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What are the differences between digital printing and lithographic printing

Here you will find differences between digital printing and lithographic printing, a question we get asked many times when costing a printing job with a customer. There is a lot of people that will know, however if you do not then have a read here.

There is often a lot of misunderstanding about the differences between digital print and lithographic printing, and because there is many variations of finish, colour and weight of paper, it is often problematic to understand which of the processes is the best for your product. As with everything, there are many pro’s and con’s to using digital printing over lithographic, and vice versa. We hope to describe and explain the main difference to give as much guidance as possible.

As with all projects, whether you are in a business or not, the priority is finding the most cost effective method coupled with the best quality to get the finish right. To get this right, we have put together a list of knowledge points for you to understand quickly.

Lithographic printing

  • can be known as offset printing, or litho
  • is the most common type of commercial printing
  • uses a four colour process.
  • separates your desired design across four different printing presses, printing a single colour each
  • colours are known in the industry as ‘CMYK’, which are cyan, magenta, yellow and black
  • colours are then combined to produce a full-colour print.

Litho printing can be quite costly as you need to pay for the plates and the setting up of the machine for print. However for higher volume printing, the price per page can be reduced. Litho printing produces a high quality finish and  is very fast and efficient. However it does require a much longer drying time, which needs to be factored into deadlines.

This type of printing is most commonly used for high volumes of printing.

Digital printing

  • digital printing technology has evolved at a pretty rapid rate
  • digital printing works by reproducing digital images directly from an electronic file to a physical surface
  • you can print on materials such as paper, plastic, canvas and cotton
  • impressions that is completed by the digital printing press onto the paper can be different
  • digital printing is the most efficient and effective solution if you are looking for a quick turnaround
  • a small print runs are great too as there are no plates to make and less drying time.

Differences between digital printing and lithographic printing

Because there are both small and large format digital print presses, this means that you print everything from leaflet and flyers right up to posters and exhibition stands digitally, saving you valuable time and energy shopping around for different suppliers.

Different from litho printing, digitally printed items can also be easily personalised, for example documents presented in custom printed ring binders could have the project name or clients logo and specific project images incorporated into the design.

Here is a infographic from Love & Humphries to explain.


If you do have any more questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. This is a guideline only and not every project is the same and not all will fit into these guidelines.