What is the difference between Digital and Lithographic Printing?

One of the most common questions we get asked at AnchorPrint is ‘What is the difference between Digital and Lithographic Printing?’. Well, let us quickly explain and outline the main advantages and disadvantages of digital and litho printing so you can make an informed choice when placing your next print order.

What is Litho Printing?

Litho printing is the most common high volume commercial printing technology. In offset printing, the desired print image is burned onto a metallic plate and is then transferred (or offset) from the plate to a rubber blanket, and then to the printing surface. The lithographic process is based on the repulsion of oil and water. The image to be printed gets ink from ink rollers, while the non printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non printing areas ink-free.

What is Digital Printing?

Imagine you home or office printer but on a much larger and sophisticated scale. Digital printing takes electronic files and converts electronic dots into four colours (CMYK), before reproducing the image using ink and toner. Unlike Lithograph printing, this process of printing does not require plates to be produced and is a much faster process.

Advantages of Digital Printing

  • Quick turnaround.
  • Every print is the same. More accurate counts, less waste and fewer variations, due to not having to balance ink and water during press run.
  • Cheaper low volume printing. While the unit cost of each piece may be higher than with offset printing, when setup costs are included digital printing provides lower per unit costs for very small print runs.
  • Variable Data Printing is a form of customisable digital printing. Using information from a database or external file, text and graphics can be changed on each piece without stopping or slowing down the press. For example, personalised postcards can be printed with a different name and address on each letter. Variable data printing is used primarily for direct marketing, customer relationship development and advertising.

Advantages of Litho Printing

  • High image quality.
  • Works on a wider range surfaces including; paper, card, plastics and even wood, metal and leather.
  • The unit cost goes down as the quantity increases.
  • Quality and cost-effectiveness in high volume jobs. While today’s digital presses are close to the cost/benefit ratio of offset for high quality work, they are not yet able to compete with the volume an offset press can produce.