Digital versus litho printing

For customers today, there are 2 main kinds of printing: litho printing and digital printing. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and, if you’re new to printing, it can all be a bit confusing.

Here’s the science bit (!) In litho printing, a set of printing plates is made to transfer (or 'offset') the image onto paper. There are usually 4 printing plates because each plate prints a different primary colour: Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow and Key colour black (CMYK), and these combine to make 4 colour process print.

The printing plates are inserted into the printing press, and as the paper moves through the press the colours mix to make the coloured image on the paper. There are usually some test pages printed first, so the printer can check that the colours are all in register with each other.

You're not limited to printing out of CMYK with litho. You can use special inks, for example fluorescent or metallic ink. If you need to match a colour precisely, you can use a special spot (Pantone) colour. Spot colours are used when it's important to have a particular colour, for example if you need to match a company logo. You don't need to use 4 colours if you don’t need to, so if you only want to print in 2 colours you’ll only need 2 printing plates. 

One key difference with digital printing is that there are no printing plates. The artwork is printed digitally on a printer that uses the same technology as a colour inkjet or laserjet printer – ie dots of colour, but on a much, much bigger scale, and using much more sophisticated technology.

Advantages of litho

  • Cost effective on large print runs (over 500) – the higher the print run, the lower the unit cost.
  • Printing isn’t limited to CMYK - you can use special finishes such as metallic inks and spot colours.
  • You can print on a wide variety of materials - paper, card or plastic.

Advantages of digital

  • Cost effective on short print runs (under 250).
  • You can print from a database or list, so it’s easy to create customised marketing materials.

If you’ve got any questions or aren’t sure what would work best for you, get in contact.

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