The difference between digital and litho printing is simple. Litho printing is a traditional method utilising metal plates or stone. In comparison, digital printing uses complex computers to print images onto paper. The image on the screen is analysed and then converted into a format that can then be printed directly onto the surface required.
Litho printing can produce 18,000 prints per hour. To use this method, however, you need to create the design on printing plates. In comparison, digital printing can only print 4,800 per hour, but there are minimal setup requirements.
Overall, digital printing can be quicker in shorter runs. This is due to the setup time, but also because the prints do not need time to dry and can be sent straight for finishing, binding, and lamination.
The lithographic process must always have a minimum print quantity to make it viable. With litho printing, the more you print, the cheaper it works out. All costs are upfront with one set-up cost, rather than a cost with every item.
In comparison, digital delivers substantial savings through ‘print on demand’, as customers are able to buy the exact quantities they need.
If you’re searching for low-volume or highly personalised print jobs, digital printing will be far more cost effective, with a better quality finish on the personalisation. If you require more prints and they are generic, litho could be the best option for you.
Overall, digital printing data is easier to change and update. This is because an infinite number of personalised versions can be created at any given time. In comparison, litho printing uses printing plates that need to be physically replaced between changes.
A litho printing machine has traditionally provided the best quality results. In recent years, however, digital quality has vastly improved to the point where it is hard to distinguish between the two.
A digital printing machine is more likely to produce a high-quality print from a low-resolution image. This is because it can upscale images more effectively. To produce the same quality product with litho printing, you would need to use a high-resolution image.
Digital printing machines will typically run stock from 70–300gsm (sometimes 350gsm), whereas litho is more flexible and can typically run any paper or card (usually between 60gsm and 500gsm). This is because the machine generates minimal heat.
If you require a high level of colour accuracy, we recommend that you choose litho. Litho printing can also make use of metallic inks, such as silver and gold. Digital presses, however, are generally good at matching certain Pantones.
Overprinting describes the process of reprinting over the top of a previously printed item. If you would like to replicate this process after using digital printing (especially a home laser printer), be mindful that some machines will melt the image that has previously been produced. Litho-produced prints are usually more tolerant, but we recommend asking a member of our team before trying any overprinting.
Litho printing has a high set-up cost. Digital printing, however, has a low set-up charge, so it is better suited for shorter run prints. This means you’re only paying for what you want.
Litho printing doesn’t have a maximum limit, but it will start at around 500 prints. Colour Digital can produce a single print but is best suited to around 500 to 2,000, depending on what you’re printing.
Litho printing will deliver a softer finish. In comparison, digital printing produces a sharp and precise product. Certain finishes are possible with each type of printing. If you require UV varnishing, for example, litho printing is a much more economical option.
Speed of print
Easy to personalise or change
Not very time or cost effective.
Cost per print
Cheaper on small runs
Cheaper the more you print
Sharp & Precise
Risk of melting
Usually OK – check first
Range of Colours
Good at matching some Pantone colours.
High accuracy – Pantone colours
Our account managers team can work with you to understand your project and advise you on the most appropriate options for the best results.
Get it touch with the Washington Direct Mail on 0191 487 5148 or contact us using the 30-second form on the right.
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