colourful images. It is however ideal for documents and fast turn arounds.

The advantages of digital printing:

  • Can achieve personalisation and variable printing.

  • Cost-effective for small and mediums volumes

  • No setup time required perfect for a quick turn around

The disadvantages of digital printing:

  • There are limitations to the paper size

  • Not as cost-effective for large volumes

  • Not suitable for all printed surfaces

Digital printing lends itself to variable printing with personalisation of materials becoming a key tool for delivering optimised targeted campaigns. Which is sometimes why even in higher volumes people will still opt for digital printing over lithographic. Text, images and colour can all be personalised to each individual.

Whilst there are size limitations to the size of paper digital printing requires very minimal set up and drying time - allowing for quicker response of smaller volumes.

Lithographic printing

Litho printing is the more traditional printing process which can be dated back to 1796 and is still used today. The printing process over the years has been refined to produce high-quality print results we are used to seeing today.

It works by having your print artwork etched into aluminium plates. These are then loaded onto a plate cylinder, here ink and water are applied. The ink will fill the etched spaces of the plate whilst the water will repel the ink on the flat surface. This leaves your plate with the ink in the correct places to be transferred onto a blanket cylinder (not directly onto your paper). Paper is fed between the blanket cylinder and the impression cylinder to evenly transfer the image in that one colour. Your paper will then go through the same process but for all the CYMK colours and any special Pantone colours necessary.

As this printing process requires some setup time it is deemed not as fast as digital printing, but once set up it can run a lot quicker than digital. It really depends on your volume as to which would be the fastest. As the plates need to be created it doesn't lend itself to the same degree of personalisation either. Depending on volume, you could have three different types of print but it would not be possible to print different individual names, text or images. However, personalisation isn't always necessary. Perhaps you need print on plastic or really scaled up in size, this is where lithographic printing really excels as well as in volume.

The advantages of litho printing:

  • Can print onto a range of surfaces

  • Ideal for large volumes as it can run for a long time without losing quality

  • The unit cost decreases as the volume increases

The disadvantages of litho printing:

  • Longer set up time

  • Not as cost-effective for smaller volumes

  • Personalisation and variable data can't be achieved

What is the best printing process?

As you can see there is quite a difference between digital printing and lithographic printing. One printing process is not always going to be the best option every-time it will vary job to job. To help choose the best printing process for your job try and answer these four questions.

1. What volumes will I need to be printed? A. Small or Medium B. Large

2. Do I need personalised details on the print such as name? A.Yes B.No

3. Do I have a tight deadline of fewer than 4 days? A. Yes B.No

4. Do I want to print on paper smaller than A2? A. Yes B.No

If your answers are mainly A) Digital printing is most likely to be the best printing process for you. If you answered mainly B) Litho printing might be the best choice for you.

However, it is always best to discuss your print requirements with our specialist team who will give you expert advice to make sure we get maximised results for your campaign and budget.

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