If you’re in the market for print, you may be wondering whether your best option is to go down the digital or litho print route.

We’re here to outline the key differences between the two. Hopefully this guide will tell you everything you need to know in order to make that decision.

In reality, the decision is often made for you based on one important factor. We explain all…

What’s the difference between digital and litho print?

Here it is in a nutshell.

Litho printing uses wet ink on printed plates. Digital printing uses toner on a press, much like your typical office printer but much bigger.

Litho is the better option for larger print runs as once the printing plates and machines are set up, it’s far more cost effective than digital due to the litho press production speed.

Digital or Litho print?

The simple answer to this question? It all depends on how many prints you require.

Rather than asking yourself, should I choose litho or digital for print, ask yourself instead, how many print runs do I need?

If the answer is over 1,000, we would recommend litho print. Anything less and it’s digital all the way.

Litho print

Litho or offset lithography is one of the most popular printing technologies for high volume print runs.

There’s more set up time involved with litho print but once up and running, its much more cost effective for larger runs.

As a rule of thumb we usually say, use litho for anything over 1,000.

So how does it work, you ask. The image is lasered on to a metal plate and then loaded into the printing press.

This image is then offset (or transferred) on to a rubber blanket and then on to the printable surface, typically paper.

The print is created by splitting out the standard four colours, that’s CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). The artwork to be printed is split into 4 different printing plates which all apply a different colour. The colours combine to make a full colour print.

When it comes to litho print, a significant cost is required for ‘making ready’ the job. This involves the process of creating the plates and ensuring the images are in register so that the job can run correctly.

With that in mind, if the print run is below 1000 we would recommend digital print which requires far less set up time and associated costs only made back on bigger runs.

When to choose litho

  • For larger runs it’s more cost effective than digital
  • Litho is flexible. Special inks such as metallic and fluorescent can be added to print spot colours
  • For large areas of solid colour, you’ll get better results with litho. The colours will come out smooth with no visible pixels.

When not to choose litho

  • If time is of the essence. There’s a greater turnaround time with litho. You have to allow for the ink to completely dry before finishing. Also longer runs have to be scheduled in on the litho presses.
  • A greater cost is required for the set up of a litho job but the cost is made back on larger runs, due to the speed of litho printing. Anything less than 1000, go digital.

Digital Print

Choose digital print if you have a smaller run size or need to get your print out fast. With digital there is much less ‘make ready’ time required as no plates need to be prepared.

Digital print uses electronic files (typically a PDF of your artwork) and dots of colour to produce an image using ink or toner.

You won’t get the same pristine finish as litho on those larger areas of solid colour but digital is still a very good quality finish and it’s often difficult to tell the different between something that’s been digitally vs litho printed.

With digital, the job is produced in its finished format so there’s no additional drying time needed as with litho.

There’s also the customisation element. Digital has the flexibility to print personalised letters for example, whereas with the preparation involved with litho, you’re limited by the design on the plate.

That being said, you could have your letterheads printed using litho and then digitally print on the personalised letter.

When to choose digital

  • Opt for digital if you have a smaller run size. Litho only becomes cost effective when your order is high volume
  • The turnaround time for digital is quicker as there is no time needed to ‘make ready’ the job (as long as the document is saved down correctly with correct bleed and crop marks, you’re good to go. Find out more about this in our ultimate guide to brochure printing)

When not to choose digital

  • If your order is high volume and your artwork has large areas if colour. The finish will be better with litho so if your order quantity affords you to do this, we would recommend litho over digital.

While we’re on the subject of colour printing, you might like to read our colour printing FAQs for useful advice on achieving perfect colours in your print work.

Talk to the specialists in print

We specialise in print and can give you the best advice when it comes to placing your digital or litho print order. We’d love to help.

Please call us on 0113 210 0055 or email [email protected] if you need any further advice or would like to discuss our printing services.