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Digital vs Litho Printing: What’s the Difference?

HOME > Blog Posts > Digital vs Litho Printing: What’s the Difference?

Printing is a deceptively tricky process. It seems like it should be easy because many of us have a perfectly good printer at home, but the process of scaling up a job requires expertise and professional equipment.

Many of our customers don’t, quite understandably, do not know how digital printing and litho printing differ so I think a blog post covering the subject is in order!

Again, printing is an incredibly complicated process, and so this will only be a brief summary and comparison of the two methods. However, while it might skim over some of the details of the process itself, it should shed some light on what each technique is ideally used for.

What is Litho Printing?

Litho printing is an incredibly involved process which depends on the inability of water and ink to mix. The process involves four main stages:

Stage 1: The digital image submitted for the printing job will be prepared for the printing process before being laser-etched onto aluminium plates. Typically, a minimum of four aluminium plates will be used so that one plate can be devoted to one colour (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, known as the ‘CMYK’ colour model). Additional plates can be added for any additional inks being used.

Stage 2: Each plate is bound to a cylinder. Every time these cylinders perform a full revolution, water is added to any non-image area of the plate by the dampening system, usually rollers.

Stage 3: Wet ink is then passed through a series of rollers onto the image area of the plate. These inks will not mix with the water as they are oil based.

Stage 4: In order to achieve a better picture, the ink from the aluminium plate is transferred to a rubber blanket before being ultimately transferred to the paper. Because liquid ink is used, the printed products will take some time to dry out.

What is Litho Printing?

As you can see, this is a very simplified version of the process, and already it is evidently wildly different in comparison to the kind of printer you have sitting in your office at home!

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing, on the other hand, simplifies the printing process and removes the need for plates at all. While the professional printers we use are much more complicated than the printer you might find at home or in your office, they are based on similar concepts.

Digital printers use toner, a dry powdery substance, rather than oil-based inks. Using an electronic file such as a PDF, the printer interprets the image using a controller and through the combination of a laser and electronic signals binds the toner to the page to reproduce the original image.

Should I Be Using Litho or Digital Printing?

Litho printing is better suited for large-scale industrial runs. The cost of preparing a run for print is so high that if you were to print only fifty business cards, the price per unit would be very costly. However, as you scale the job up, the cost per unit gradually becomes less and less until the initial set up expenditure becomes almost negligible.

The process takes a bit longer, but it produces a sharper and clearer finished product. In short, if you are ordering a product in significant numbers and the job is not an absolute dire emergency, then litho printing is the way to go.

Digital printing is better suited for shorter or urgent runs. Low volume jobs will not offset the initial setup cost of litho printing, and therefore in terms of cost, it is better to opt for the relatively simple process of digital printing.

It is also much quicker to get started. When you are in need of printed products immediately, it is best to get it going straight away rather than taking the time to set up a litho printing job (which also has to dry, unlike digital printing!). You do sacrifice slightly in quality, however, at Soapbox the quality we can achieve through a digital printer is still fantastic.

Do You Need Something Printed?

Luckily for you, if anything remains unclear or confusing, we have a team of specialists in the office to clear anything up for you! We are only a phone call away and are happy to clear up any questions you might have.

To enquire about a job or if anything about litho and digital printing remains unclear, give us a call now on 0141 429 2942.

Alternatively, click the print quote box on the top right and we will be in touch as soon as possible with a fully structured quote!

CALL US ON 0141 429 2942 NOW


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Soapbox Design & Print

I've used these fine fellows/fellowettes for two jobs so far and on both occasions they have ticked every box.  Service? Questions asked. Answers given. Product? Designs given. Quality outcome received. Price? Comparable to most at regular pricing, but offer real stand out specials. Turnaround? Quicker than a toilet break in rattlesnake country. Verdict. Perfect.