Printing: Litho vs Digital, what’s the difference?

Round Image - Digital vs Litho

Printing: Litho vs Digital, what’s the difference?

Round Image - Digital vs Litho
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With the advancements in technology, more commercial printing methods are hitting the market. The most prominent and widely used commercial print technologies are Offset Litho printing and Digital printing, so we’ll shed some light on them in the guide below. Hopefully, this will help you decide which one is better suited for your needs. So let’s get started.

"You can't stop people printing what they want to print." - Alan Sugar

Understanding Both Printing Formats:

Before we move towards the differences of both printing technologies, let’s briefly overview them to ensure everybody reading this is on the same page.

  • Offset Litho: With this printing method, the content, text and images, are lasered in reverse onto a thin metal printing plate. There are four plates in standard four colour process printing (CMYK); cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black). The printing plates are attached to drums on the printing press; ink is applied to the plate by series of rollers. The ink is then offset (or transferred) on to a rubber blanket and then on to the printable surface, typically paper.
  • Digital printing: This is a modern technology where the content is transferred directly from the computer to the printing machine. The digitised information is then printed directly on to the paper. In most cases, the print process is similar to a standard laser printer. Toner is fused to the paper to create the text and images on the final print. For larger format printing, large inkjet printers are transferring ink from cartridges onto various materials. Digital printing is ideal for short print runs as there are no make-ready costs (making printing plates).

Common differences between digital & lithographic print:

Colour Range: Both leverage the four colour process system (CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key), but offset litho can offer extra colours, usually from the Pantone® range. These include metallic inks special and fluorescent colours. Offset Litho printing offers better colour accuracy, is a preferred option and is often chosen based on the quality of the finished product. It is also better suited to long print runs.

Printing Speed: Since digital mainly relies on the computer for most work, it’s faster and quickly set up. It works like a regular office printer – quick and straightforward.

Offset litho is a longer process; making printing plates adds time to the process; printing presses are made-ready, and as the ink is applied wet, there are drying times to consider. Digital has no drying time, so it’s more suited for working to tight deadlines. Digital printing is available on fast turnaround, and we can usually deliver your printing to your door a few days after your order is approved.

Cost: With digital printing, there are no make-ready costs. You don’t have to spend anything until the beginning of the printing process. You pay for the paper at the time of printing, you also have the flexibility of customisation in the process, but it gets expensive on long print runs.With offset litho printing, there’s a setup (make-ready) cost every time you need to print something new because new printing plates are required. Plus, you need to pay for the ink and paper, just like digital. But after the initial setup cost, litho can be cheaper than digital because the plates can be used multiple times.

Printing Quality: Offset litho does produce slightly higher quality products than digital. Although, with recent advancements in the printing industry, it can be challenging to spot the quality difference between both methods today. However, for high-resolution images, sizeable solid colour blocks, and gradients, litho is still the preferred choice as it creates smoother elements.

Customisation: With offset litho, customising the content (images and text) would mean starting from scratch with new printing plates.
But when you’re using digital printing, a few tweaks on the computer can take care of everything. So there’s more customisation room with digital.

Parting Words:

Both printing technologies have their advantages and caveats, and it comes down to what your printing preferences and requirements are.
So the best way to go about choosing any technology is by deciding what finished result you need to produce now and in the long term and then selecting the most suitable option.

As a rule, we use digital for all our short-run printing, so if you would prefer offset litho printing, please make sure you tell us in advance.

Visit our print shop to order online.

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Colin (MrMorph) is creative director at Tmorph Digital Design. I have been working as a designer for over three decades and have amassed a great deal of experience in digital marketing and design. I'm passionate about web design, and I'm always looking for new ways to do things and solving problems that might not exist yet, I am a bit of a forward thinker. If I'm not in front of a computer, I'm probably behind my camera, on my bike or enjoying some music with my family.
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